(Kaylee Crotchett to begin jockey career at Oaklawn Park soon / Photo Courtesy of Oaklawn Park)

From the Oaklawn Park Media Team:

Kaylee Crotchett, an exercise rider at Oaklawn for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, said Sunday morning that she plans to make her riding debut early in the 2021 meeting that is scheduled to begin Jan. 22.

Crotchett, 22, was raised in Henryville, Ind., about 25 miles north of Churchill Downs, and has been galloping horses for approximately 5 ½ years.

“I’m really excited right now,” Crotchett said. “I’m sure the day of the race, my adrenaline will get to me, my nerves, but this is something I’ve worked so hard for.”

Crotchett said her first scheduled mount is Mr. Peterkin, a 3-year-old Ghostzapper colt who is winless in six career starts for Lukas. Mr. Peterkin, under Crotchett, worked a half-mile in :53.20 over a fast track Sunday morning in advance of his 2021 debut.

Crotchett said she grew up trail riding and began galloping horses at 16, initially working at a small training center in Indiana before moving to Churchill Downs to work as an exercise rider for trainer Buff Bradley. She spent approximately a year as an exercise rider for Lukas before going to work as an exercise rider for trainer Wayne Catalano early in the 2020 Oaklawn meeting. Crotchett said she reunited with Lukas in September at Churchill Downs.

“Kaylee’s ready to ride,” Lukas said Sunday morning. “For two years now, I’ve been working on the gate with her and she’s getting away real well. She’s (100) pounds. That helps. She sits a horse beautifully. Again, it will get down to those girls that are light like that, finishing. I told her to get on that mechanical exerciser and get that finish, get strong. I’m going to put her on a couple and I expect her to do well.”

Crotchett said she had hoped to make her riding debut last year, specifically in early May at the end of Oaklawn meeting, but racing’s uncertain landscape because of COVID-19 contributed to delaying her debut.

“Things have just been tough with the pandemic and everything, so I just took a step back,” Crotchett said. “I came back and worked for Wayne, and he said he was going to help me. I just kind of sat still and came back here. Hopefully, things will get going and I’ll have a good meet.”

Crotchett said she will not have an agent to begin her riding career.

Backing Barkley

Trainer Jason Barkley’s numbers continue to grow and he returns to Oaklawn for the fourth consecutive year, this time with a 24-horse string that doesn’t resemble his 2020 roster.

“Little bit of everything,” Barkley said, outlining his stable. “We claimed a bunch. We only have one horse that we had last year.”

Barkley had around 15 horses last year at Oaklawn and the only holdover is Shoot Me Straight, a 4-year-old Arkansas-bred filly who broke her maiden in February for breeder/owner Randy Patterson.

Barkley, who saddled his first career winner in 2017, won five races at the last two Oaklawn meetings after going winless in 2017. He set career highs for starts (182), victories (22) and purse earnings ($634,058) overall in 2020.

“We had a good year,” Barkley said. “Oaklawn’s always tough. Kentucky was good to us all summer long, winning here and there and picking up more horses for the barn.”

Perhaps the trainer’s most promising prospect is Cronus, co-owned by Franklin Ave. Equine, whose managing partner, Brian DiDonato, unearthed the colt at last June’s Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-year-old in training sale. DiDonato is also racing editor of The Thoroughbred Daily News online newspaper.

Cronus, an unstarted son of millionaire Grade 1 winner Constitution, has five published workouts at Oaklawn, including an eye-catching half-mile bullet drill from the gate (:47.40) Dec. 21. Cronus is out of Red Moon Girl, an unraced half-sister to millionaire multiple Grade 1 winner Mshawish. Franklin Ave. Equine and Jon Green purchased Cronus for $175,000.

“I think we’ll be all right,” said Barkley, who is targeting a spot early in the meeting for Cronus’ debut.

Barkley’s major clients are Franklin Ave. Equine, Ten Strike Racing and Wasabi Ventures Stables. Barkley also has 10-12 horses at Turfway Park. Barkley, 31, grew up in Evansville, Ind., and came up under, among others, Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito and nationally prominent trainers Wesley Ward and Larry Jones.

Finish Lines

In addition to two-time Oaklawn riding champion Terry Thompson, agent Bobby Dean said he will represent newcomer Elvin Gonzalez at the 2021 meet that is scheduled to begin Jan. 22. Gonzalez won 34 races last year at Prairie Meadows to tie for sixth in the standings. … Jon Court, Oaklawn’s leading rider in 2000, is getting on horses in advance of the 2021 meet. … Horses for trainers Tom Amoss, Tom Van Berg, Scott Becker and Jimmy DiVito are on the grounds.