Reincarnate after his victory in the Sham Jan. 8, then trained by Bob Baffert (Ernie Belmonte/Past The Wire)
An Air Show Saturday at Oaklawn
Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates
HOT SPRINGS, Ark.— Roughly 20 minutes after Reincarnate finished a troubled third in the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) Feb. 25 at Oaklawn, trainer Tim Yakteen was asked if he would return with something for the Arkansas Derby.
“We’ll come back,” Yakteen said.
True to his word, the Southern California-based Yakteen has returned to Oaklawn for Saturday’s $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at 1 1/8 miles. And he’s back with a familiar face in birthday boy Reincarnate, the 5-2 program favorite for Oaklawn’s fourth and final Kentucky Derby points race. Reincarnate actually turns 3 Saturday.
“This has been the horse that we planned on coming back with,” Yakteen said Wednesday afternoon. “Obviously, you need things to work out for you. Things fell into place and we’re giving him another opportunity.”
The 1 1/16-mile Rebel, Oaklawn’s third Kentucky Derby points race, marked Reincarnate’s first start for Yakteen. Reincarnate, a son of champion Good Magic, had made his first five career starts for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. The colt was transferred to Yakteen shortly before the Rebel, owing to Baffert trainees being ineligible for Kentucky Derby qualifying points. Churchill Downs suspended Baffert for two years after his 2021 Kentucky Derby winner, Medina Spirit, was disqualified because of a medication violation.
Reincarnate endured an eventful trip in the Rebel and was beaten 2 ½ lengths by Confidence Game after losing valuable position when shuffled back shortly after the start and having to check approaching the eighth pole under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez. Reincarnate trailed by 11 lengths after the opening quarter – he had been on the early lead throughout most of his career – and was shut off when making his move in midstretch.
“I think it was a combination of everything,” said Yakteen, a former Baffert assistant who has given the return call to Velazquez. “What I liked the most is that he never gave up. Johnny never lost confidence in the horse and the horse never lost confidence in himself and he kept trying to the wire.”
Reincarnate has worked three times at Santa Anita in advance of the Arkansas Derby, which will offer 200 points (100-40-30-20-10, respectively) toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby. Reincarnate (15 points) is in a precarious position, ranking 34th on the latest Kentucky Derby leaderboard released by Churchill Downs. Reincarnate was a front-running neck winner of the $100,000 Sham Stakes (G3) at 1 mile Jan. 8 at Santa Anita, but was ineligible for its 10 qualifying points because he was still with Baffert. Reincarnate will likely need a top two finish in the Arkansas Derby to secure a spot in the Kentucky Derby, which is limited to 20 starters.
“I focus on my own horses,” Yakteen said. “But in all fairness, there’s no doubt that we’re going to have to run a big race to guarantee ourselves a berth in the Kentucky Derby. Fingers crossed that we’re given that opportunity because I definitely feel he’s validated himself in some of his past starts, that he belongs there, and so now we just need some racing luck.”
A $775,000 Keeneland September Yearling purchase, Reincarnate races for a high-profile ownership conglomerate that includes SF Racing (Gavin Murphy), Starlight Racing (Jack Wolf), Madaket Stables (Sol Kumin), Robert Masterson and Stonestreet Stables (Barbara Banke). Overall, Reincarnate has a 2-3-1 record from six starts and earnings of $231,900.
Yakteen finished fourth in last year’s Arkansas Derby with Doppelganger, who moved to the trainer’s barn shortly before the race to try and collect Kentucky Derby qualifying points after previously being with Baffert. Yakteen trains one the country’s leading Kentucky Derby prospects this year in Practical Move and has another former Baffert trainee, Fort Bragg, entered in the $1 million Florida Derby (G1) Saturday at Gulfstream Park.
Yakteen said he will be in Hot Springs Saturday to saddle Reincarnate.
An Air Show Saturday at Oaklawn
Canadians Randy Howg (owner) and Robertino Diodoro (trainer) teamed for an upset victory in Oaklawn’s biggest two-turn race for older horses in 2017 with Inside Straight ($41.40) in the $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) at 1 1/8 miles.
Howg and Diodoro will be looking to pull another upset Saturday at Oaklawn in its biggest two-turn race for 3-year-olds, the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at 1 1/8 miles. Howg and Diodoro will be represented by Airtime, who will be making his stakes debut after being claimed for $50,000 Jan. 29 at Oaklawn.
“He reminded me of the horse (Inside Straight) right from Day 1,” Diodoro said Tuesday morning. “I said that to Randy like two days after. I said this horse reminds me of Inside Straight a little bit. Nothing flashy to look at. He’s put together nice, but you’re not going to look at him and say, ‘Wow! What a flashy horse.’ That was Inside Straight. Just a plain Jane bay that was a blue collar horse.”
Howg privately purchased Inside Straight, then with future Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher, following a May 2016 victory at Belmont Park. Howg claimed Airtime out of a 10 ¼-length starter/optional claimer victory at 1 mile. Airtime began his racing career with trainer John Ortiz and nationally prominent owners Gary and Mary West, who also bred the son of Grade 3 winner American Freedom.
In his only start for Howg and Diodoro, Airtime scored a 1 ¼-length allowance victory over favored Shopper’s Revenge in an entry-level allowance at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 18 at Oaklawn. Shopper’s Revenge returned to run fourth in the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) at 1 3/16 miles last Saturday at Fair Grounds for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.
“I’ve got to give Randy all the credit,” Diodoro said. “He usually doesn’t pick out horses to claim and he sent me this horse and I looked at it. I didn’t really see what he did. He sent me the name about five days, four days before the race. Eleven thirty the morning of the race, when I was driving home, I called him and said, ‘Do you still want that horse?’ He was like, ‘Yeah, I thought you forget about me.’ ”
Diodoro said Howg was impressed with Airtime’s replays and noted that he finished third behind Angel of Empire in an entry-level allowance race at 1 mile Nov. 14 at Horseshoe Indianapolis. Angel of Empire returned to finish second in the $250,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at 1 mile Jan. 1 at Oaklawn and win the $400,000 Risen Star Stakes (G2) at 1 1/8 miles Feb. 18 at Fair Grounds. Angel of Empire is 9-2 on the morning line for the Arkansas Derby. Airtime is 15-1.
“I’m really excited about him,” Diodoro said.
Airtime has a 3-0-1 record from five lifetime starts and earnings of $134,130. American Freedom, who raced for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, is now standing at Leadem Farm, a new breeding facility about 50 miles southeast of Hot Springs.
Cristian Torres, Oaklawn’s leading rider this season, will ride Airtime in the Arkansas Derby. Diodoro is Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 2022-2023.
Hellorhighwater is the 3-1 program favorite for Friday’s fourth race at Oaklawn, a starter-allowance for older horses at 1 3/16 miles, for trainer Bentley Combs and owner Ten Strike Racing (founding partners Marshall Gramm and Arkansas native Clay Sanders). Also entered is Tiger Moon (4-1) for trainer Lindsay Schultz and Ten Strike. Both horses are candidates for the 1 ¾-mile Trail’s End, the traditional final race of the Oaklawn meeting that Combs and Ten Strike won in 2021 and 2022 with the now-retired Original Intent. … Arkansas-bred star Gar Hole is scheduled to face open company in Saturday’s seventh race at Oaklawn, a $125,000 allowance sprint. A multiple Oaklawn stakes winner against state-breds, Gar Hole races for trainer John Ortiz and breeder/owner John Ed Anthony. … After considering Major Blue for the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) Saturday at Oaklawn, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Tuesday morning that the colt is being pointed to the $1 million Blue Grass Stakes (G1) April 8 at Keeneland. Major Blue is a two-time winner at the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting. … Trainer Kelly Von Hemel said Tuesday morning that he plans to run 2022 Iowa Derby winner Ain’t Life Grand again before Oaklawn’s 2022-2023 meeting ends May 6. Ain’t Life Grand finished seventh in his March 18 allowance comeback at Oaklawn, which was his 4-year-old debut.