Road to the Rebel – Past The Wire

HOT SPRINGS, Ark.Reylu Gutierrez will ride Barber Road in the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) for 3-year-olds Feb. 26, trainer John Ortiz said Saturday morning. The 1 1/16-mile Rebel is Oaklawn’s third of four Kentucky Derby points races.

Gutierrez had ridden Barber Road in four of his first five career starts, including a runner-up finish in Oaklawn’s first Kentucky Derby points race, the $250,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at 1 mile Jan. 1. Eight-time Oaklawn riding champion Ricardo Santana rode Barber Road in his last start, the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Jan. 29, because Gutierrez was at Gulfstream Park to ride Chess Chief in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes (G1). Barber Road finished second in the Southwest, which was Oaklawn’s second Kentucky Derby points race.

Although Gutierrez is based at Fair Grounds, he’s already ridden six winners at the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting, including four for Ortiz in high end allowance or maiden special weights events.

“Reylu Gutierrez’s got the mount back,” said Ortiz, who trains Barber Road for former Walmart executive William Simon (WSS Racing). “He is committed all the way through the Kentucky Derby. We really appreciate Ricardo’s ride last time out, but we want to keep it loyal and committed to the owner. I think it’s just better for the horse. Reylu’s won with him twice.”

Barber Road returned to the work tab Feb. 8, covering 5 furlongs in 1:02.80. Barber Road breezed with stablemate Silent Disco.

“Just sat off the horse,” Ortiz said, describing Barber Road’s work. “I think the other horse is doing pretty good right now and was more of a target. They both came home pretty strong and I was very happy to see Barber Road willing and strong and sharp as usual.”

Ortiz said Barber Road is scheduled to work 5 furlongs Tuesday morning and return with an easy half-mile leg “stretcher” Feb. 21, the day post positions are drawn for the Rebel. The Rebel will offer 85 points to the top four finishers (50-20-10-5, respectively) toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby. Barber Road ranks 16th on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard – the race is limited to 20 starters – with eight points after collecting four in the Smarty Jones and Southwest, according to Churchill Downs.

In addition to Barber Road, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said he will “definitely have something” for the Rebel, a race he’s won a record eight times. Baffert won the 1 1/16-mile Southwest with unbeaten Newgrange, who beat Barber Road by 1 ½ lengths. Newgrange returned to the work tab Saturday at Santa Anita, covering 3 furlongs in :37.60.

Other potential Rebel starters include Smarty Jones winner Dash Attack for trainer Kenny McPeek, Southwest third Ben Diesel for trainer Dallas Stewart and Chasing Time, a 7 ¾-length first-level allowance winner at 1 mile Jan. 14 for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.

The Rebel is the final major local prep for the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at 1 1/8 miles April 2.

Oaklawn’s 2021 Eclipse Awards Winners

Horse of the Year: Knicks Go

Three-Year-Old Male: Essential Quality

Older Dirt Male: Knicks Go

Older Dirt Female: Letruska

Male Sprinter: Jackie’s Warrior

Female Sprinter: Ce Ce

Trainer: Brad Cox

NOTE Oaklawn-raced horses during the 2020 and 2021 meets. Cox was Oaklawn’s third-leading trainer at the 2021 meet.

Oaklawn didn’t race Thursday, but it was still a memorable day because of what happened approximately 1,600 miles away in Southern California.

The 51st Annual Eclipse Awards ceremony Thursday night at Santa Anita honored 17 winners in horse and human categories for their work in 2021. Oaklawn-connected horses/humans took home year-end championship hardware in seven, including the highest honor as Knicks Go was crowned Horse of the year.

“How about that?” Oaklawn President Louis Cella said Friday afternoon. “We did super. I’ll tell you what it really is a testament to, is we’ve focused over the last few years really elevating our game. Now, some of the smaller operators are a little frustrated, but by increasing the purses and getting those top-level horses that we are getting shows that we’re probably the premier racing venue at the time of year we run. You come through Oaklawn, you’re going to be doing pretty good.”

Knicks Go was a powerful allowance winner in 2020 at Oaklawn, which marked his first start for trainer Brad Cox. Knicks Go, in 2021, was an overwhelming choice for champion older dirt male and Horse of the Year honors following his victory in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) Nov. 6 at Del Mar.

Cox, 41, was honored with an Eclipse Award as the country’s outstanding trainer of 2020 and again in 2021 after setting a single-season North American record for purse earnings ($31,832,345), according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization.

Cox was Oaklawn’s third-leading trainer at the 2021 meeting, setting single-season personal bests in Hot Springs for victories (29), stakes victories (seven) and purse earnings ($3,544,259).

Cox’s victories included the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) for 3-year-olds last February with Essential Quality, who was the country’s champion 2-year-old male. Essential Quality used the Southwest as a springboard to champion 3-year-old male honors after adding four more victories, including the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park – the final leg of the Triple Crown – and the $1.25 million Travers Stakes (G1) at Saratoga.

Cox briefly touched on his accomplishment Saturday morning at Oaklawn following a whirlwind trip with family to Santa Anita for the Eclipse Awards ceremony. The 2020 presentation was virtual because of the coronavirus outbreak.

“It probably meant a little more this time than it did the first time, in regard to the ceremony,” Cox said. “It was done on an iPad for my family to get that. This means a little more. You’ll remember it, the first one. I did an interview in the middle of Gulfstream Park’s parking lot, so, yeah, this one probably meant a little more in regard to the way it led up. And, I didn’t know I had won until they announced it. When it was virtual, they basically told you that you had won and it was all virtual. There wasn’t really any excitement. It was exciting, but there was no build up for it. This one was cool.”

Cox received 189 first-place votes from members of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA), Daily Racing Form and National Turf Writers and Broadcasters (NTWAB). Hall of Famer and 11-time Oaklawn champion Steve Asmussen finished second in balloting for outstanding trainer with 33 first-place votes.

Asmussen also trained two Eclipse Award winners, including Jackie’s Warrior (male sprinter), who finished third behind Essential Quality in the Southwest.

Letruska was a runaway choice for champion older dirt female after winning four Grade 1 events, including the $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap last April at Oaklawn. Oaklawn’s other 2021 Eclipse Awards winner was Ce (champion female sprinter). Ce Ce won the 2020 Apple Blossom and concluded her 2021 campaign with a victory in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) Nov. 6 at Del Mar.

Other Oaklawn-raced 2021 finalists were Mystic Guide (older dirt male), Shedaresthedevil (older dirt female), Aloha West (male sprinter) and Gamine (female sprinter). Cox also trains Shedarestdevil, a multiple Oaklawn stakes winner, for co-owner Staton Flurry of Hot Springs. John Hiraldo was among three finalists for champion apprentice jockey. Hiraldo, who rode five winners in December at Oaklawn, was runner-up in the voting.

Finalists were determined in each category by voters’ top three selections, using a 10-5-1 point basis. Eclipse Award winners were determined by first-place votes.

Finish Lines

The track was closed for training Sunday morning because of freezing temperatures. … Unbeaten Triple Crown nominee Zozos ($9.80) represented two-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox’s 250th career Oaklawn victory in Friday’s eighth race. Cox recorded 25th career Oaklawn stakes victory in Saturday’s $600,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) for older horses at 1 1/16 miles with favored Plainsman ($5.80). … Southern California-based trainer Phil D’Amato, who has a small local string, recorded his first career Oaklawn stakes victory with Miss Bigly ($12.80) in Saturday’s $250,000 Bayakoa (G3) for older fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles. … Ingrid Mason won Saturday’s sixth race with Tappin Fora Dance ($18.20) to move into a tie with Lynn Chleborad as the winningest female trainer in Oaklawn history. Each entered Sunday with 126 career victories in Hot Springs. Martin Garcia rode the winner for Mason’s significant other, owner Mike Waters (Muddy Waters Stables). It was the fifth victory of the meeting for Mason, who won her first race at Oaklawn in 2010. Chleborad ran fourth in Saturday’s sixth race with Mr. Ankeny. … Florent Geroux rode two maiden special weight winners Saturday, including first-time starter and Triple Crown nominee We the People ($9.20) in the nightcap for trainer Rodolphe Brisset and an ownership group that includes WinStar Farm, which stands the colt’s sire, Constitution. We the People stormed home by 5 ¾ lengths in the 1-mile race for 3-year-olds. Geroux also won the fourth race for Arkansas-bred sprinters aboard favored You Vee Cee ($3.80) for trainer Carl Deville and owner Jerry Carroom of Hot Springs. … Favored Joyful Cadence ($4.60) won Saturday’s ninth race, an allowance sprint for older females. David Cabrera rode the winner for trainer John Ortiz and owner William Simona former Walmart executive. Joyful Cadence became the first Oaklawn winner sired by champion Runhappy during the 2021 meeting before finishing second in its $200,000 Purple Martin Stakes for 3-year-old filly sprinters last April. … A double Friday pushed trainer Randy Morse‘s career Oaklawn total to 296. Morse won the sixth race with One Way Or Another ($19.80) and the seventh race with Stanley Market ($25.20).

Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates

Photo: Barber Road in a morning work at Oaklawn Park. (Coady Photography)

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