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Moquett-trained Protege to make 3yo debut in Southwest

Oaklawn Park’s media notes by Robert Yates (Coady Photography photo of Protege winning a Churchill Downs maiden race.)

Lightly raced Protege will make his stakes and 2023 debut in the $750,000 Southwest (G3) for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles Jan. 28 at Oaklawn, trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs said.

Post positions for the Southwest, Oaklawn’s second of four Kentucky Derby points races, will be drawn Monday, along with two other Jan. 28 stakes – the $200,000 Martha Washington for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles and the $150,000 King Cotton for older horses at 6 furlongs.

The Southwest will offer 40 points (20-8-6-4-2, respectively) to the top five finishers toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby. Oaklawn’s Kentucky Derby points series continues with the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 25 and the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at 1 1/8 miles April 1.

Protege has a 1-0-1 record from three lifetime starts for Moquett and owners Harry Rosenblum of Little Rock, Ark., Robert LaPenta and Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners (Aaron Wellman). He won his debut Sept. 21 at Churchill Downs, then was fifth in a Keeneland allowance. From the first crop of champion Good Magic, Protege concluded his 2-year-old campaign with a third-place finish in an entry-level allowance at 1 mile Dec. 17 at Oaklawn. Protege was beaten 4 1/2 lengths by Hit Show after breaking in at the start.

“It was his first time going around two turns,” said Moquett, who teamed with Rosenblum and LaPenta to win the 2015 Southwest with Far Right. “He had a little bit of a traffic situation. I thought he showed plenty of ability and looking forward to see how he’s progressing.”

The Oaklawn racing department listed seven other expected entrants Southwest Saturday morning – Bourbon Bash for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, Corona Bolt (Brad Cox), El Tomate (Miguel Angel Silva), Frosted Departure (Kenny McPeek), Hit Show (Cox), Jace’s Road (Cox) and Sun Thunder (McPeek).

Unbeaten Corona Bolt, among maybe a dozen Kentucky Derby prospects for Cox, will be making his two-turn debut in the Southwest. After breaking his maiden Nov. 19 at Churchill Downs, Corona Bolt scored a front-running 6 ¾-length victory in the $100,000 Sugar Bowl Stakes at 6 furlongs Dec. 26 at Fair Grounds in his last start.

Jace’s Road was a front-running 5 ½-length winner of the $100,000 Gun Runner Stakes at 1 1/16 miles Dec. 26 at Fair Grounds in his last start. Frosted Departure won the inaugural $150,000 Renaissance Stakes at 6 furlongs Dec. 31 at Oaklawn to conclude a nine-race 2-year-old campaign. Sun Thunder, in his two-turn debut, broke his maiden by 6 ½ lengths Dec. 31 at Oaklawn. Frosted Departure and Sun Thunder were among four winners for McPeek on the Dec. 31 card, Oaklawn’s first exclusively for 2-year-olds.

McPeek will send out one of the favorites in the Martha Washington in Defining Purpose, who was a sparkling 5 ¼-length winner of the inaugural $150,000 Year’s End Stakes at 1 mile Dec. 31 at Oaklawn.

Other expected Martha Washington starters include Homecoming Queen for trainer Rodolphe Brisset, Olivia Twist (Todd Fincher) and Take Charge Briana (Lukas).

Olivia Twist (3 for 3) won the $100,000 Trapeze Stakes for 2-year-old fillies at 1 mile Dec. 17 at Remington Park in her last start. Take Charge Briana finished third in the Year’s End.

The Martha Washington is Oaklawn’s first of three Kentucky Oaks points races. Secret Oath won the Martha Washington and Kentucky Oaks last year for Lukas. The Martha Washington is a major local prep for the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles April 1.

Early King Cotton probables include Flash of Mischief for trainer Karl Broberg and Tejano Twist for 2015 Oaklawn training champion Chris Hartman. 

Flash of Mischief won the inaugural $150,000 Ring the Bell Stakes at 6 furlongs Dec. 10 at Oaklawn in his last start. Late-running Tejano Twist has won his last three starts, including a Jan. 6 allowance sprint at Oaklawn.

The King Cotton is a major local prep for the $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) at 6 furlongs April 15. 

Milestone Watch

Robertino Diodoro entered Saturday with 299 career Oaklawn victories, including 20 to lead the 2022-2023 standings, after sweeping Friday’s early daily double.

Diodoro won the first race with favored Lord Dragon ($6.80) and the second race with favored Li’l Grazen ($4.80). Both victories were for owner John Holleman, a Little Rock, Ark., attorney. Li’l Grazen, 9, recorded her fifth consecutive victory in the starter-allowance sprint for older fillies and mares.  

Diodoro was Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 2020 and recorded his 3,000th career North American victory (United States and Canada) Jan. 7 at Oaklawn with Arthurian, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. Diodoro was the 37th trainer in North American history to reach the milestone, based on Equibase statistics.

Only 14 trainers have reached 300 career victories at Oaklawn, the last being Ron Moquett of Hot Springs Dec. 10. Diodoro (a meet-high $963,189 through Friday) was also trying to become the first trainer this season at Oaklawn to surpass $1 million in purse earnings.

Trainer Chris Hartman entered Saturday with 199 career Oaklawn victories. Hartman was Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 2015 and second this season through Friday with 14 victories from just 36 starts. Hartman also had seven seconds and five thirds at the meeting. He ranked second in purse earnings ($800,243).

After becoming the first female jockey in Oaklawn history to surpass $1 million in purse earnings at a meet last season, Kelsi Harr was poised to break another record Saturday.

Based on statistics from Equibase, Harr had amassed $2,781,244 in career purse earnings at Oaklawn. Cindy Murphy holds the Oaklawn record for career purse earnings by a female jockey ($2,792,644). The bulk of that total came between 1997 and 2006 when Murphy rode mostly as Cindy Noll.

Finish Lines

Yuugiri returned to the work tab Saturday morning at Oaklawn, covering a half-mile in :51.20 over a fast track for trainer Rodolphe Brisset, who is pointing the 4-year-old filly for the $150,000 Carousel Stakes Feb. 25. Yuugiri won the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles last April at Oaklawn and her Dec. 30 allowance comeback sprint in Hot Springs. … Also headed to the Carousel, a 6-furlong event for older fillies and mares, is multiple Oaklawn stakes winner Pretty Birdie, trainer Norm Casse said. … Apprentice jockey Hannah Leahey, who suffered five broken ribs, a collapsed lung and a broken shoulder in a spill during training hours Nov. 30 at Oaklawn, said Saturday morning that she should be able to resume riding in about two weeks. Leahey said she’s been getting on horses since early January.

Jennie Rees is a communications and advocacy specialist in the horse industry who spent 32 years covering horse racing for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal before taking a corporate buyout. In addition to handling communications for the Kentucky HBPA, Rees is Kentucky Downs’ publicity director, manages in-season racing publicity for Ellis Park and serves as a consultant to the National HBPA. Other projects include the Preakness Stakes, Indiana Grand’s Indiana Derby Week and work for various HBPA affiliates and horsemen’s associations.