Jockey Ramon Vazquez Heading West
HOT SPRINGS, Ark.—It’s official. The girl will be taking on the boys for the first time in the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at 1 1/8 miles April 2 at Oaklawn.
Multiple stakes winner Secret Oath was among nine horses entered Sunday for the Arkansas Derby, which is Oaklawn’s final major prep for the Kentucky Derby. The Arkansas Derby will go as the 12th of 13 races, with probable post time 6:35 p.m. (Central). First post April 2 is noon.
The Arkansas Derby will offer 170 points (100-40-20-10, respectively) to the top four finishers toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby, which is limited to 20 starters.
Secret Oath, who drew post 6, has dominated 3-year-old fillies at the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting, winning her three starts by a combined 23 lengths for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas and breeder/owner Briland Farm (Robert and Stacy Mitchell).
After securing a spot in the Kentucky Oaks – the country’s biggest race for 3-year-old fillies – with a 7 ½-length victory in the $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) Feb. 26, Lukas began targeting the Arkansas Derby, which he won in 1984 and 1985.
Lukas won the 1984 Arkansas Derby with Althea, a week after she finished second in the Fantasy. Lukas finished third in the 1986 Arkansas Derby with another filly, Family Style, a week after she finished fourth in the Fantasy. Althea and Family Style were both Eclipse Award winners at 2.
The projected Arkansas Derby field from the rail out: Kavod, Mitchell Murrill to ride, 122 pounds; Chasing Time, Jose Lezcano, 122; Barber Road, Reylu Gutierrez, 122; Doppelganger, John Velazquez, 122; Un Ojo, Ramon Vazquez, 122; Secret Oath, Luis Contreras, 117; Ben Diesel, Jon Court, 122; Cyberknife, Florent Geroux, 122; and We the People, Flavien Prat, 122.
Barber Road had his final workout for the Arkansas Derby over a fast track Sunday morning for trainer John Ortiz.
Barber Road breezed after the surface renovation break, covering a half-mile in :49.40 under exercise rider Elexander Aguilar. Clockers caught Barber Road in :25.20 for his opening quarter and galloping out 5 furlongs in 1:01.80. Barber Road worked by himself Sunday after breezing in company leading up to his prior starts this year.
“We were just doing maintenance work with him,” Ortiz said. “He’s more than fit. He’s run over this course three times already. We drilled him pretty hard going into his last race. We know he can get the distance; we know he’s fit as can be and there nothing else that I can do, except to just keep him happy and on his toes. It’s funny. Turning him around to go to his workout, he gave us a little Lipizzan leap in front of the grandstand. So, he’s on his toes.”
Barber Road, who races for former Walmart executive William Simon, was breezing for the second time since finishing third, beaten a half-length, in the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 26. The Rebel was Oaklawn’s final major prep for the Arkansas Derby.
The consistent Barber Road finished second in Oaklawn’s first two Kentucky Derby points races – $250,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at 1 mile Jan. 1 and $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Jan. 29 – and has never finished worse than fourth in his seven-race career. Barber Road ranks 17th on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 18 points, according to Churchill Downs. A top four finish in the Arkansas Derby likely would secure Barber Road a spot in the Kentucky Derby.
Also returning from the Rebel are Un Ojo, Kavod, Chasing Time and Ben Diesel, the 1-4-5-8 finishers, respectively, while We the People is unbeaten in two career starts at the meeting for trainer Rodolphe Brisset. Cyberknife was a sharp allowance winner Feb. 19 at Fair Grounds in his last start for two-time reigning Eclipse Award winner Brad Cox.
The Southern California-based Doppelganger had been with Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert – a four-time Arkansas Derby winner – before being moved earlier this week to Tim Yakteen, a former assistant. Doppelganger exits a runner-up finish in his two-turn debut, the $400,000 San Felipe Stakes (G2), March 5 at Santa Anita.
Call Me Jamal, a two-time winner at the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting, wasn’t entered in the Arkansas Derby after emerging from a 6-furlong work Sunday morning with a physical issue.
In addition to the Arkansas Derby and $600,000 Fantasy (G3) for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles, post positions also were drawn Sunday for two other April 2 stakes races – $400,000 Oaklawn Mile (G3) for older horses and the $200,000 Carousel for fillies and mares at 6 furlongs. A third stakes race scheduled April 2, the $150,000 Temperence Hill for older horses at 1 ½ miles, will be brought back April 3 after not filling.
Dream Lith, Magic Circle, Eda and Yuugiri were among nine entered in the Fantasy.
Bill Castle said in early March that jockey Ramon Vazquez would be making a major circuit change in 2022. Castle, who is Vazquez’s agent, just wasn’t sure the direction.
“Could be north,” Castle said. “Could be south, could be east, could be west.”
A post-Oaklawn fixture in recent years at Prairie Meadows, Lone Star Park and Remington Park, Vazquez is heading west, specifically to Southern California, where he will begin riding regularly at Santa Anita April 9, Castle said Sunday morning.
Castle was originally planning to send Vazquez to Kentucky, then New York, after the Oaklawn meeting ended May 8. But the direction changed when Southern California stalwarts Flavien Prat and Umberto Rispoli announced in early March that they would be relocating to New York.
“We’re doing it,” Castle said. “We’re all in. We’re looking forward to it. I think that they’ll realize that this is a rider that likes to get up in the morning. He goes out and works his five, six, seven because he loves it. He loves to do it. He enjoys this business. So, I think they’re going to see a very happy, very lightweight rider, that weighs 112. I think they’re going to be thrilled.”
Castle said Vazquez’s final day as a regular this season at Oaklawn is April 3. Vazquez is scheduled to ride Un Ojo in the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1), Dream Lith in the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) and Mo Mosa in the $400,000 Oaklawn Mile (G3) April 2 and Lone Rock in the $150,000 Temperence Hill Stakes April 3.
Castle said he will continue to represent 2019 Oaklawn riding champion David Cohen (Kentucky and New York) and, hopefully, 7-pound apprentice Erick Medellin (next venue undecided) after the Oaklawn meeting ends. Castle said he will immediately be on the ground in Southern California to hustle business for Vazquez.
“We’re flying together and our two cars are being flat bedded out there,” Castle said. “We’re all in.”
Vazquez’s geographical U-turn coincides with a major business uptick in the last year.
Vazquez, 38, gained national attention as the regular rider of marathon specialist Lone Rock, a millionaire multiple Grade 2 winner for 2020 Oaklawn training champion Robertino Diodoro, and scored his most lucrative career victory to date in the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) aboard one-eyed Un Ojo, a 75-1 long shot, Feb. 26 at Oaklawn.
In addition to the $400,000 Brooklyn Stakes (G2) at 1 ½ miles last June at Belmont Park and $250,000 Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance Stakes (G2) at 1 5/8 miles Nov. 6 at Del Mar (both aboard Lone Rock), Vazquez’s other major 2021 victories included the $500,000 West Virginia Derby (G3) at Mountaineer and $300,000 Indiana Derby (G3) at Indiana Grand and the $400,000 Steve Sexton Mile Stakes (G3) at Lone Star. Vazquez also won the $400,000 Golden Rod Stakes (G2) Nov. 27 at Churchill Downs aboard Dream Lith for Diodoro.
Vazquez entered Sunday with 34 victories at the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting, including the $250,000 Bayakoa Stakes (G3) for older fillies and mares Feb. 12 aboard Miss Bigly for trainer Phil D’Amato.
Castle said D’Amato and Richard Baltas are among the Southern California-based trainers expected to use Vazquez. Diodoro said Sunday morning that he will have about 12 horses this summer at Del Mar, adding Vazquez will be his “main guy.”
“I just hope and pray that they (trainers) give him support,” Castle said. “Give him the opportunity, he’ll deliver. He’s hungry, he wants to do it, he’s looking forward to doing it and he deserves the opportunity because of the two derbies, the Brooklyn, all the things that he achieved. It’s a lot. That was a very good year last year and he continued this year, Thank God.”
Vazquez has almost 3,400 victories and more than $63 million in purse earnings in his career, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. He rode his first career winner in 2002 in Puerto Rico and began riding in the United States in 2011. Vazquez has ridden each season at Oaklawn since 2012 and entered Sunday with 383 career victories in Hot Springs.
Castle said it’s too early to know if Vazquez will return to Oaklawn next season.
“Great question,” Castle said. “It’s going to depend on California.”
Grade 1 winner Maracuja is scheduled to make her 4-year-old debut in Friday’s eighth race for New York-based trainer Rob Atras. The 1 1/16-mile allowance/optional claimer is for older fillies and mares. … Jockey Gabriel Saez, who recently resumed riding after missing approximately seventh months because of a broken leg, is named on one horse Friday. Saez’s agent, Liz Morris, said in a text message that the jockey plans to ride until the end of the meeting, May 8. Saez has 51 career Oaklawn victories, including six stakes. … Arkansas-bred standout Gar Hole is scheduled to meet open company for the first time in an April 2 allowance sprint for trainer John Ortiz. … Erick Medellin, a seven-pound apprentice jockey, recorded his first career Oaklawn double Saturday, winning the fourth race aboard favored American Dubai ($4) for trainer Federico Villafranco and the 10th race aboard My Dominator ($29.80) for trainer Bruce Riecken. It was the second career double for Medellin and pushed his career total to 20.
Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates
Photo by Coady Photography