Today’s Oaklawn Park barn notes, with Kentucky horsemen prominent as always:
Rebel Day Sets Records
Rebel Day has clearly become Oaklawn’s second-biggest business day. For the next three weeks, at least, it will be the biggest day after an all-time record for total pari-mutuel handle was set on Saturday’s 11-race card.
According to figures released Saturday night by the track, total money wagered on Oaklawn’s races was $16,221,639.11, eclipsing the previous record of 16,159,771.31, set April 14, 2018 (Arkansas Derby Day). Saturday’s estimated attendance of 45,500 was the ninth-largest in Rebel history and the highest since 1987. The record crowd for Rebel Day (54,119) was set in 1981.
Saturday’s card featured $2,845,000 in purses (four maiden special weights races were worth $100,000), two divisions of the $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) for 3-year-olds, the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) for older fillies and mares and the $350,000 Essex Handicap for older horses.
One division of the Rebel included unbeaten 2-year-old champion Game Winner for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. Four of the five starters in the Azeri were Grade 1 winners – Midnight Bisou, Elate, Shamrock Rose and Eskimo Kisses. Shamrock Rose won the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs.
“Unfortunately, I was not here for American Pharoah,” General Manager Wayne Smith said, referring to the Baffert-trained 2015 Triple Crown winner who began his Horse of the Year campaign with victories in the Rebel and Arkansas Derby. “Hopefully, we just found our new American Pharoah. We actually have potentially two. I think overall from a day’s perspective we were able to show the world what Oaklawn is capable of.”
Rebel Day figures have increased every year since an estimated crowd of 30,000 watched American Pharoah splash to a 6 ¼-length victory over a sloppy track. Estimated attendance climbed to 35,000 in 2016, 36,000 in 2017 and 37,500 last year. Total mutuel handle – money wagered on Oaklawn’s races – has mirrored the growth in attendance. Total handle was $8,443,176.12 in 2015, $9,124,971.68 in 2016, $10,752,313.15 in 2017 and $10,771,984.46 last year to set records for March and a non-Arkansas Derby Day.
Mark Lamberth, a Batesville, Ark., Thoroughbred owner and vice chairman of the Arkansas Racing Commission, said the buzz Saturday was reminiscent of future Horse of the Year Zenyatta’s appearance in the $500,000 Apple Blossom Invitational (G1) for older fillies and mares in 2010. Run on Friday, a day before the Arkansas Derby, Zenyatta was a 4 ¼-length winner before a crowd of 44,973.
“It was one of those magical days,” Lamberth said Sunday morning. “When Zenyatta pranced, I mean the crowd just swooned and, of course, she won easy. I thought yesterday was like that, from top to bottom. We had $100,000 maiden special weights, great horses and the crowd was really into it. It was a festive atmosphere. I just think it was the best day I’ve had at Oaklawn in a long time.”
The infield was open for the first time this season Saturday. The record crowd for Rebel Day was 54,119 in 1981. The Rebel was the last major local prep for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 13.
Next-race plans are pending for Market King, who finished third after setting the early pace in the second division of Saturday’s $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) for 3-year-olds, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Thursday morning.
Market King was beaten 8 ¼ lengths in his stakes debut by Omaha Beach, who toppled champion 2-year-old male Game Winner by a nose in the 1 1/16-mile race. The Rebel was the final major local prep for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 13.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do with him,” Lukas said. “I’m going to pick a Derby prep race of some kind. There’s a couple of different options. Trying to figure who’s going where and give myself the best chance.”
The Rebel was the fourth start at the meeting for Market King, a son of Into Mischief who races for Lukas’ longtime clients, Robert Baker and William Mack.
Market King was coming off a third-place finish in a Feb. 24 allowance sprint. Market King was wheeled back in the 6-furlong race after breaking his maiden at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 9.
Lukas said he was not surprised how well Market King, at odds of 48-1, performed in the Rebel. The colt was purchased for $550,000 at the 2017 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.
“I thought he would run really well, and he did,” Lukas said. “He took a lot of the pressure and still hung in there very well at the end. I was very pleased. What I like about him is he’s improved for me every race he’s run this spring. In the 3-year-old picture, that’s really important. You get some of these horses that ran a sensational race and then they go backwards. Next you wonder, ‘Gosh, the horses we like in January, some of them might not be popular right now.’ ”
Market King earned 7.5 Kentucky Derby qualifying points for his third-place Rebel finish.
The owner/trainer team also finished third in the 2010 Rebel with Dublin, 4th in the 2014 Rebel with Strong Mandate and fifth in last year’s race with Sporting Chance.
The Old Men
Trainer Cipriano Contreras already has one horse pointing for the $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) April 13 in Rated R Superstar, who won last Saturday’s $350,000 Essex Handicap.
Contreras could have another for Oaklawn’s biggest two-turn race for older horses in Matrooh, who is scheduled to make his 9-year-old debut in Saturday’s fifth race, a $94,000 allowance at 1 1/16 miles.
Contreras claimed Matrooh for $25,000 last March at Oaklawn and was immediately rewarded with victories in an April 6 allowance race at Oaklawn and the $100,000 Hanshin Cup Stakes (G3) May 12 at Arlington Park.
“I almost ran him in this race,” Contreras said, referring to the Essex. “Hopefully, we see him in the Oaklawn Handicap, too. That’s the plan. Run him this week. He’s ready to run. I didn’t want to match him against this guy (Rated R Superstar) because this guy is doing really good.”
Unraced since mid-September, Matrooh worked 5 furlongs in :59.60 last Saturday.
“He worked maybe the best I’ve seen him work so far,” Contreras said.
Also entered in Saturday’s fifth race are Hawaakom, winner of last year’s $500,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) for older horses at Oaklawn and M G Warrior, 10th in this year’s Razorback.
Contreras claimed Rated R Superstar for $62,500 Nov. 22 at Churchill Downs. The 6-year-old gelding was coming off a third-place finish in the Razorback. Nun the Less, a 7-year-old gelding, has become a multiple stakes winner for Contreras after being claimed for $40,000 last June at Arlington Park. Nun the Less ran seventh in the Razorback.
Operation Stevie, a $10,000 claim for Contreras in 2016 at Indiana Grand, was a March 3 allowance winner. The 7-year-old gelding won the $106,000 Gus Grissom Stakes Oct. 2 at Indiana Grand.
The track was rated fast for workouts Thursday morning. … Multiple Oaklawn allowance winner Warrior’s Club will defend his title in the $250,000 Commonwealth Stakes (G3) April 6 at Keeneland, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Thursday morning. Warrior’s Club finished second in his 5-year-old debut, a March 3 allowance race, and worked 5 furlongs in :59.80 Wednesday morning. … Grade I winner Sporting Chance needs more time and will not race at the meeting, Lukas said. Sporting Chance ran twice last year at Oaklawn, finishing third in the $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) and fifth in the $900,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) for 3-year-olds. … John McKee, Oaklawn’s leading rider in 2004, entered Thursday with 1,991 career North American victories, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. McKee is based at Turfway Park.