Oaklawn Barn Notes: Expectations High for Ben Diesel

Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates

Contact: Jennifer Hoyt, jhoyt@oaklawn.com or (501) 363-4305

Photo credit: Coady Photography

Expectations High for Ben Diesel

Will’s Secret emerged as Oaklawn’s top 3-year-old filly during the 2021 meeting that ended in May. Now, her lightly raced younger full brother, Ben Diesel, begins his quest to become Oaklawn’s top 3-year-old male during the 2021-2022 meeting in Saturday’s $250,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at 1 mile.

Like Will’s Secret, a multiple Oaklawn stakes winner, Ben Diesel is a homebred for Willis Horton of Marshall, Ark., and Fair Grounds-based trainer Dallas Stewart, who has a small string in Hot Springs this season. Both horses are by the Horton-raced champion Will Take Charge and out of Girls Secret, a daughter of Giant’s Causeway.

Ben Diesel will be making just his third career start in the Smarty Jones, Oaklawn’s first of four Kentucky Derby points races. Ben Diesel broke his maiden Oct. 31 at Churchill Downs before running fourth in the $400,000 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) Nov. 27 at Churchill Downs. Both races were 1 1/16 miles.

“He’s a real nice horse, now,” Stewart said. “He won first time out going long at Churchill. That’s not easy for a 2-year-old to do. There’s only a certain handful that do that, first time out. He’s a classy colt.”

Will’s Secret completed her 2-year-old campaign with a maiden victory at 1 1/16 miles in late December at Fair Grounds. She made her 3-year-old debut in the $200,000 Martha Washington Stakes last January at Oaklawn and captured the 1-mile race by 5 ¼ lengths. Will’s Secret returned to win Oaklawn’s $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles before running third in the $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks (G1) last April at Churchill Downs. The Kentucky Oaks is the country’s biggest prize for 3-year-old fillies.

“She’s kind of a smaller horse,” Stewart said. “He’s a big, strapping good-looking colt. I mean, beautiful.”

In addition to Horton, a common thread in Will Take Charge, Will’s Secret and Ben Diesel is Jon Court, Oaklawn’s leading jockey in 2000. Will Take Charge, under Court, opened 2013 with a victory in the Smarty Jones en route to an Eclipse Award as the country’s champion 3-year-old male. Court also guided Will’s Secret to her Martha Washington and Honeybee victories and is the regular rider of Ben Diesel, who is 5-1 on the morning line for the Smarty Jones.

“He’s definitely got the talent,” Court, a Horton favorite, said of Ben Diesel. “My relationship with (Will’s Secret), as she developed, we got to know each other more. She really went into the direction of being an intelligent horse, as well as having the talent. He definitely has the talent and the potential. But it will kind of be interesting to see, and it’s always exciting as well, to watch a young horse progress. With him, it will be even more exciting to see how far his intelligence level and talent will go.”

Ben Diesel collected one point toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby for his fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club. The Smarty Jones also will offer 17 points to the top four finishers (10-4-2-1, respectively). The Smarty Jones drew a full field of 14, with Ben Diesel scheduled to break from the extreme outside post position. Mile races at Oaklawn begin and end at the sixteenth pole, so there’s an abbreviated run into the first turn.

“I try to be an optimist as much as I can,” Court said. “He likes to get right into it, as most of them do and that’s the way they’re supposed to. But I think from the outside, I can just fold into the pack. He’s capable of going to the front, which I don’t know will be the best strategy, but we’ll see as we get closer to the race and strategize it, reading the charts and the past performances, and then we’ll kind of make a decision on the way we would like to see the race unfold.”

As for Will’s Secret, Stewart said the filly is about to resume light training after completing her 2021 campaign with a seventh-place finish in the $1 million Cotillion Stakes (G1) for 3-year-old fillies Sept. 25 at Parx.

“She got banged up a little bit toward the end of the year – no surgery or anything,” Stewart said. “Just hopefully make it back for the Apple Blossom later on.”

The $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) for older fillies and mares is April 23 at Oaklawn. Stewart won the 2016 Apple Blossom with Forever Unbridled, who captured an Eclipse Award as the country’s top older dirt female in 2017. Horton and Stewart teamed to win the 2006 Kentucky Oaks with Lemons Forever, the dam of Forever Unbridled.

In addition to the Smarty Jones, Will Take Charge won two other Oaklawn stakes, $600,000 Rebel (G2) for 3-year-olds in 2013 and $600,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older horses in 2014, for Stewart’s former boss, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

A Harvard Man

Trainer Rodolphe Brisset’s 16-horse Oaklawn stable features several prospects for Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks points races, but one of his most promising 3-year-olds of 2021 returned to the work tab earlier this week.

Harvard began serious preparations for his 2022 debut by breezing 3 furlongs in :37.20 Tuesday morning. Harvard, a son of Pioneerof the Nile, hasn’t started since finishing fourth in the $120,000 Curlin Stakes for 3-year-olds July 30 at Saratoga.

“We thought he was maybe a horse that could have run in the Travers this last summer,” Brisset said. “Got a little bit of a rough trip in the Curlin and we just thought he needed to mature.”

Harvard already has strong ties to Oaklawn since he’s full brother to champion and 2017 Arkansas Derby winner Classic Empire and a half-brother to the now-deceased Exclamation Point, a three-time winner in Hot Springs. Exclamation Point also finished second in the inaugural $250,000 Oaklawn Mile for older horses in 2019.

Brisset said Harvard “could be a horse down the road” for stakes in Oaklawn’s older horse division.

Harvard, who has a 2-2-0 record from five career starts, races for WinStar Farm and China Horse Club.

Finish Lines

Last Samurai emerged in good order from his victory in the inaugural $150,000 Poinsettia Stakes for 3-year-olds Dec. 11, trainer Dallas Stewart said Wednesday afternoon. “He’s there’s and he’s doing great, so we’re looking at the Razorback,” Stewart said. The $600,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) for older horses at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 12 is an important local steppingstone to the $1 million Oaklawn Handicap (G2) April 23, which Stewart said is the major spring objective for Last Samurai. Stewart is based at Fair Grounds, but maintains a small string at Oaklawn. … Another Razorback candidate on the grounds, multiple Grade 3 winner Plainsman, is “doing great,” trainer Brad Cox said Thursday morning. Plainsman finished a troubled third in his last start, the $750,000 Cigar Mile Handicap (G1) Dec. 4 at Aqueduct. “I think probably look at bringing him back in maybe the Razorback makes the most sense,” Cox said. … Cox said one of his newest additions, Concert Tour, could return to Oaklawn for the $150,000 Fifth Season Stakes for older horses at 1 mile Jan. 15. Concert Tour won the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) for 3-year-olds last March at Oaklawn for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. Concert Tour has been training this winter at Fair Grounds.