Western River could test stakes waters in next start

April 7, 2022

By super sire Tapit out of Morena, Western River is a full brother to Creator

HOT SPRINGS, Ark.—Six years after his full brother won the Arkansas Derby, Western River won on Arkansas Derby Day last Saturday at Oaklawn to position himself, possibly, for his stakes debut.

Trainer Rodolphe Brisset said last Sunday morning that Western River, providing he isn’t sold later this month, would be pointed to the $200,000 Peter Pan Stakes (G3) for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles May 14 at Belmont Park. Brisset said Western River was entered in Keeneland’s April Horses of Racing Age Sale following his sharp 3 ¾-length maiden victory at 1 1/16 miles on the Arkansas Derby undercard. The one-day sale is April 29.

Western River is by super sire Tapit out of Morena, making the gray colt a full brother to Creator, who, ridden by Ricardo Santana Jr., won the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) in 2016 for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.

Creator, also a late-running gray, broke his maiden at 1 1/16 miles in February 2016 at Oaklawn. It was his sixth lifetime start. Western River, under Santana, broke his maiden in his fifth career start.

“He was just a very immature horse and I think he’s on the upside,” Brisset said. “We’ve got to look at his number (speed figure), but last year he didn’t want any part of the dirt. He was very immature, actually, if you look at his races on the grass. If you look, he’s got the same kind of direction as Creator. If you pull up the (past performances) on Creator and you pull his (past performances), you’re going to see the same thing. Actually, to be honest, when I looked at Creator’s (past performances), I just said I’m going to do what Steve did. I’m going to run him on the grass first because he was so immature. I did exactly that and the horse learned how to be a racehorse, with his races on the grass, and then we gave him a little break. He came back here and he’s a different horse.”

Creator made his first two career starts – both around two turns – on the grass at 2. Western River was scheduled to debut on the grass last July at Ellis Park, but the 1-mile race was moved to the main track because of rain. Western River’s next two starts – both around two turns – were on the grass at Ellis Park. Following seventh-place finishes in his first two career starts, Western River, adding blinkers, was beaten a nose at 1 1/16 miles Sept. 3. It was final start of 2021. 

Western River, in his 3-year-old debut and first start on Lasix, finished a closing third at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 26. The winner, Curly Tail, returned to run eighth in the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) at 1 3/16 miles March 26 at Fair Grounds. Western River received a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 87 – a career high – for his maiden victory. 

“We’re putting him in the Keeneland sale as an option,” Brisset said. “We like to have options. After he won yesterday, I talked to Keeneland and we put him in the book. We’ll see what happens. I think the plan is if he comes back OK to have our eyes on the Peter Pan.”

After receiving an 80 Beyer Speed Figure for his maiden victory, Creator finished third in the $900,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles in his next start. The Rebel is Oaklawn’s final traditional major prep for the Arkansas Derby, which Creator won in his next start. 

Brisset said Western River’s victory carried more weight because the colt is co-owned by his wife, Brooke Baker (September Farm LLC). While Creator was purchased for $440,000 at the 2014 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, Brisset brought Western River for just $30,000 at the 2020 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. 

“My wife picked the horse out at the sale,” Brisset said. “We bought him in the back ring and we own a big piece of him. It’s a credit to my wife because she picked him and he’s named after her father, who passed away like six months before we bought the horse.”

Brisset said Baker’s father was from West River, Md., but the name “West River” already was taken, so the colt was named Western River. 

Western River was an Oaklawn workmate of Yuugiri, the Brisset trainee who won the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies about 2 ½ hours later on Saturday’s card. The Fantasy was Oaklawn’s final major prep for the $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks (G1), the country’s biggest race for 3-year-old fillies, at 1 1/8 miles May 6 at Churchill Downs.

Finish Lines

Trainer Randy Morse entered Thursday with 298 career Oaklawn victories, while trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs was at 296. … Ruggs, a 2 ¾-length entry-level allowance winner at 1 mile April 1, is targeting the $500,000 Pat Day Mile (G2) for 3-year-olds May 7 at Churchill Downs, Moquett said Wednesday afternoon. Ruggs represented the first male Oaklawn winner sired by 2017 Horse of the Year Gun RunnerCyberknife, another son of Gun Runner, won last Saturday’s $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1). … Nominations close Friday for three April 23 stakes – $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) for older fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles, $1 million Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older horses at 1 1/8 miles and the $150,000 Oaklawn Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles. … The Mary Rose, a powerful two-time winner against open company at the meeting, is being pointed for the $150,000 Natural State Breeders’ Stakes for Arkansas-bred females at 1 mile May 6, trainer John Ortiz said last Sunday morning. The Natural State Breeders’ Stakes hasn’t been run since 2010, when it was a 6-furlong race for state-bred females. … Agent Bobby Dean said he will continue to represent jockey Martin Garcia when he moves his tack to Kentucky this spring. Garcia entered Thursday with 13 victories at the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting, including last Saturday’s $200,000 Carousel Stakes for older female sprinters aboard Acting Out ($15.40) for Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. Dean said he also will continue to represent Prairie Meadows-bound journeyman Elvin Gonzalez, who entered Thursday with 13 victories at the meeting.

Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates
Photo: West River (Coady Photography)

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