Yuugiri makes her return to the races a winning one (Coady Photography)
By Robert Yates – Oaklawn Barn Notes
HOT SPRINGS, Ark.— Yuugiri returned to what trainer Rodolphe Brisset said he believes she does best – sprinting – and scored a front-running 2 ¼-length victory in Friday’s fourth race, a $106,000 third-level allowance that marked her first start in almost eight months.
Yuugiri, under eight-time Oaklawn riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr., shook Hot and Sultry in the final furlong to remain unbeaten in two sprint starts (both 6 furlongs). Her time Friday over a muddy, sealed surface was 1:10.16. Yuugiri, racing on Lasix for the first time, paid $4.60 as the 6-5 favorite. She earned a career-high 100 Equibase speed rating.
“She’s never going to run two turns again,” Brisset said moments after the victory. “She’s a Grade 3 winner. If we can get a little bit more black type, obviously, but we’re going to take it race by race and make sure she’s safe. If anything happens, she’s retired to become a broodmare, for sure.”
Friday marked Yuugiri’s first sprint since a 7 ¼-length victory in her Sept. 17, 2021, career debut at Churchill Downs. She quickly moved to a series of 1 1/16-mile races on the Kentucky Oaks trail and finished second in the $400,000 Golden Rod Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs and third in the $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn before winning the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) last April at Oaklawn. She received a lengthy vacation following a 13th-place finish in the $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks (G1) last May at Churchill Downs. Yuugiri set the pace in the 1 1/8-mile Kentucky Oaks before tiring in the final three-eighths of a mile.
Yuugiri, following a 60-day break, resumed training around Labor Day and had nine published workouts since Oct. 12, including six at Oaklawn, in advance of her comeback race.
“She was ready,” Brisset said. “She was 80, 90 percent ready. You can see she’s carrying good weight compared to last year when she got a little tucked up on us. The switch from 3 to 4, that’s what you want to see. After her break, that’s what you want to see. I thought she ran big today. First-time Lasix helped a lot. She can get a little hot, so I think the Lasix always kind of works on the mind and gets them to calm down a little bit. She was great in the paddock. We don’t want to run too quick back because that was the big one.”
Yuugiri was originally scheduled to make her comeback in a Dec. 18 allowance sprint at Oaklawn, but the race didn’t fill. It was brought back, as an extra, with less conditions Friday (non-winners of three races). Yuugiri was nominated to the $300,000 La Brea Stakes (G1) at 7 furlongs last Monday at Santa Anita.
Brisset reiterated Saturday morning that Yuugiri will target one-turn races in 2023, adding he’s undecided about her next start. She exited the race in good physical condition, Brisset said.
“Looked very good,” Brisset said. “Cleaned the feed tub last night. She walked around there this morning very good. We jogged on the road and she was very sound. All good.”
Oaklawn’s beefed-up stakes series for older female sprinters is highlighted by the inaugural $250,000 Matron March 31. The Matron is preceded by the $150,000 American Beauty Jan. 21 and the $150,000 Carousel Feb. 25. All three races are 6 furlongs.
“Race by race,” Brisset said. “We’re going to be looking everywhere, but definitely stay one turn.”
Yuugiri, a daughter of 2011 Preakness winner Shackleford, has compiled a 3-2-1 record from seven lifetime starts and earned $619,710. Brisset trains Yuugiri for her Japanese breeders, Tsunebumi & Sekie Yoshihara.
Brisset is wintering at Oaklawn for the second consecutive season. He has 20 stalls for the 2022-2023 meeting that began Dec. 9. Brisset compiled a sparkling 8-6-5 record from 31 starts last season at Oaklawn, with his horses earning $962,745 in purse money.
Brisset was joined in the winner’s circle Friday by his wife, Brooke Baker, and their 4-year-old son, Ryan. Brisset said it was his son’s first trip to Oaklawn.