Well-traveled Cohen Returns to Oaklawn in Time to Win

Jockey David Cohen traveled 1,000 miles to win at 1 1/16 miles Friday at Oaklawn.

Cohen’s whirlwind journey began when he rode seven races Thursday at Oaklawn, the last at 5:36 p.m. (Central). A little less than two hours later, Cohen flew privately from Hot Springs to Louisville, Ky. (approximately 500 miles), arriving at 9:52 p.m. (Eastern). Cohen worked four horses early Friday morning at Churchill Downs and flew back to Hot Springs, arriving at 9:46 a.m., a little more than hour before training hours ended at Oaklawn. First post was 1 p.m.

Cohen rode five races Friday at Oaklawn, winning the eighth, a 1 1/16-mile event for older $17,500 claimers, on heavily favored Lord Dragon ($3.60) for his major clients, trainer Robertino Diodoro and owner M and M Racing (Mike and Mickala Sisk). It was Cohen’s 26th winner at the meeting.

“I’ve done this before, but it makes it a lot easier on a private jet,” Cohen said after his first mount Friday, the Diodoro-trained Wildwood Flash, finished seventh in the second race. “We were up at 3:20 (a.m.) our time (central), because it was 4:20 their time (eastern). Robertino’s assistant picked us at the hotel at 4:45, so that would have been 3:45 our time. Worked the first horse, Ava’s Grace, the Oaks filly, at 5. Knocked out four workers, flew back and I actually had time to go home and lay down and take a shower and relax.”

In addition to Ava’s Grace (Kentucky Oaks), Cohen worked two other horses previously based at Oaklawn, Keepmeinmind (Kentucky Derby) and Dreamer’s Disease (Pat Day Mile), for potential stakes engagements next week at Churchill Downs. All three were for Diodoro, who accompanied the jockey on the quick trip.

Keepmeinmind, who finished sixth in his 3-year-old debut, the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) March 13 at Oaklawn, covered a half mile in :46.20 over a fast track, quickest of 108 works published at the distance. Keepmeinmind, shedding blinkers, breezed with stablemate Shasta Star, a 6-year-old mare.

Cohen called the work, “beautiful.”

“He went very strong,” said Cohen, Oaklawn’s leading rider in 2019. “I actually put him behind another one of our horses, about 10 lengths. Just wanted to give him a good target and wanted to give him something to pass. As soon as he got up by that horse and went up on the inside, there was a little traffic outside. Opted to just go up the rail. That was one thing he was dealing with early on in his career. He wasn’t wanting to go into some tight spots and kind of sucking out and giving up some much needed ground, which he did in the Breeders’ Cup prep and the Breeders’ Cup as well.”

Before breaking his maiden in the $200,000 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) Nov. 28 at Churchill Downs, Keepmeinmind finished second in the $400,000 Breeders’ Futurity (G1) Oct. 3 at Keeneland and third in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) Nov. 6 at Keeneland.

Keepmeinmind had been scheduled to make his 2021 debut Feb. 15 at Oaklawn – the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) – before severe winter weather led to multiple postponements of the race and interrupted the late-running colt’s training schedule. Oaklawn lost eight live racing dates and 11 days of training (Feb. 12-22) because of heavy snow and arctic temperatures.

After finishing sixth in the Rebel, Keepmeinmind shipped to Keeneland and finished fifth in the $800,000 Blue Grass Stakes (G2) April 3. Keepmeinmind ranks No. 21 on the Kentucky Derby points leaderboard and needs one defection to make the May 1 race, which is limited to 20 starters. Post positions will be drawn Tuesday. Diodoro said Keepmeinmind will be pointed to the May 15 Preakness if he doesn’t run in the Kentucky Derby.

Ava’s Grace, in her 3-year-old debut, ran third in an entry-level allowance sprint March 4 at Oaklawn before finishing second in the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) April 3. The 1 1/16-mile Fantasy, Oaklawn’s biggest prize for 3-year-old fillies, marked the two-turn debut for the lightly raced Ava’s Grace. She is safely in the field for the $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks (G1) April 30. It is limited to 14 starters.

Dreamer’s Disease, sixth in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, worked several times at Oaklawn, but didn’t start at the meeting after falling behind in his training because of winter weather. The $500,000 Pat Day Mile (G2) May 1 will be his 3-year-old debut.

“Been a weird year,” Diodoro said between races Friday afternoon at Oaklawn. “We had a good meet. I’m happy with the meet, but just weird. Just how fast the meet went, those two weeks of the storm threw a couple of these 3-year-olds off schedule and just made the meet go so fast.”

Diodoro was Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 2020 and entered Saturday with 38 victories to rank second in the standings. Friday was the 45th day of the weather-shortened 51-day meeting.

Asmussen Nearing Record

Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen won three races Friday to inch closer to breaking his single-season Oaklawn record for purse earnings.

Asmussen won the second race with favored Lindsylu ($3.40), fifth race with favored Major Brown ($4.40) and the seventh race with Raggedy Annie ($6.40). All three winners were ridden by Ricardo Santana Jr.

The triple gave Asmussen a meet-high 53 victories, 15 more than runner-up Robertino Diodoro, and bumped his purse earnings to $5,256,463. Asmussen’s runners earned a record $5,644,609 in 2019, when he won 64 races, second-highest single-season total in Oaklawn history. Friday was the 45th day of the weather-shortened 51-day meeting.

Asmussen has all but secured his record-tying 11th Oaklawn training title. Hall of Famer Henry Forrest won 11 titles between 1947 and 1963.

The late Cole Norman, Asmussen, Diodoro and David Vance are the only trainers in Oaklawn history to reach 50 victories in a single season. Norman won a record 71 races in 2003.

Finish Lines

Luis Quinonez had a riding double Friday, pushing his career Oaklawn total to 614. Quinonez won the first race aboard Southern Cents ($6.60) for trainer Larry Frazee and the third race aboard favored Presley ($3.60) for trainer Al Cates of Hot Springs. Quinonez was Oaklawn’s leading rider in 2007 and is among only nine jockeys in its history to reach 600 career victories. … Southern Cents (15 ¼ lengths) recorded the largest margin of victory at the meet. Presley’s winning margin was eight lengths. … A triple Friday gave Ricardo Santana Jr. 612 career Oaklawn victories – No. 9 all time. Quinonez is No. 8. Santana is all but assured of his eighth Oaklawn riding title with 67 victories through Friday. David Cabrera was second with 50. … Necker Island, in his first start since finishing ninth in last year’s rescheduled Kentucky Derby (COVID-19), ran second in Friday’s fourth race, a 1-mile allowance, for 2015 Oaklawn training champion Chris Hartman. The winner, Background ($14), gave jockey Rocco Bowen his most lucrative career Oaklawn victory ($106,000 purse). Bowen and Background’s trainer, Mike Puhich, teamed to win a $105,000 allowance race Thursday with She’s Divine ($47.40). … Defending champion Man in the Can is among 13 horses entered in the $200,000 Arkansas Breeders’ Championship Stakes for Arkansas-breds, 3 and up, at 1 1/16 miles April 30 at Oaklawn. … Oaklawn will race Wednesday, with first post 1 p.m. (Central). It was one of two Wednesday cards added to help offset eight lost dates in February because of severe winter weather. … Post positions were to be drawn Saturday for the $300,000 Oaklawn Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles May 1. The winner receives automatic entry into the Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown, May 15 at Pimlico.