Saturday, January 3, 2015

Jockey Joe Rocco Jr. Returns to Oaklawn

Jockey Joe Rocco Jr. could again be enjoying the warmth of sunny south Florida this winter, but instead the jockey was walking the Oaklawn Park stable area on a raw, overcast Friday morning in Arkansas.

Rocco, 32, will be returning to ride regularly at Oaklawn after a three-year hiatus when the 2015 meeting begins Friday. In his first full Oaklawn season, Rocco rode 25 winners in 2011 to finish eighth in the standings. He shifted his winter base to Gulfstream Park near Miami in 2012-2014.

“When I got to Miami, I was honestly depressed that I didn’t come back here,” Rocco said.

Family played in large part in his decision to return to Oaklawn. Riding at Oaklawn, rather than Gulfstream, Rocco said, allows his son to remain in the same school throughout the year. The permanent family home  is in Louisville, Ky, where Rocco resides with his wife and two children.

“It’s close enough that I can drive back home on the dark days and my wife and kids can come on the weekends,” Rocco said.

Rocco, who is coming off a solid 2014, in which he ranked 52nd nationally in purse earnings ($4.3 million),  was the regular rider for Oakawn favorite Tiz Miz Sue and more recently has been riding top mare Don’t Tell Sophia. He won the $400,000 Ogden Phipps Handicap (G1) aboard Tiz Miz Sue in 2013 at Belmont Park. Tiz Miz Sue, who was trained by Steve Hobby, represented the first Grade I victory for Rocco, and his first graded stakes victory when she won the 2012 Azeri (G3) at Oaklawn.

The jockey guided Don’t Tell Sophia to victory in last year’s $500,000 Spinster Stakes (G1) at Keeneland and was aboard when she came flying late to be second in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

Trained by Phil Sims, Don’t Tell Sophia is scheduled to make her 2015 debut in the $100,000 Pippin Stakes Jan. 17 at Oaklawn.

“She’s really nice,” Rocco said.

Sims, Hobby and trainer Tony Dutrow, another major client, all have horses at Oaklawn.

“It just made sense to come back,” said Rocco, Delaware Park’s leading rider in 2011. “I really like it here.”

‘Street’ Talk

Lightly raced Street Strategy, among the most promising 3-year-olds during the 2014 Oaklawn meeting, took another step toward a comeback race by working 5 furlongs in 1:02.80 Dec. 29 for trainer Randy Morse.

It was the sixth published work since mid-November for Street Strategy, a Street Sense colt owned by Iron Horse Racing LLC (Dave Clark).

Street Strategy hasn’t started since finishing sixth in one of Oaklawn’s major Kentucky Derby prep races, the $600,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 15.

Morse said Street Strategy tore the main supporting ligament in his stifle in the Rebel, an injury the trainer described as “real rare.”

“It took a long time for it to heal,” Morse said.

Morse said he believes Street Strategy was injured at the start of the Rebel, while stumbling the first jump out of the gate.

“He never did get into the race like he was supposed to,” Morse said.

Street Strategy’s only other two career starts came last year at Oaklawn. The gray colt was beaten a nose in his career debut before – in his first start around two turns - breaking his maiden by 6 ½ lengths going a mile. He is still eligible for an entry-level allowance race.

Clark, who resides in Little Rock, Ark., and Naples, Fla., purchased Street Strategy for $425,000 at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's Spring Sale of 2-year-olds in training.

Finish Lines

Entries for Friday’s scheduled opening-day card will be drawn Tuesday. … In addition to Jon Court, agent “Big Steve” Krajcir of Hot Springs will represent Joe Johnson at the 2015 meeting. … Sheltowee’s Boy, unraced since finishing fifth in the $100,000 Northern Spur Stakes on April 12 (leg injury), worked 3 furlongs in :38.20 New Year’s Eve for trainer Brad Cox. The trainer said he expects Sheltowee’s Boy to run at the meeting.

 

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