Oaklawn opens Jan. 24, but trainer Brad Cox is already targeting major local races in February for two of his most promising runners now based at Fair Grounds and a third already in Hot Springs.
Cox said Friday morning that he is pointing unbeaten Taraz for the $150,000 Martha Washington Stakes for 3-year-old fillies Feb. 1, Warrior’s Charge for the $500,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) for older horses Feb. 17 and Answer In for the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) for 3-year-olds Feb. 17.
Lightly raced Answer In closed his 2-year-old campaign with a runner-up finish, beaten a head, in the $400,000 Springboard Mile – the Dialed In gelding’s third career start – Dec. 15 at Remington Park.
“It was his first time around two turns and not the greatest of trips,” Cox said. “It was a step forward. He ran a winning race. He was right there and very proud of the effort. He bounced out of it in good shape. We’re hoping he can be a contender in the 3-year-old division.”
Answer In returned to the work tab Jan. 5 at Oaklawn, covering a half-mile in :51.60. Answer In earned four qualifying points toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby with his runner-up finish in the Springboard Mile. The 1 1/16-mile Southwest is Oaklawn’s second of four Kentucky Derby points races and like the Springboard Mile and Oaklawn’s first prep, the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 24, it will offer 17 points to the top four finishers (10-4-2-1).
Although Answer In is among 51 nominees to the Smarty Jones, Cox said the gelding is not a candidate for the 1-mile race.
“Too much, too quick for a young horse, in my opinion,” Cox said. “Obviously, that Triple Crown trail is very demanding. Those races are won in the spring, not in the winter.”
Answer In races for Robert LaPenta and Madaket Stables LLC.
Madaket (Sol Kumin) also co-owns Warrior’s Charge with Memphis-based Ten Strike Racing, whose founding members, Marshall Gramm and Clay Sanders, have been major supporters of Oaklawn and have strong local ties.
Warrior’s Charge made his first four starts last year at Oaklawn, scoring powerful front-running maiden and allowance victories before being supplemented to the Preakness, the second leg of racing’s Triple Crown, for $150,000. Warrior’s Charge, in his stakes debut, finished fourth, beaten 2 ½ lengths by War of Will.
Warrior’s Charge was a front-running two-length allowance winner of his Dec. 18 comeback race at Fair Grounds.
“Really pleased with his first race off the layoff,” Cox said. “He’ll go from the allowance race to the Razorback.”
Cox said Warrior’s Charge, a son of Munnings, will continue to prep for the 1 1/16-mile Razorback at Fair Grounds before shipping to Oaklawn, “probably” after Feb. 1.
One of the most intriguing prospects in Cox’s barn is Taraz, a massive daughter of super sire Into Mischief who is a homebred for famed Juddmonte Farm. Taraz (2 for 2 sprinting) won her career debut by 7 ½ lengths Nov. 14 at Churchill Downs and the $75,000 Letellier Memorial Stakes Dec. 21 at Fair Grounds by 11 ¼ lengths.
“Wait to you see her,” Cox said. “She might make Zenyatta look small. A gorilla. She doesn’t even look like a Thoroughbred.”
Cox also trains probable 2-year-old filly champion and Fair Grounds-based British Idiom, but he said the 1-mile Martha Washington isn’t necessarily a move to keep the fillies separated. Cox chose the Martha Washington over two races at Fair Grounds, next Saturday’s $150,000 Silverbulletday Stakes and the $300,000 Rachel Alexandra Stakes (G2) Feb. 15.
“Even if I didn’t have British Idiom, it really comes down to, honestly, I like the idea of – she’s got speed,” Cox said. “The Martha Washington is two turns, it’s a short stretch. It gives me the opportunity to utilize her speed and introduce her to two turns and not have to ask her to run a long way down the lane. I just think from a fitness standpoint, or an education standpoint, it makes more sense to try that as opposed to going to the Silverbulletday or the Rachel.”
Cox said Taraz will probably remain at Fair Grounds until about a week before the Martha Washington, but could, depending on weather, have one work at Oaklawn.
The Martha Washington is Oaklawn’s first of three Kentucky Oaks points races and offers 17 to the top four finishers (10-4-2-1).
A Different Look
Trainer Mike Puhich’s first Oaklawn starter, Number Juan, was noteworthy because it came in the 2004 Southwest Stakes, which also marked the local debut of future champion and near-Triple Crown winner Smarty Jones.
Number Juan, owned by Mike Pegram, finished fifth in the Southwest before returning a month later to win an allowance race – Puhich’s second and last starter to date in Hot Springs.
The Pacific Northwest-based Puhich is back at Oaklawn, this time with an 18-horse string for the 2020 meeting that begins Jan. 24. Puhich’s major client is Mark Dedomenico, a prominent heart surgeon who owns Pegasus Training and Rehabilitation Center near Seattle.
Puhich, also Dedomenico’s racing manager, had made trips to Oaklawn the last few years to check on horses of Dedomenico and Seattle owner Mike Waters (Muddy Waters Stable) when they were with the late Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg or his son, trainer Tom Van Berg.
“The boss kind of wanted to move from California, move pretty much everything out of California, and bring them back here,” Puhich said. “Then we had some other clients that wanted to come back here and try it. We thought, ‘Well, we’ll come back and set things up.’ I have the duties of managing all of Dr. Mark’s horses and overseeing the farm. We’ll pretty much base here with the majority of his horses.”
Puhich said Dedomenico will probably have 10-12 horses at Oaklawn. Dedomenico, in partnership, campaigned Blind Luck, who won Oaklawn’s $300,000 Fantasy Stakes (G2) en route to an Eclipse Award as the country’s champion 3-year-old filly of 2010. Dedomenico also co-owns Motion Emotion, among Oaklawn’s top 3-year-old fillies of 2019 after finishing second in the $200,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) and $500,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3). Motion Emotion is now based in Southern California with trainer Richard Baltas.
Puhich said he has horses for other Seattle-area clients and can draw from a pool of 40 horses now at Pegasus to keep his stalls at Oaklawn full.
“Again, when you bring them here and run them where they belong, you’re probably not going to have them very long,” Puhich said, referring to Oaklawn’s reputation for intense claiming. “The good thing is we have a whole training center. We’re just going to shuffle them. We’re not across the street, we’re across the country. But Dr. Mark is one of those eccentric kinds of guys and not afraid to do it.”
Among the horses on the grounds for Puhich is the Dedomenico-owned Compelling Smile, an unbeaten 3-year-old daughter of Constitution. After winning her career debut in June at Emerald Downs near Seattle, Puhich said an ankle injury forced her to miss the $300,000 Del Mar Debutante Stakes (G1) Aug. 31 at Del Mar and shelved her for the remainder of the year. She is targeting an opening-day allowance race, Puhich said. Puhich also trains unstarted Background, a 3-year-old Khozan colt with two published works this season at Oaklawn.
“It’s a good mix,” Puhich said, referring to his stable. “We’re going to bring a lot of maidens back here because you have the potential to make good earnings. It’s unbelievable. We’ve got maidens anywhere from $16,000 to allowance.”
Maiden special weights purses at Oaklawn are $85,000, a record to open a meeting.
The track was rated good for workouts Saturday morning following severe thunderstorms overnight. … Three Technique worked a half-mile in :48.40 Saturday morning for trainer Jeremiah Englehart in advance of the colt’s scheduled 3-year-old and stakes debut in the $150,000 Smarty Jones Jan. 24. … Agent Gene Short of Hot Springs said he will represent jockeys Alex Canchari and Fernando De La Cruz at the 2020 meet that begins Jan. 24. … Break Even, winner of the $150,000 Purple Martin Stakes for 3-year-old filly sprinters last year at Oaklawn, is back in training at Louisiana Downs and will probably have her first published workout next week, trainer Brad Cox said Friday morning. Break Even is unraced since suffering her first career loss in the $250,000 Prioress Stakes (G2) Aug. 31 at Saratoga. Cox said it’s “very possible” Break Even will be seen during the 2020 Oaklawn meeting. She has won 6 of 7 starts overall.