La Renoleta Returns Saturday

When the racing world last saw Argentine-bred star La Renoleta, she was crushing allowance opponents early last year at Oaklawn in an audition for one of the country’s biggest two-turn races for older fillies and mares.

Then, there was an injury. Now, there’s a comeback.

Unbeaten La Renoleta (5 for 5) is scheduled to make her first start in over a year in Saturday’s seventh race at Oaklawn, a 1-mile allowance, for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.

After winning her first four career starts in Argentina, including the Estrellas Distaff (Gr. 1) in June 2019 – her last race in South America – La Renoleta was privately purchased by Kentucky bloodstock agent Peter Bradley III (Bradley Thoroughbreds) and sent to Asmussen in the United States.

La Renoleta resurfaced in a Feb. 8, 2020, allowance race at 1 1/16 miles and was a 9 ¾-length winner under perennial Oaklawn riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr., earning a solid 89 Beyer Speed Figure in her American debut. Bradley said La Renoleta was being considered for Oaklawn’s $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) when a minor soft-tissue injury was discovered, prompting a lengthy break from racing.

“While it wasn’t career ending, it was one of those things that took a long time to come around,” Bradley said Thursday morning. “We gave her every bit of time she needed, so it looks like she’s back on top of her game and we can’t wait for her to run this weekend.”

Bradley assembles racing partnerships, or racing ventures, focusing primarily on fillies. After dipping into South America to privately purchase Chilean-bred filly Dacita, who became a multiple Grade 1 winner in the United States for four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown, Bradley said he began tracking La Renoleta in June 2019 before finalizing a deal roughly three months later.

A 6-year-old daughter of grass standout Treasure Beach (a Grade 1 winner in the United States and Group 1 winner in Europe), La Renoleta will again be running at Oaklawn following a lengthy layoff. Bradley said retirement was never seriously considered following her injury, adding four months of recovery stretched to seven out of caution.

“There was a hemorrhage along with it, that made it look worse,” Bradley said. “Essentially, we just wanted to be extra careful and we took some time. Knock on wood, it’s paid off. We may have even overreacted a little bit, but that’s OK. We wanted to make sure she’s 100 percent. That’s what we have right now.”

Bradley said La Renoleta resumed training around New Year’s Day. The mare has seven published workouts at Oaklawn since March 10 in advance of her 2021 debut.

“We figured she would be ready for a spring/summer campaign,” Bradley said. “We hoped we could have been ready early in the Oaklawn meet and could have made a decision on the Apple Blossom. There’s two ways you find out if a horse is ready to run. The horses tell you and then Steve tells you.”

Mexican champion Letruska won last Saturday’s $1 million Apple Blossom (G1), nosing out two-time Eclipse Award winner Monomoy Girl. La Renoleta’s allowance race is an “extra,” meaning it wasn’t in the condition book and is a substitute race written by Oaklawn racing secretary Pat Pope. Bradley said Saturday’s comeback spot isn’t a prep for something specific, just a gateway to, hopefully, graded stakes events this summer.

“We always hope to do that with them, if they look like they’ve got this type of talent,” Bradley said. “Again, one step at a time. We’ve got this race Saturday. After that, we’ll see. If she runs up to our expectations, we’ll most probably look for a stakes race. If it turns out that she needs a race, we’ll go to Plan B. I would hope that some races at Saratoga would be in her future this summer, some of their top races.”

Co-owners of La Renoleta are Swift Thoroughbreds Inc. (Mark Mache), Paul Braverman and Tim and Anna Cambron. Bradley, in partnership, won the $200,000 Bayakoa Stakes (G3) for older fillies and mares in 2019 at Oaklawn with the Asmussen-trained She’s a Julie.

La Renoleta is the 8-5 program favorite for Saturday’s seventh race at Oaklawn, which carries a $107,000 purse. Probable post time is 4:04 p.m. (Central).

Rocco’s Ride

Two weeks after a horrific spill, jockey Rocco Bowen recorded his biggest career Oaklawn victory to date in Thursday’s seventh race aboard She’s Divine ($47.40) for trainer Mike Puhich and North American Thoroughbred Racing Company, Inc. The allowance/optional claimer for older fillies and mares at 1 mile had a $105,000 purse.

“I’m telling you, I feel so thankful,” Bowen’s agent/mentor, retired jockey Joe Steiner, said moments after the victory. “I’m just so thankful.”

It was the ninth victory at the meet for Bowen, 31, riding at Oaklawn for the first time this year. Puhich, who has deep ties to the Pacific Northwest, also put Bowen on his first Oaklawn winner (Background) Feb. 27.

Bowen recorded six more victories before he was injured seconds after the final race April 8 when his mount, Critic, fell and hit the rail, sending the jockey crashing to the ground.

Bowen said he never lost consciousness, but he lay motionless for several minutes before being placed on a backboard and transported by ambulance to CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs for further evaluation. No broken bones were found, Steiner said, and Bowen was released that night. Bowen fulfilled his engagements the following day, with the only visible sign of the accident a protective black brace on his sore left hand.

“He’s a tough little son of a gun, I’ll tell you,” Steiner said, adding he broke 39 bones in his riding career. “Well, you have to be, in this case.”

Steiner said Bowen will ride until the Oaklawn meeting ends May 1 before returning to Indiana Grand, which opened April 13. Bowen, a native of Barbados, became a riding star in the Pacific Northwest, specifically Emerald Downs in suburban Seattle, where he won three consecutive riding titles (2016, 2017 and 2018) before a training accident in September 2018, and subsequent debilitating arm injury, cost him approximately 1 ½ years in the saddle.

Bowen launched his comeback last June in the Midwest and won 39 races at Indiana Grand, including his 1,000th in North America, to finish eighth in the standings. Steiner said he and Bowen plan to return to Oaklawn in 2022.

“The whole intention is to come back here,” Steiner said. “Now that I’ve been here, I’m so fortunate and so thankful that they’ve let agents come on the backside (easing of COVID-19 restrictions). It gave me the chance to get to meet some of these people. I didn’t know a lot of these people and next year I’m looking at more and more. It’s a matter of just building up more people to maybe get an opportunity with. I love working with people.”

Finish Lines

The Oaklawn racing department listed seven probables Friday morning for the $300,000 Oaklawn Stakes for 3-year-olds closing day, May 1 – Causeway Jones for Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, Convention (Steve Asmussen), Drivehappy (Asmussen), Scarred (Asmussen), Unanimously (Asmussen), Warrant (Brad Cox) and Who Took The Money (Bret Calhoun). The Oaklawn Stakes winner earns automatic entry into the Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown, May 15 at Pimlico. Asmussen won the inaugural event in 2019 (then known as the Oaklawn Invitational) with Laughing Fox, who finished fifth in the Preakness. Asmussen has 11 of the 32 Oaklawn Stakes nominees this year. Post positions for the 1 1/8-mile Oaklawn Stakes will be drawn Saturday. … Necker Island was scheduled to make his first start since a ninth-place finish in the rescheduled Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby (COVID-19) in Friday’s fourth race at Oaklawn for 2015 Oaklawn training champion Chris Hartman. … Jon Court, Oaklawn’s leading rider in 2000, has moved his tack to Kentucky, leaving him with 699 career victories in Hot Springs. Court, 60, is on the cusp of becoming just the sixth rider in Oaklawn history to reach 700 career victories after winning 11 races this year. “(Seven hundred) will be my goal upon my 2022 return,” Court said in a text message Friday morning.