Merlazza takes the Valley Of The Vapors in her stakes debut (Coady Photography)
Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates
HOT SPRINGS, Ark.— Merlazza, winner of the inaugural $150,000 Valley of the Vapors Stakes Saturday at Oaklawn, will be considered for the $300,000 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (G2) for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/8 miles May 19 at Pimlico, trainer Brad Cox said Monday afternoon.
Overcoming traffic and a slow pace in her stakes debut, Merlazza closed with a rush to post a one-length victory in the Valley of the Vapors – a 1-mile race for 3-year-old fillies – under Joel Rosario. Heavily favored Merlazza ($3.20) received a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 82, a career high.
“We’ll look at the Black-Eyed Susan,” Cox said. “It was kind of my plan with her in March. I loved how she was doing at Churchill. I just breezed her two maintenance halves and then decided to bring her down for that (Valley of the Vapors). We don’t have a lot of time. I guess we would be back in four weeks. I’ll let her kind of tell us over the next few weeks if the Black-Eyed Susan makes sense.”
A daughter of Medaglia d’Oro, a 2002 Oaklawn maiden special weight graduate and 2003 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) winner, Merlazza races for her breeder, Don Alberto Stable. The Valley of the Vapors marked her third consecutive victory after finishing second, beaten a head, in her Jan. 21 career debut at Fair Grounds.
“Thought she showed up,” Cox said. “Proud of her. The longer, the better A mile’s probably not her thing. She wants to go a little bit further than that. She can obviously handle the mile, but I think she’s bred to be a true two-turn filly that could possibly stretch as far as a mile and an eighth, maybe beyond, I don’t know. But I like what we’ve seen from her this winter and this spring. She was one last spring we had as a 2-year-old that kind of got ready quick and she had a setback and the owners were very patient with her. She identified herself as a pretty good filly right away and she obviously needed the time. I’m glad she’s come back and showed this winter and spring what she showed last summer.”
The Valley of the Vapors marked Cox’s single-season Oaklawn record ninth stakes victory. He swept Oaklawn’s three Kentucky Oaks points races, including the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles April 1, with Wet Paint.
Wet Paint (170 points) tops the leaderboard for the $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks (G1) May 5 at Churchill Downs. The 1 1/8-mile Kentucky Oaks, the country’s biggest race for 3-year-old fillies, is limited to 14 starters. Fantasy runner-up Taxed (48) entered Wednesday No. 15 on the latest Kentucky Oaks leaderboard released by Churchill Downs. Trainer Randy Morse said earlier this month that Taxed, “more than likely,” would run in the Black-Eyed Susan if unable to secure a spot in the Kentucky Oaks.
Cox and owner Staton Flurry of Hot Springs captured the 2022 Black-Eyed Susan with Interstatedaydream, a powerful entry-level allowance winner at Oaklawn in her 3-year-old debut.
Torres Eyes Earnings Record
Jockey Cristian Torres moved closer to setting a single-season Oaklawn record for purse earnings after winning Sunday’s fourth race aboard favored Peace Dog ($3) for trainer Karl Broberg and owner Staton Flurry of Hot Springs.
Peace Dog helped Torres boost his purse earnings at the meet to $5,507,166, according to Equibase, racing’s official data-gathering organization. Ricardo Santana Jr. set Oaklawn’s single-season record ($5,643,023) in 2021. There are six days remaining in the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting that began Dec. 9.
Torres, 25, is poised to break Santana’s record this week. Torres is named on nine horses Friday and 10 Saturday, including Grade 3 winner Mo Strike for trainer Brad Cox in Saturday’s $150,000 Bachelor Stakes for 3-year-old sprinters, and eight Sunday.
Peace Dog represented Torres’ meet-high 88th victory. Torres, who is seeking his first career Oaklawn riding title, also leads all riders at the 2022-2023 meeting in mounts (433) and stakes victories (six). Torres made his Oaklawn debut in 2021, riding 22 winners, and won 19 races during an injury-shortened 2021-2022 meeting.
Hall of Famer Pat Day is the only rider in Oaklawn history to reach 90 victories in a single season. Day won at least 90 races six times, including a single-season record 137 in 1986. Day (1,264) is Oaklawn’s all-time winningest rider.
First post Friday is 12:10 p.m. … Jockey Erick Fuentes, who rides with a 10-pound apprentice allowance, recorded his first career Oaklawn victory in Sunday’s third race aboard favored Essential Bella ($5) for owner/trainer Karl Broberg. It was the second career victory for Fuentes, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. The first came Dec. 16 at Aqueduct. … Grade 3 winner Forza Di Oro is pointing for the inaugural $150,000 Lake Ouachita Stakes for older horses at 1 1/16 miles May 5 at Oaklawn, trainer Brad Cox said Monday afternoon. Forza Di Oro, in his last start, finished third in the $500,000 Essex Handicap (G3) for older horses at 1 1/16 miles March 18 at Oaklawn. The Lake Ouachita closed with 35 nominations. … Joe Frazier, a powerful starter-allowance sprint winner April 15 at Oaklawn, is under consideration for the Lake Ouachita and the inaugural $150,000 Lake Hamilton Stakes for older horses at 6 furlongs May 6 at Oaklawn, trainer Tim Martin said Saturday morning. … Joe Frazier is owned by Heath and Sheena Campbell of Benton, Ark., who won two races Sunday to pull into a 15-15 tie with Jerry Caroom of Hot Springs atop the Oaklawn owner’s standings. The Campbells won the eighth race (dead-heat) with Ultimate ($5.60) and the ninth race with Bread Winner ($28.80). Ramsey Zimmerman rode both winners for Martin. … Trainer Edgar Espinoza recorded his first career Oaklawn victory in Saturday’s second race with Out Run’m ($77.20). … Trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel recorded his 310th career Oaklawn victory when favored Hard to Come By ($7.80) won Sunday’s first race under Martin Garcia. Von Hemel is the 14th-winningest trainer in Oaklawn history.