Two accomplished runners for trainer Brad Cox recorded workouts on an overcast Sunday morning at Oaklawn, including Louisiana Derby winner and Arkansas Derby candidate Wells Bayou.
Wells Bayou breezed in company moments after the track opened under exercise rider Gustavo Abrego, the brother of assistant trainer Jorgito Abrego, who oversees Cox’s Oaklawn division. Wells Bayou covered 5 furlongs over a fast track in 1:00.40, his third local move since winning the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) March 21 at Fair Grounds.
Wells Bayou, on the outside during his drill with stablemate Wild Union, was credited with splits of :24.40 for his opening quarter-mile, :36.80 for 3 furlongs, :48.40 for a half-mile and galloping out 6 furlongs in 1:12.40 and 7 furlongs in 1:26.40. Wild Union, a 3-year-old by Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Bayern, is a nine-race maiden. Cox said he breezes Wells Bayou in company, “most of the time.”
“We were looking for a good work today – if we decide to run,” the Kentucky-based Cox said by phone Sunday morning. “It was one of those things where we were just kind of looking to see how he would respond and he worked really well. Pleased with him.”
Oaklawn moved the Arkansas Derby from April 11 to closing day, May 2 in response to the Covid-19 crisis. The $750,000 Grade 1 event closed Thursday with 99 nominations. Early probables for the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby include Silver Prospector and Nadal, winners of Oaklawn’s second and third Kentucky Derby points races, respectively. Silver Prospector captured the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 17 for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. Nadal won the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) March 14 for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.
“I would label him a candidate right now,” Cox said, referring to the Arkansas Derby status of Wells Bayou.
Wells Bayou had been based at Oaklawn before the 1 3/16-mile Louisiana Derby, winning a first-level allowance race Jan. 26 (his two-turn debut and first start without blinkers), then finishing a game second in the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 17. The 1 1/16-mile Southwest marked the stakes debut for Wells Bayou, a son of champion Lookin At Lucky. Wells Bayou returned to Oaklawn in late March.
Wells Bayou ranks second on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 104 points, including 100 for his Louisiana Derby victory. He also earned four points for his runner-up finish in the Southwest.
Like the Louisiana Derby, the Arkansas Derby is scheduled to offer 170 points (100-40-20-10) to the top four finishers toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby, which was moved from May 2 to Sept. 5
Purchased for $105,000 at the 2019 Ocala Breeders’ Sales March 2-year-old in training sale, Wells Bayou has a 3-1-0 record from five lifetime starts and earnings of $845,293. The colt races for his original owners, Arkansans Lance and Clint Gasaway, Sol Kumin (Madaket Stables) and Marc Lore (Wonder Stables). Madaket Stables and Wonder Stables bought into the colt after the Louisiana Derby.
Warrior’s Charge, another stakes winner for Cox, also breezed before the first surface renovation break Sunday morning in advance of the $600,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older horses May 2. Warrior’s Charge, under exercise rider Edvin Vargas, went a half-mile in :47, second-fastest of 53 works recorded at the distance. Clockers had the 4-year-old son of Munnings galloping out 5 furlongs in 1:00, 6 furlongs in 1:12.60 and 7 furlongs in 1:26.60.
Warrior’s Charge hasn’t started since a front-running victory in the $500,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) Feb. 17, a major local prep for the Oaklawn Handicap. Warrior’s Charge breezed by himself Sunday.
“He’s obviously a horse that does not need company as he gets older,” Cox said. “They (older horses) tend to do things on their own, get some races underneath them. He’s a really, really solid work horse. He’s doing what we like to see leading up to this race. Very similar to how he led up to the Razorback. It looks like it’s going to be a really solid race. He’s a solid horse, so we’ll see what happens.”
The 1 1/8-mile Oaklawn Handicap closed Thursday with 38 nominations.
Baffert said in a text message Sunday morning that Grade 1 winner Improbable is pointing for the Oaklawn Handicap. Improbable, in his 4-year-old debut, finished second in the $150,000 Oaklawn Mile April 11.
Improbable schooled in the gate before galloping after the first surface renovation break Sunday morning under exercise rider Yoni Hernandez. Improbable finished second in the first division of last year’s $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn before running second in the Arkansas Derby.
Cox is also scheduled to start Night Ops in the Oaklawn Handicap. Owned by prominent Arkansas automobile dealer Steve Landers, Night Ops won the $350,000 Essex Handicap, a major steppingstone to the Oaklawn Handicap, in his last start.
Heading Home, Staying Put
Ce Ce, winner of Saturday’s $600,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) for older fillies and mares, was scheduled to van back to Southern California Sunday afternoon, trainer Mike McCarthy said in a text message Sunday morning, adding she came out of her narrow victory over Ollie’s Candy in “great” shape physically.
Ce Ce, after breaking from post 14 under Hall of Fame jockey Victor Espinoza, collared Ollie’s Candy in the shadow of the wire to win the 1 1/16-mile race by a head for California breeder/owner Bo Hirsch. Ce Ce ($9.80) is a half-sister to 2009 Arkansas Derby winner Papa Clem, who was also bred and campaigned by Hirsch. Ce Ce is unbeaten in three starts this year, including the $400,000 Beholder Mile (G1) March 14 at Santa Anita. McCarthy said the year-end goal for Ce Ce is the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) Nov. 7 at Keeneland. Getting there, McCarthy indicated after the Apple Blossom, is tricky since racing nationally has been disrupted because of Covid-19.
“We’ll have to see what happens here,” McCarthy said. “Obviously, it would be nice to go ahead and circle the Breeders’ Cup. Hopefully, everything gets back to the new normal again.”
Apple Blossom third-place finisher Point of Honor was scheduled to return Sunday to her south Florida base, trainer George Weaver said Sunday morning. Point of Honor was beaten 2 ¼ lengths after breaking last and racing six-wide on the second turn.
“She didn’t break well and got sandwiched out of there,” Weaver said. “ She was a little farther back than she needed to be. It was a tough race. There were a bunch of good fillies in there. There were five Grade 1 winners.”
The Apple Blossom undercard was highlighted by Whitmore’s record third victory in the $350,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) for older horses for co-owner/trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs.
Ridden by Joe Talamo, Whitmore ($8.20) held off late-running Flagstaff by three-quarters of a length in 1:08.95 for 6 furlongs. Whitmore also won the Count Fleet in 2017, 2018 and finished second in last year’s race to eventual male sprint champion Mitole.
“It was one of his best races ever, for sure,” Laura Moquett, Moquett’s wife/assistant, said Sunday morning. “It was absolutely one of them.”
Moquett said Whitmore came out of the Count Fleet “perfect” physically.
Whitmore has seven career stakes victories at Oaklawn – he has captured the Hot Springs a record four consecutive years – but Laura Moquett called the latest “more special” because her husband’s horses are housed each winter and early spring in the Count Fleet barn.
“It’s one of Ron’s favorite races,” she said.
Whitmore won for the 14th time in 34 starts to increase his career earnings to $3,146,350. The gelding also races for Robert LaPenta and Head of Plains Partners LLC (Kumin).
Ron Moquett said the year-end goal for Whitmore is the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) Nov. 7 at Keeneland. Whitmore ran second in the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Sprint and was third last year.
Jockey Channing Hill, who was unseated in Friday’s second race, is conscious and has movement in all extremities, his father-in-law, trainer Wayne Catalano, said Sunday morning. Catalano said Hill is hospitalized at CHI St. Vincent in Hot Springs after suffering “a couple of fractures in the back of his neck” and a couple of “compression fractures in his back.” “He’s talking, he’s conscious, he’s in good spirits,” Catalano said. … Multiple Oaklawn stakes winner Bye Bye J worked a half-mile in :48.80 over a fast track Sunday morning for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. … Favored Break Even, winner of the $150,000 Purple Martin Stakes for 3-year-old filly sprinters last year at Oaklawn, was a sharp three-length allowance winner in Saturday’s ninth race. Joel Rosario rode Break Even ($5.20) for trainer Brad Cox. She covered 6 furlongs over a fast track in 1:09.28. … Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert moved to 4 for 7 at the meet with a victory by favored Dessman ($4.80) in Saturday’s seventh race, a 1-mile allowance, under Martin Garcia. The Southern California-based Baffert entered Sunday 28 of 69 overall in his Oaklawn career. He was scheduled to send out Merneith – a 3-year-old daughter of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah – in Sunday’s 10th race, a maiden special weights sprint. American Pharoah won Oaklawn’s $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) and $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) before sweeping the 2015 Triple Crown.