Gary Stevens celebrates on Oxbow after winning the 2013 Preakness Stakes (Photos courtesy Eclipse Sportswire).
Making the Grade, which will run right up until the Belmont Stakes, focuses on the winners of the big races, usually from the previous weekend, who could impact the 2013 Triple Crown. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win the classic races based on factors such as ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey) pedigree.
This week we take a look at Oxbow, the front-running winner of the Preakness Stakes on May 18 at Pimlico Race Course.
Sire (Father): Awesome Again
Dam (Mother): Tizamazing, by Cee’s Tizzy
Breeder: Colts Neck Stables (Ky.)
Owner: Bluegrass Hall
Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas
Oxbow had the talent, high-cruising speed, and pedigree to pose a serious threat in the Kentucky Derby, but he was very close to a blistering pace and faded to sixth in the first jewel of the Triple Crown. The Preakness set up much differently for the Awesome Again colt and Oxbow showed racing fans what he was capable of with a 1 ¾-length, front-running win under a brilliant ride from 50-year-old Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens. With a classic win under his saddle, Oxbow has cemented his place in history with a triumph that had as much historical significance as any in recent memory, but we’ll get to that later.
Ability: Oxbow improved dramatically from his 2-year-old season to his 3-year-old campaign for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, but it is fair to criticize him a bit for his Jekyll-and-Hyde-like record. Two of his three wins in 11 starts were a visually stunning 11 ½-length romp in the Lecomte Stakes in January and his convincing Preakness win – unquestionably nice credentials for a resume.
Six of Oxbow’s 11 races resulted in finishes outside of the top three – head scratchers for a horse with this type of talent. In fairness, Oxbow was beaten by only a half-length in his fourth-place finish in the Risen Star Stakes, one race after the Lecomte breakthrough stakes win. He then was second to stablemate Will Take Charge in the Rebel Stakes, in which he earned a career-best 110 Equibase Speed Figure. His next start was a nonthreatening fifth-place finish in the Arkansas Derby that was confounding given how well he had raced this year before that race and his Derby fade led to a mass exodus from the Oxbow bandwagon from many of his supporters, myself included. But in hindsight, it looks like there are reasonable excuses for his poor Arkansas and Kentucky Derby performances. In the Arkansas Derby, Oxbow was reserved well off the pace in 10th. He passed some horses late in the Arkansas Derby, but knowing what we know now from the Preakness and looking at Oxbow’s past performances, it is clear he was asked to do something in that race that took him out of his comfort zone on or near the lead. The Kentucky Derby opening half-mile in a blistering :45.33 was fast enough to crush the chances of just about any 3-year-old, outside of a complete freak, in a 1 ¼-mile race. It looks pretty clear that Oxbow is a colt who needs to set or press the pace, and as long as he is comfortable he should be a force in the major races within the 3-year-old division through the rest of 2013, including the Belmont Stakes on June 8
Running style: Oxbow has shown a clear affinity for running on the lead. A few months back, I wrote:
As races get longer, he might need to show the ability to win from off the pace, and it looks like he will be able to do so. … There is a fine line between teaching a horse to rate between other horses and dulling their speed thereby nullifying an asset. Lukas understands this.
“The thing about him is, he has such an efficiency of motion,” Lukas said after the Lecomte. “He has such a high cruising speed, which you always like with a horse going a mile and quarter and beyond.”
I also wrote:
That said, Oxbow almost certainly will not get away with a leisurely opening half-mile on the lead in the Kentucky Derby, so a victory from off the pace would be a welcome addition to his credentials.
That pace scenario played out in the Kentucky Derby, but at this point it looks safe to say that Oxbow is a much better horse when he sets the tempo, so asking him to do something that takes him out of his comfort zone, as I suggested, was the wrong course of action (see Arkansas Derby). With Stevens now having three races on Oxbow, it looks like they have figured each other out and the two should be a lethal combination moving forward. If Oxbow hits the top of the Belmont stretch with the lead in the final jewel of the Triple Crown, he will be very tough to catch.
“I know the questions are going to be coming, what about the Belmont?” Stevens said after the Preakness win. “This horse has that happy kind of pace, and anybody that wants to come and tangle with him early on, bring it on. You're going to get in trouble if you tangle with him. That's all I can say.”
OXBOW WINS THE PREAKNESS STAKES
Connections: D. Wayne Lukas won his first U.S. classic in 1980 when Codex took the Preakness and the trainer went on to dominate the Triple Crown in the 1990s, reeling off a record six straight classic wins beginning with Tabasco Cat’s victory in the 1994 Preakness through Grindstone’s 1996 Kentucky Derby win. Lukas, a 1999 Racing Hall of Fame inductee, was tied with James “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons with 13 U.S. classic races but became the all-time leader in Triple Crown wins when Oxbow gave him a 14th classic victory on May 18 and Lukas’ first since Commendable’s 2000 Belmont Stakes score.
“I shared that record with a very special man in this industry in Sunny Fitzsimmons. And if I never broke it, I was proud of that,” Lukas said. “I know he meant so much to the Thoroughbred industry. I never knew him personally, but I thought that that was something I'm really proud of.
Lukas also has trained a record 24 champions to complement his four Eclipse Awards as outstanding trainer.
Brad Kelley, a native of Franklin, Ky., operates his Bluegrass Hall racing and breeding operations on the grounds of historic Calumet Farm in Lexington. Kelley leases the farm from Calumet Investment Trust, which purchased the property in 2012 for an estimated $36-$40 million. Kelley also owns Hurricane Hall and Bluegrass Hall, the latter formerly Nelson Bunker Hunt’s Bluegrass Farm. One of the ten largest landowners in the U.S. with more than 1.2 million acres, Kelley is an active wildlife conservationist.
Racing for Calumet in the 2013 classics, Oxbow gave the historic Lexington farm its 18th U.S. classic win as owner, the most in the history of the U.S. Triple Crown. Calumet also has bred the winners of 18 Triple Crown races, including homebred Triple Crown winners Whirlaway (1941) and Citation (1948).
Gary Stevens came out of retirement in January after seven years on the sidelines spent as a racing analyst and occasional movie star. His commitment to getting back in shape and his determination to return to riding at an elite level were rewarded handsomely in the Preakness.
Stevens has been aboard Oxbow for his last three races, and in the Preakness they looked like they were made for each other. Stevens put the rest of the Preakness field to sleep with a Hall of Fame ride to earn his third victory in the middle jewel of the Triple Crown. A winner of more than 4,900 career races whose mounts have amassed more than $223 million in purse earnings, Stevens has three wins in each of the Triple Crown races as well as eight Breeders’ Cup wins to his credit.
Pedigree: It is safe to say that there will be few pedigrees as powerful as Oxbow’s from among the 2013 U.S. classics hopefuls.
His sire, Awesome Again, won the 1998 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) to cap an unbeaten 4-year-old campaign that included five graded stakes wins, including the Whitney Handicap (G1). Talk about unlucky, Awesome Again put together his banner season in the wrong year as dual classic winner Real Quiet took home Horse of the Year honors and Skip Away, fourth in the Classic, was named champion older male after winning seven graded stakes, including five Grade 1s. Awesome Again, as a sire, has a knack for the big horse, including 2004 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and that year’s Horse of the Year Ghostzapper. He also is the sire of champion Ginger Punch, multiple Grade 1 winner Game On Dude, and 2004 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) winner Wilko.
Oxbow is a full brother (same sire [father] and dam [mother]) to stakes winner Awesome Patriot, who finished in the top three in a graded stakes. His dam (mother), Tizamazing, was unraced but she is a full sister to two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner and top sire Tiznow, multiple graded stakes winner Budroyale, graded stakes winner Tizdubai and stakes winner Tizbud. Another full sister to Tizamazing is Tizso, the dam of 2012 Haskell Invitational Stakes (G1) winner Paynter and two other stakes winners.
In short, Oxbow boasts plenty of firepower from both the paternal and maternal halves of his pedigree and most of the notable names got better as they got older and the races grew longer.