Oaklawn Barn Notes
Contact: Jennifer Hoyt, firstname.lastname@example.org (501) 623-4411 ex. 491
Thursday, April 23, 2020
It wasn’t a major Kentucky Derby prep, but Merneith one-upped her famous daddy last Sunday at Oaklawn when the 3-year-old filly broke her maiden by 10 ¼ lengths in the 10th race.
Merneith became the first Oaklawn winner for 2015 Triple Crown champ American Pharoah, North America’s leading first-crop sire last year. Fittingly, Merneith was sent out by Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert and ridden by Martin Garcia. Baffert, of course, trained American Pharoah, and Garcia regularly worked the horse during his Triple Crown year.
“That filly, I love her,” the Southern California-based Baffert said Wednesday afternoon. “She’s such a good filly and she looks the part. She looks like Pharoah. These Pharoahs, you have to wait on them and they’re going to come running. A lot of them, they tried to run them early. I thought she was going to do that first out. Every time I worked her, I would tell people I cannot believe she’s a maiden. I don’t know what it was.”
Merneith, as the favorite, had finished second in first two career starts, both earlier this year at Santa Anita. She was beaten a length in her Jan. 20 debut at 6 ½ furlongs and a nose Feb. 23 going a mile.
Cutting back to 6 furlongs, and racing over a sloppy track for the first time Sunday, Merneith sat just off the pace before taking command on the outside turning for home. Merneith completed the distance in 1:09.96 and paid $3.60 as the heavy favorite. Merneith received a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 91, a career high.
American Pharoah began his 2015 Horse of the Year campaign by winning Oaklawn’s $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) by 6 ¼ lengths and the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) by eight lengths before sweeping the Triple Crown. The Rebel was also run on a sloppy track.
“I think Martin, when he broke the other day, he just let her settle,” Baffert said. “Before, they were just sending her hard and she didn’t want to do that. She’s a really good filly, so I’m glad that she did that because she’s got a great owner.”
Merneith, a $600,000 Ocala Breeders’ Sales’ March 2-Year-Olds in Training Sale purchase, is owned by HRH Prince Sultan Bin Mishal Al Saud and among roughly a half-dozen horses on the grounds for Baffert, who has been sending select runners to Arkansas after racing was suspended late last month at Santa Anita (COVID-19). Baffert’s Oaklawn string is overseen by his traveling assistant, Jimmy Barnes. Merneith had a local half-mile bullet workout (:46.80), under Garcia, April 11.
Baffert said he plans to send another 3-year-old daughter of American Pharoah to Oaklawn, unraced As Time Goes By, in hopes of breaking her maiden before the meeting’s scheduled close, May 2. As Time Goes By is out of multiple Grade 1 winner Take Charge Lady, making her a half-sister to Grade 1 winner Take Charge Indy and multiple Oaklawn stakes winner and champion Will Take Charge. Take Charge Lady finished second, beaten a head by reigning Horse of the Year Azeri, in Oaklawn’s $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) for older fillies and mares in 2003.
“There’s not a bigger Pharoah fan than me,” Baffert said. “When I see one, I’m going to buy them. The only one that got away was that filly for $8 million (America’s Joy). She was beautiful, Beholder’s sister. They have a certain look. If they have that look, they can really run. You’ve just got to let them develop.”
Baffert said a major long-range target for Merneith is the rescheduled Kentucky Oaks (G1) – the nation’s biggest prize for 3-year-old fillies – Sept. 4 at Churchill Downs. The 1 1/8-mile race, originally scheduled to be run May 1, was moved because of Covid-19.
Merneith is the fourth offspring of American Pharoah to run at Oaklawn, following American Butterfly, Chain Mover, and American Theorem. American Butterfly is scheduled to make his fifth start at the meeting in Friday’s 10th race, a first-level allowance sprint, for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.
Retired in 2015 after winning 9 of 11 career starts, American Pharoah stands at Ashford Stud in Kentucky. His stud fee is private. Merneith is the second foal out of Flattermewithroses to reach the races and win.
Merneith ran Baffert’s record at the meet to 5 for 9 and was his 442nd career victory with Garcia, once the trainer’s go-to afternoon and breeze rider in Southern California. Garcia is riding regularly at Oaklawn for the first time this year after relocating to the Midwest last fall. Garcia rode American Pharoah in his career debut.
Baffert also reported multiple graded stakes winner Thousand Words, beaten favorite in the $200,000 Oaklawn Stakes for 3-year-olds April 11, will receive a break following his second consecutive subpar performance.
Out of Jail?
The 3-1 program favorite for Friday’s 10th race, a first-level allowance sprint for 3-year-olds, was beaten 49 lengths in his last start. But that was at 1 1/16 miles and in a $1 million race, the Grade 2 Rebel March 14, for trainer Tom Amoss and co-owner Maggi Moss.
Now, Louisiana-bred sensation No Parole returns to his comfort zone – 6 furlongs – where he won his first two career starts by a combined 27 ½ lengths against state-breds at Fair Grounds.
“You know how it is in the spring, with the young horses,” Amoss said Wednesday afternoon. “Everybody’s looking for a horse. No Parole got a lot of attention after his two wins at the Fair Grounds sprinting. They were good-looking wins. He won very easily. I realize there’s disappointment when you are running a horse in a Derby prep and he doesn’t run very well. But, in fairness, Maggi Moss and I knew that we were experimenting and trying something that we didn’t necessarily have the answer to. That’s how horse racing is. He told us what he can and can’t do. He doesn’t want to go that distance, so we’ve given him time to freshen up, get back to himself, and then now we’re going to do what he does best.”
A son of Grade 1 winner Violence, No Parole has led at every point of call in his three victories, including a 6 ½-length score against state-breds in the $100,000 Premier Night Prince Stakes Feb. 8 at Delta Downs. The 1-mile Premier Night Prince marked No Parole’s two-turn debut. Joe Talamo is named to ride No Parole from the rail Friday.
“So often, post position dictates a lot of what you’re going to do,” Amoss said. “It’s in a race that’s full of speed. On the one hand, we’ve got good natural speed ourselves, but we also need to protect our position against the rail. No Parole is going to be in that first flight of horses and not lose position by having to take back behind other speed horses, and there are a lot of them in there. Our strategy is kind of made up for us – protect the rail and kind of be in that first flight.”
Other entrants in the projected 12-horse field include American Butterfly (9-2) for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, Mr. Tip (12-1) for trainer Jack Sisterson, Dark Oak (8-1) for trainer Rey Hernandez, unbeaten Hop Kat (7-2) for trainer Eddie Kenneally and Juggernaut (12-1) for trainer Keith Desormeaux. With options limited nationally because of COVID-19, more and more new faces like Sisterson, Hernandez, Kenneally, and Desormeaux have started popping up in Oaklawn’s entry box.
“Everybody’s calling audibles,” said the Fair Grounds-based Amoss, who has a string this year at Oaklawn. “On the one hand, it makes for some great racing at Oaklawn and really cosmopolitan fields from all over. We saw that last weekend in the Apple Blossom, so it’s great for the fans. It makes racing a lot tougher for the trainers and the owners, but hey, I’m not complaining. At least we have an outlet to run our horses.”
Probable post time for Friday’s 10th race is 5:38 p.m. (Central).
While Oaklawn Stakes winner Mr. Big News is passing the Arkansas Derby, Farmington Road and Taishan, second and third, respectively, are pointing for the 1 1/8-mile race. Post positions for the Arkansas Derby will be drawn Sunday, with Baffert expected to have two unbeaten entrants in Nadal (3 for 3) and Charlatan (2 for 2). Nadal won the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) March 14, traditionally the final major local Arkansas Derby prep. … Multiple stakes winner Hot Shot Kid, Canterbury Park’s 2019 Horse of the Year, is scheduled to make his 2020 debut in Friday’s ninth race, an allowance sprint. Also entered is lightly raced Volatile (2 for 3), an $850,000 son of Violence for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. … Multiple Oaklawn stakes winner Gray Attempt is scheduled to make his comeback in Saturday’s sixth race, an allowance sprint for older horses, for trainer Jinks Fires of Hot Springs and owner Dwight Pruett of Texarkana, Ark. Gray Attempt hasn’t run since opening day, Jan. 24, because of stomach ulcers, Fires said. Also entered in the 6-furlong race are Wilbo, winner of the $125,000 King Cotton Stakes for older sprinters in 2018 for trainer Chris Hartman, and 5-2 program favorite St. Joe Bay, a multiple graded stakes winner and recent arrival from Southern California for trainer John Sadler. … Carlos Sixes (1:57 2/5) equaled the 1 3/16-mile track record when timed in fifths of a second, in the seventh race April 16. Carlos Sixes ($12.40) represented the fourth victory at the meet for apprentice jockey Charles Roberts.