Oaklawn Barn Notes: Zozos Impressive in Two-Turn Debut

Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates

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

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Photo credit: Coady Photography

Zozos Impressive in Two-Turn Debut

If it was a case of who beat who and by how much, Zozos’ stakes audition was a smashing success.

Facing winners for the first time in his two-turn debut, Zozos roared to a 10 ¼-length victory in Friday’s featured eighth race at Oaklawn, a $100,000 entry-level allowance, to remain unbeaten in two lifetime starts for trainer Brad Cox and breeder/owners Barry and Joni Butzow.

Among the horses Zozos ($9.80) vanquished was heavily favored Barossa, who dead-heated for second in his first start for trainer Rodolphe Brisset after previously being based in Southern California with Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. Barossa was exiting a third-place finish, beaten 10 lengths, in the $300,000 Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) Dec. 11 at Los Alamitos. The 1-2 finishers, Slow Down Andy and Messier, were separated by a length in the 1 1/16-mile race.

Messier was a 15-length winner of the $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3) Feb. 6 at Santa Anita in his 3-year-old debut. Slow Down Andy is scheduled to make his 3-year-old debut in the $400,000 Risen Star Stakes (G2) Feb. 19 at Fair Grounds.

Cox, the reigning two-time Eclipse Award winning trainer, said Zozos will be pointed to a major Kentucky Derby points race, but when and where are question marks.

“He’ll get time now,” Cox said after watching his horses train Saturday morning at Oaklawn. “I’m not running him back quick. So, if anybody’s asking, he’s going to get his time. He’s going to get one big swing and then he’ll tell us. He could pop up in the Louisiana Derby, the Arkansas Derby or the Blue Grass. There are other options, so we’ll give him the time. He looked like he came out of the race in great shape.”

The $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) is Feb. 26 at Fair Grounds. The $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) is April 2 at Oaklawn. The $1 million Blue Grass Stakes (G1) is April 9 at Keeneland.

Zozos, a son of Munnings, had to work hard in his career debut victory, a grinding half-length decision at 6 furlongs Jan. 23 at Fair Grounds. Friday was a breeze under Florent Geroux.

Zozos stalked Barossa through modest fractions of :23.83 for the opening quarter and :48.92 for a half-mile before taking command on the outside turning for home. Zozos was four lengths clear in midstretch and the advantage snowballed in the run to the wire. The winning time over a fast track was 1:44.40.

“Ran good,” Cox said. “We liked him a lot when he ran first time. I thought his first race was OK. Bounced out of it in good order and gave us a good work last week. That’s why we ran him back a little quick, quicker than normal. Thought it was a good run. Was encouraged to see that he’d like two turns. Kind of thought he would, but you never know until you try it and he showed us what we needed – obviously to a Derby prep.”

Geroux was riding Zozos for the first, but said he had been on the colt in the morning “a long time ago.” Geroux noted that Zozos was on his left lead through the stretch in his debut, possibly a sign of greenness. Zozos switched to his right lead, on cue, in the upper stretch Friday.

“I expected him to run a good race, but he ran even better than I expected,” Geroux said. “It was a good surprise. I thought he would like the distance. It’s great, hopefully, for the future. We hope he can step it up at the stakes level. It looked like he improved a lot stretching out and ran a much straighter race than he did the first time, too, so that was encouraging.”

Geroux and Cox teamed to win the $500,000 Razorback Handicap (G2) for older horses in 2020 at Oaklawn with Warrior’s Charge, another son of Munnings.

Sweet as Honey?

Lightly raced Yuugiri “more than likely” will make her 2022 debut in the $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies Feb. 26, trainer Rodolphe Brisset said Saturday morning.

Yuugiri finished second, beaten a length, in the $400,000 Golden Rod Stakes (G2) Nov. 27 at Churchill Downs in her last start. The 1 1/16-mile Honeybee is Oaklawn’s second of three points races for the Kentucky Oaks, which is the major spring objective for Yuugiri, a daughter of 2011 Preakness winner Shackleford. The series concludes with the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles April 2.

Yuugiri also is under consideration for the $150,000 Dixie Belle Stakes at 6 furlongs Feb. 19, Brisset said.

“I’m leaning toward the Honeybee,” Brisset said. “The Dixie Belle looks it will have a pretty decent field. I may be short one work, so think I’m going to go for the Honeybee, more than likely.”

Yuugiri started three times last year, breaking her maiden Sept. 17 at Churchill Downs before finishing second in the $200,000 Rags to Riches Stakes Oct. 31 at Churchill Downs. Yuugiri has six published workouts this year at Oaklawn, the last a 5-furlong move in 1:01.80 Friday morning.

Although winter weather has played havoc with training hours recently at Oaklawn, Brisset said it hasn’t impacted Yuugiri.

“Funny enough, her and (stablemate) Great Escape end up, the days we are breezing, we end up actually missing the weather, so we’ve been having a pretty good run, breezing-wise,” Brisset said. “She worked five-eighths last week. She worked five-eighths yesterday. All her works have been really good. We feel like she’s matured a lot. She’s got good weight. So far, knock on wood, we have nothing in the way. It’s not an easy spot to come back. If she wins, that’s good. If she gets beat a couple of lengths and we run a good third, we’re still in the picture.”

Yuugiri earned four points toward Kentucky Oaks starting eligibility with her runner-up finish in the Golden Rod.

Oaklawn-based Secret Oath, who finished fifth in the Golden Rod, returned to win a Dec. 31 allowance race and the $200,000 Martha Washington Stakes Jan. 29 for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. The Martha Washington is Oaklawn’s first Kentucky Oaks points race. Secret Oath also is pointing for the Honeybee. Secret Oath earned 10 Kentucky Oaks qualifying points in the Martha Washington, but the Honeybee will offer 85 points to the top four finishers, including 50 to the winner.

Finish Lines

Dash Attack, winner of the $250,000 Smarty Jones Stakes for 3-year-olds Jan. 1, recorded a 5-furlong bullet workout (:59.80) Saturday morning for trainer Kenny McPeek. The track was fast. Dash Attack is under consideration for the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) Feb. 26, McPeek said. … Tap for Me, a 4-year-old daughter of Tapit and champion Groupie Doll, is entered in Sunday’s first race, a 1 1/16-mile maiden allowance, for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. … Asmussen and newly minted Eclipse Award-winning jockey Joel Rosario teamed for two victories Friday – favored Southerner ($4.80) in the third race and favored All in Sync ($3.80) in the fourth race. … Jockey Cristian Torres swept Friday’s early daily double, winning the first race aboard Penetrator ($10.20) for Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and the second race aboard Jerry’s Eighty ($30.60) for trainer Kenny Smith. … The infield will be open, weather permitting, every Saturday throughout the meeting, beginning Feb. 26 (Rebel Day).