Moquett Playing Waiting Game with King Russell

Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates

Contact: Jennifer Hoyt, or (501) 363-4305

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Photo Credit: Coady Photography

Moquett Playing Waiting Game with King Russell

Trainer Ron Moquett is in a waiting game with King Russell after the 3-year-old colt moved into the Kentucky Derby picture by collecting 40 qualifying points for his second-place finish in the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 1 at Oaklawn.

King Russell’s 40-point total, however, only ranked 25th entering Saturday on the latest Kentucky Derby leaderboard released by Churchill Downs. The Kentucky Derby is limited to 20 starters, meaning King Russell will need several defections in the next 2 ½ weeks to make the 1 ¼-mile race May 6 at Churchill Downs.

“Just waiting to see if we make it,” Moquett said during training hours Friday morning at Oaklawn. “We want to run.”

A gray son of Creative Cause, King Russell entered the Arkansas Derby, Oaklawn’s fourth and final Kentucky Derby points race, with only a maiden victory on his resume. King Russell made his first two starts last fall in Kentucky and finished second in his first two races this season at Oaklawn before his breakthrough victory at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 25. King Russell, under Rafael Bejarano, closed strongly in the Arkansas Derby to finish 4 ¼ lengths behind Angel of Empire and ahead of Grade 3 winners Reincarnate (third) and Rocket Can (fourth).

“We knew that when the distance stretched out, we were going to be better and better,” Moquett said. “He’s one of those horses that was very talented, but we knew it was going to take some races to mentally mature and he’s putting it together, step by step. Kind of come into his own at the right time. The last race, not everything went perfect for him in the Arkansas Derby, but he showed that he definitely prefers more ground and definitely has the class and ability to run with those type of horses.”

Moquett said King Russell is already at Churchill Downs with assistant trainer Greta Kuntzweiler, adding Bejarano would retain the mount for the Kentucky Derby. Bejarano, in his debut as an Oaklawn regular, rode first call for Moquett at the 2022-2023 meeting.

Asked about a Plan B, Moquett said King Russell could be wheeled back in the $200,000 Bath House Row Stakes at 1 1/8 miles April 22 at Oaklawn or go in an allowance race on the Kentucky Derby undercard. The Bath House Row winner, providing it’s Triple Crown eligible, will receive automatic entry into the Preakness May 20 at Pimlico. The Preakness is the second leg of the Triple Crown.

“We know he’s a good, quality horse, so, it doesn’t have to be all right now,” Moquett said. “If we get to the Derby fine, it not we’ll regroup and work our way to the next big one.”

Moquett has had two Kentucky Derby starters, finishing 15th with Far Right in 2015 and 19th with Whitmore in 2016. Moquett trains King Russell for Roger Naber and former Kentucky Governor Brereton C. Jones.

Angel of Empire, in his first work since the Arkansas Derby, covered a half-mile in :48.20 Saturday morning at Churchill Downs for trainer Brad Cox. Angel of Empire (154 points) ranks third on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard.

Other Oaklawn-raced horses safely in the Kentucky Derby field, according to Churchill Downs, are Rocket Can (60 points to rank 10th through Friday), Hit Show (60/11th), Confidence Game (57/12th), Verifying (54/13th), Sun Thunder (54/14th) and Reincarnate (45/18th).

Another Oaklawn-raced horse, Jace’s Road (45 points), entered Saturday No. 19, but he could be bounced by Oaklawn-raced Disarm. Disarm (40/26th) was entered in the $400,000 Lexington Stakes (G3) Saturday at Keeneland, a 1 1/16-mile race that offered 20 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the winner, eight to the runner-up and six to the third-place finisher. Continuar, a Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby invitee, holds the 20th spot in the rankings.

Angel of Empire also finished second in the $250,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at 1 mile Jan. 1, which was Oaklawn’s first Kentucky Derby points race. Confidence Game won Oaklawn’s third Kentucky Derby points race, the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 25.

Taxed Returns to the Work Tab

Taxed worked a half-mile in :49.20 Saturday morning at Oaklawn, her first breeze since finishing second behind Wet Paint in the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles April 1.

The Fantasy was Oaklawn’s third and final points race for the $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks (G1), the country’s biggest prize for 3-year-old fillies, May 5 at Churchill Downs. Taxed (48 points) ranks 16th on Churchill Downs’ official Kentucky Oaks leaderboard, meaning she will need two defections to run in the 1 1/8-mile race. The Kentucky Oaks is limited to 14 starters.

Morse, a half-hour before Saturday’s work, said he would like to run Taxed in the Kentucky Oaks after her strong Fantasy performance.

“Usually, I’d be avoiding those kind of deals, but it’s such a wide-open race,” Morse said. “I think I’ve been chasing the best one in the country.”

Taxed breezed over a fast surface moments after the renovation break under Martin Garcia. She galloped out 5 furlongs in 1:01.40 and 6 furlongs in 1:14.40.

After claiming Taxed for $50,000 out of a Nov. 20 maiden victory at Churchill Downs, Morse started the daughter of Collected four times at the 2022-2023 meeting. She also finished fourth in the inaugural $150,000 Year’s End Stakes at 1 mile Dec. 31, second in the $200,000 Martha Washington Stakes at 1 1/16 miles Jan. 28 and ninth in the $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 25.

Wet Paint won the Martha Washington and Honeybee – Oaklawn’s first two Kentucky Oaks points races – and tops the Kentucky Oaks leaderboard with 170 points. Wet Paint and 2008 Kentucky Derby runner-up Eight Belles are the only horses to sweep the Martha Washington, Honeybee and Fantasy. Taxed, at odds of 33-1, was beaten 2 ½ lengths in the Fantasy. Morse said the removal of blinkers triggered Taxed’s rebound performance.

“Now, even in training, she’s getting more relaxed,” Morse said. “She breezes like a good horse. She always has. When I first claimed her, I told that owner (Richard Bahde), ‘This filly is a little different than your average horse.’ But it took her a little while to get going.”

If unable to secure a spot in the Kentucky Oaks, Morse said he will “more than likely” wait for the $300,000 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (G2) for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/8 miles May 19 at Pimlico.

Wet Paint, in her first work since the Fantasy, covered a half-mile in :48 Friday morning at Churchill Downs for trainer Brad Cox. Year’s End winner Defining Purpose is also pointing for the Kentucky Oaks after winning the $600,000 Ashland Stakes (G1) for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles April 7 at Keeneland for trainer Kenny McPeek. Defining Purpose (107 points) ranks third on the Kentucky Oaks leaderboard. Defining Purpose ran third in the Martha Washington and sixth in the Honeybee.

Milestone Watch

Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen recorded a victory Friday to move closer to becoming Oaklawn’s all-time winningest trainer.

Asmussen won the eighth race, a $104,000 allowance sprint for 3-year-olds, with Ryvit ($15.80), who was ridden by the trainer’s son, Keith. Ryvit pushed Asmussen’s career Oaklawn victory total to 860. Only the late Bob Holthus (867) has more career training victories at Oaklawn. Friday marked Day 57 of the scheduled 68-day 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting.

Asmussen had 14 horses entered Saturday at Oaklawn and six Sunday. Asmussen has collected a record 12 Oaklawn training titles. He entered Saturday with a record 99 career stakes victories at Oaklawn, including at least one at every meeting since 1996.

Asmussen had a combined four runners entered in Oaklawn’s two stakes races Saturday – Cogburn, Skelly and Payne in the $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) for older horses at 6 furlongs and Clairiere in the $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) for older fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles.

Asmussen entered Saturday with $49,865,957 in career purse earnings at Oaklawn, which is also a record. Asmussen trains Ryvit for longtime Texas clients William and Corinne Heiligbrodt.

The Great Race

Jockey Cristian Torres recorded his 500th career victory when favored Space Odessey captured Friday’s second race at Oaklawn for trainer Robertino Diodoro, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization.

Space Odessey ($6.40) represented Torres’ meet-high 81st winner at the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting that began Dec. 9. Torres is seeking his first career Oaklawn riding title after winning 22 races in 2021 – his debut season in Hot Springs – and 19 during an injury-shortened 2021-2022 meeting. Torres, 25, recorded his first career victory April 21, 2019, at Gulfstream Park.

Torres ($4,993,826) was poised Saturday to become the first jockey at the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting to surpass $5 million in purse earnings. Ricardo Santana Jr. set Oaklawn’s single-season record for purse earnings by a jockey ($5,643,023) in 2021.Saturday marked Day 58 of the scheduled 68-day meeting.

Francisco Arrieta remained within striking distance in the jockey’s race after winning two races Friday, increasing his meet total to 75.

Arrieta won the fifth race aboard Lookin for Loki ($6.20) for trainer F. Dewayne Loy and the sixth race aboard favored News Box ($5.40) for trainer Lindsay Schultz.

Arrieta rode 50 winners in his Oaklawn debut in 2021 and 62 last season to share the title with David Cabrera.

Torres was named on 11 horses Saturday at Oaklawn and seven Sunday. Arrieta was named on nine horses Saturday at Oaklawn and six Sunday.