RIGHT CALL: After Un Ojo was sent to trainer Tony Dutrow to winter and finished second in the Withers Stakes at Aqueduct, it was assumed he would go on to the one-mile $300,000 Gotham Stakes there on March 5. Kevin Moody of Cypress Creek Equine decided to call an audible and ship the one-eyed gelding to trainer Ricky Courville’s barn at Oaklawn to compete in the 1 1/16-mile Rebel. “[Kevin] wanted to send him down here and take a shot at the money. He kept saying the two turns is going to be better for us,” Courville said. Moody was one of the few believers in his horse, who lost his left eye in an accident when he was a baby. Un Ojo, the longest shot on the board at 75.40-1, capitalized on the last-minute decision to run him in the Rebel by winning by half a length. He returned $152.80 for a $2 win wager.
ONE TO WATCH: Barber Road has been knocking on the door to victory as a 3-year-old without quite breaking through. He split horses and rallied to be a determined third in the Rebel, a half-length behind Un Ojo, on a wet-fast track. In his previous two starts this year, both of them Derby preps at Oaklawn, Barber Road produced solid second-place efforts in the one-mile Smarty Jones and the 1 1/16-mile Southwest Stakes. Trainer John Ortiz was encouraged by the latest performance. “We are really proud of the way he ran [Saturday] under these conditions,” Ortiz said. “It seems like as the distances keep getting longer, he will keep improving. That’s what’s going to be most important getting him to the Derby.” The last major prep races are primarily contested at a mile and an eighth.
LIKE FINE WINE: D. Wayne Lukas, 86, is aging like fine wine. Secret Oath, his superb 3-year-old filly, dominated the $300,000 Honeybee Stakes by 7 1/2 lengths on Saturday at Oaklawn Park while the Lukas-trained Ethereal Road secured second in the Rebel. Lukas is expected to have Secret Oath oppose males in the April 2 Arkansas Derby with the hope of landing a spot in the Kentucky Derby Presented by WOodford Reserve with the daughter of Arrogate. “If she’d run over to the hotel, she’d still be widening,” Lukas said. “She doesn’t have any distance limitations at all.” He also described Ethereal Road as a “really nice prospect.” Lukas, who was seriously ill with COVID-19 before rallying, owns four Kentucky Derby triumphs. The last of those occurred with Charismatic in 1999.
SHE’S BACK: Letruska, the reigning champion older dirt female, made a rousing front-running debut as a 6-year-old. She was a geared-down, three-length winner for jockey Jose Ortiz in the $150,000 Royal Delta Stakes on Saturday at Gulfstream Park. “I think this is important. Now, she is 6 years old and she made it look easy. It’s not easy. It’s a Grade 3. To win, you have to make this kind of effort,” trainer Fausto Gutierrez said. “She looks in very good form and ready for the next race.” Gutierrez envisions a six-race campaign, with the April 23 Apple Blossom Handicap, a Grade 1 race for older fillies and mares at Oaklawn Park, up next.
LOOKING SHARP: Emmanuel and Howling Time produced bullet works on Saturday in their last major preparation for the $400,000 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes March 5 at Gulfstream Park. Emmanuel emerged as the fastest of 32 workers at a half-mile at Palm Beach Downs with a swift 48.05 seconds. “He worked great. I was very pleased with it,” said trainer Todd Pletcher. The 2-for-2 son of More Than Ready will face his first graded stakes test. Howling Time clocked :58.54 for five-eighths of a mile at Gulfstream Park, best among 41 horses who were drilled at that distance. “He’s training super. He’s ready,” said Dale Romans, his trainer. Howling Time will be competing for the first time since he came in fifth in the Nov. 27 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs.