Unbeaten Newgrange exits Southwest in good order

January 30, 2022

HOT SPRINGS, ARKANSAS – Heavy favorite Newgrange, in his first race outside California, came from off the pace under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez to score a 1 ½-length victory in the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) for 3-year-olds to remain unbeaten in three lifetime starts.

It was a record-tying fifth Southwest victory for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert and his 18th overall in Oaklawn’s four-race Kentucky Derby prep series – all since 2010. Newgrange was exiting a front-running 2 ¾-length victory over stablemate Rockefeller in the $100,000 Sham Stakes (G3) Jan. 1 at Santa Anita.

Although the Sham and Southwest offered 17 points (10-4-2-1, respectively) to the top four finishers toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby, Newgrange was running for purse money only because of Baffert’s suspension from Churchill Downs. It stems from a possible medication violation involving his 2021 Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit. No stewards’ ruling has been issued, but a Feb. 7 hearing is reportedly set.

So, when Churchill Downs released its official Kentucky Derby leaderboard late Saturday afternoon, Newgrange, instead of topping the list with 20, had zero since Baffert trainees are ineligible to collect Kentucky Derby qualifying points.

“I’m not going to worry about that right now,” Baffert, a record seven-time Kentucky Derby winner, said in a phone interview moments after the Southwest.

In a text message Sunday morning, Baffert said Newgrange emerged in “great” shape physically from his Southwest victory and would be flown back to his Southern California base Tuesday.

Newgrange and Grade 3 winners Rockefeller and Messier were Baffert’s three nominees to the Southwest, which is Oaklawn’s second of four Kentucky Derby points races.

Newgrange and Messier worked against each other in a half-mile drill Jan. 23 at Santa Anita. Both horses were credited with :47.20, which ranked second of 114 times published at the distance.

Baffert, subsequently, opted to keep Messier home for the $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 6 at Santa Anita and send Newgrange to Oaklawn for the Southwest. The colt arrived Wednesday – a day later than originally scheduled – following a flight from Southern California.

“I thought this horse kind of had a good mind,” Baffert said. “The ship in there is a little bit tougher now. You’ve got to go to Memphis (about 190 miles northeast of Hot Springs) and get them a van. I thought Newgrange’s got a great mind and Messier’s going to run here in the Bob Lewis with some other ones. Try to spread them out, try to see where they fit. So, that was the reason.”

After leading at almost every point of call in his first two starts, Newgrange showed a new dimension in the 1 1/16-mile Southwest.

Newgrange stalked front-runner Kavod down the backstretch, but appeared to be struggling on the second turn and in upper stretch. Newgrange ($5) found another gear inside the furlong marker and held late-running Barber Road safe in the run to the wire. The winning time over a fast track was 1:45.83.

“I think he needed it today,” Baffert said. “He had to really gut it out. Turning for home, I wasn’t sure. Then, he came on. I thought it was a good spot for him and, hopefully, he just continues on. He showed today he’s a pretty solid horse. I always try to bring my best horses up there that are doing the best.”

Baffert said next-race plans are pending for Newgrange, a son of Violence who has bankrolled $552,000 for a high-profile ownership group that includes SF Racing (Gavin Murphy), Starlight Racing (Jack Wolf), Madaket Stables (Sol Kumin) and Stonestreet Stables (Barbara Banke). Newgrange was purchased for $125,000 at the 2020 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.

Oaklawn’s Kentucky Derby prep series continues with the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 26 and the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at 1 1/8 miles April 2. Baffert has won the Rebel a record eight times.

“We’ll definitely have something for the Rebel,” Baffert said. “I just don’t know which one.”

Baffert’s longtime traveling assistant, Jimmy Barnes, saddled Newgrange for the Southwest.

Barber Road collected four points for his runner-up finish Saturday and now has eight overall to rank 13th on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard. The Kentucky Derby is limited to 20 starters, with starting preference based on horses with highest point totals accumulated in qualifying races like the Southwest and the $250,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 1. Barber Road also finished second in the 1-mile Smarty Jones, Oaklawn’s first Kentucky Derby points race.

“Aiming for the Kentucky Derby now,” Barber Road’s trainer, John Ortiz, said in a text message Sunday morning. “The dream is finally feeling very realistically possible. So, the next step would be the Rebel. Thoughts about going to Dubai have been put on the table as well, but most likely we’d love to stay home and run over the track he is loving right now.”

Barber Road finished 1 ¼ lengths ahead of Ben Diesel, a full brother to multiple Oaklawn stakes winner Will’s Secret for trainer Dallas Stewart and breeder/owner Willis Horton of Marshall, Ark. Ben Diesel has three points to rank 24th on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard. Kavod is No. 26, earning two points with fourth-place finishes in the Smarty Jones and Southwest.

Smarty Jones winner Dash Attack is No. 9 following his fifth-place finish in the Southwest. Dash Attack has 10 points. Osbourne, eighth in the Southwest, is No. 20 with four points. Ignitis, 11th in the Southwest, is No. 31 with two points.

The Rebel will offer 85 total points (50-20-10-5) to the top four finishers. The Arkansas Derby is a 170-point race, with the winner receiving 100. The 2-3-4 finishers will receive 40, 20 and 10 points, respectively.

Finish Lines

Sebastian “Bas” Nicholl said in a text message Sunday morning that Secret Oath emerged in “splendid” shape physically from her 7 ¼-length victory in Saturday’s $200,000 Martha Washington Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles. Nicholl is a longtime assistant to D. Wayne Lukas and saddled Secret Oath Saturday in the Hall of Fame trainer’s absence. 

Lukas has been in Louisville, Ky., for previously scheduled engagements. In a telephone interview following the Martha Washington, Lukas indicated Secret Oath would be pointed to the $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 26. Secret Oath collected 10 points toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Oaks – the country’s biggest race for 3-year-old fillies – with her Martha Washington victory.

In addition to Secret Oath, Lukas and jockey Luis Contreras teamed to win the Saturday nightcap with Ethereal Road ($41.20), a 3-year-old Quality Road colt who overcame a disastrous start to break his maiden by four widening lengths at 1 1/16 miles.  

Favored Wobberjod ($4.60) won Saturday’s third race, a starter-allowance sprint for older horses, to remain unbeaten in three career starts for trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs and owner Louis Cella, who is Oaklawn’s president.

Beaten a nose in his Dec. 31 career debut, Favorite Outlaw ($5) was a sharp 3 ½-length maiden special weights winner sprinting in Saturday’s seventh race. Ricardo Santana Jr. rode Favorite Outlaw, a 3-year-old son of Maclean’s Music, for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen and prominent Arkansas owners Alex and JoAnn Lieblong. 

Grade 3 winner and recent arrival Background worked 3 furlongs in :37.60 Friday morning for trainer Mike Puhich, who said he’s targeting a mid-February return for the 5-year-old gelding. 

Post positions will be drawn Monday for the $250,000 Bayakoa Stakes (G3) for older fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 5. Two-time Eclipse Award winner Monomoy Girl captured the 2021 Bayakoa.

After being upstaged by his younger half-sister – Warrior’s Battle became a first-time winner at the 2021-2022 meeting Jan. 22 –millionaire multiple Grade 3 winner Warrior’s Charge ($5.60) turned back the clock in Friday’s featured eighth race, a $102,000 allowance for older horses at 1 1/16 miles, to win by 9 ¾ lengths under regular rider Florent Geroux. It was only the second victory for Warrior’s Charge since the $500,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) for older horses in 2020 at Oaklawn. Brad Cox trains both Warrior’s Battle (a 3-year-old) and Warrior’s Charge (6).

Apprentice jockey Kylee Jordan (dislocated shoulder) resumed riding for the first time since Dec. 19 Friday.

Walter De La Cruz (neck) resumed riding Saturday for the first time since Oct. 23 Friday.

Robert Yates/Oaklawn Barn Notes (edited)

Photo: Newgrange wins the 2022 Southwest/Coady Photography

Great article and you are absolutely right. However your piece is sensible and logical- something that doesn't register with the opposition (who rely on emotion and "siege tactics")

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