Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates
HOT SPRINGS, Ark.—Stalk, pounce and draw away. Verifying made it look easy Saturday at Oaklawn, rolling to a 5 ¼-length entry-level allowance victory in his 3-year-old debut for trainer Brad Cox.
Verifying, a half-brother to champion and multiple Oaklawn stakes winner Midnight Bisou, was making his first start since finishing sixth in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at 1 1/16 miles Nov. 4 at Keeneland. Verifying ($4.80) received a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 97, a career high, after running the fastest mile of the meeting in prepping for a Kentucky Derby points race.
“It went better than planned,” Cox said in a phone call Saturday night. “We’ve always liked this colt. Mentally, I don’t know if he’s always been as polished as some of the other ones, but he’s really starting to, I think, figure it out. I thought it was a huge run off the freshening since the Breeders’ Cup.”
In Saturday’s fourth race, which had a $104,000 purse, Verifying tracked front-running Gun Pilot for three-quarters of a mile before taking command on the outside turning for home. Verifying, the 7-5 favorite, accelerated away from his challengers in the final 100 yards and reached the finish line – mile races at Oaklawn begin and end at the sixteenth pole in the stretch – in 1:37.23 under Martin Garcia. The track was fast. Grade 2 winner Ginobili clocked 1:37.35 in winning the $150,000 Fifth Season Stakes for older horses about 2 ½ hours later on the card.
“That’s a really good horse,” Garcia said after riding Verifying for the first time. “Sometimes you break and have intentions to go and then later you take back. It’s hard. In this case, I had intentions to go and the other horse goes, then I sat outside, and moved around him. I asked him one time and he just took off. He just kept going. I knew he had some time off since the Breeders’ Cup. I think he’s a really good horse mentally and, of course, he has a lot of ability. That’s a really, really good horse.”
Jorgito Abrego, who oversees Cox’s Oaklawn division, said Sunday morning that Verifying appeared to exit his victory in good shape. Cox said next-race plans are pending for Verifying, who has been based this winter at Fair Grounds. A $775,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale graduate, Verifying is the first Oaklawn winner sired by 2018 Triple Crown champion Justify.
“We’ll ship him back to the Fair Grounds at some point and train him there,” Cox said. “I don’t really know (what’s next). We’ll get with the Coolmore (ownership) group and come up with a game plan in the near future.”
Verifying is among maybe a dozen Kentucky Derby prospects for Cox and already has four qualifying points after finishing second in the $500,000 Champagne Stakes (G1) at 1 mile Oct. 1 at Aqueduct (Belmont At The Big A meeting). In his only other 2022 start, Verifying was a career-debut winner sprinting Aug. 27 at Saratoga.
Cox trainees Victory Formation and Angel of Empire ran 1-2, respectively, in the $250,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at 1 mile Jan. 1. The Smarty Jones was Oaklawn’s first of four Kentucky Derby points races. The series continues with the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Jan. 28, $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 25 and the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at 1 1/8 miles April 1.
Cox said he plans to start unbeaten Corona Bolt, Hit Show and Jace’s Boy in the Southwest. Jace’s Road was a 5 ½-length winner of the $100,000 Gun Runner Stakes at 1 1/16 miles Dec. 26 at Fair Grounds. Corona Bolt was blowout winner of the $100,000 Sugar Bowl Stakes at 6 furlongs Dec. 26 at Fair Grounds. Hit Show was a sharp entry-level allowance winner at 1 mile Dec. 17 at Oaklawn.
Cox said Giant Mischief is scheduled to make his 3-year-old debut in the Rebel. Giant Mischief closed his 2022 campaign with a runner-up finish in the $400,000 Remington Park Springboard Mile Stakes Dec. 17 at Remington Park.
Cox said Victory Formation and Angel of Empire are being considered for the $400,000 Risen Star Stakes (G2) at 1 1/8 miles Feb. 18 at Fair Grounds and the Rebel.
Angel of Empire worked a half-mile in :49 over a fast track Sunday morning at Oaklawn.
Plans for Yuugiri
Grade 3 winner Yuugiri will be pointed to the $150,000 Carousel Stakes for older female sprinters Feb. 25 at Oaklawn, trainer Rodolphe Brisset said Sunday morning.
Yuugiri was among Oaklawn’s leading 3-year-old fillies last year after winning the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles in April. Following a lengthy vacation, Yuugiri was a sharp winner of her comeback race, a Dec. 30 allowance sprint at Oaklawn. Brisset said he plans to keep Yuugiri around one turn in 2023, with the goal of winning a Grade 1 race to enhance her broodmare value.
Yuugiri’s major spring objective, Brisset said, is the $600,000 Madison Stakes (G1) for older fillies and mares at 7 furlongs April 8 at Keeneland. Brisset said another spring option for Yuugiri is the inaugural $250,000 Matron Stakes for older fillies and mares at 6 furlongs March 31 at Oaklawn.
“We gave her an easy week after the win and she’s back galloping,” Brisset said. “What I did, I worked backwards from the Madison. The goal is to run her in the Madison at Keeneland. The timing is right with the calendar, so now she’s pointing for the Carousel. How she runs in the Carousel, we will decide if we go to the Madison or the Matron.”
A daughter of 2011 Preakness winner Shackleford, Yuugiri has a 3-2-1 record from seven lifetime starts and earnings of $619,710. The Dec. 30 race was Yuugiri’s first start since finishing 13th in the $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks (G1) for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/8 miles last May at Churchill Downs.
Eight-time Oaklawn riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr. swept Saturday’s late daily double. Santana won the $150,000 Fifth Season Stakes aboard favored Ginobili ($5.80) for trainer Peter Miller and the 10th race aboard Shopper’s Revenge ($6.40) for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. The double pushed Santana’s career Oaklawn total to 682, No. 7 all time. The Fifth Season was his 47th career Oaklawn stakes victory. … The Southern California-based Ginobili received a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 96 for his four-length victory. …
Shopper’s Revenge was the 824th career Oaklawn victory for Asmussen (No. 2 all time). … Asmussen’s son, jockey Keith Asmussen, teamed with Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas to win Saturday’s third race with Papa Rocket ($12.40). It was Asmussen’s first career Oaklawn victory and eighth overall. His first seven were for his father. …
Millionaire multiple Grade 2 winner Lone Rock arrived Friday afternoon at Oaklawn to continue preparations for his 2023 campaign after previously being based in Florida, trainer Robertino Diodoro said. … Diodoro, Oaklawn’s leading trainer this season, turns 49 Monday.