(Taraz winning the Martha Washington Stakes / Coady Photography & Courtesy of Oaklawn Park)
From the Oaklawn Park Media Team:
Unbeaten Taraz returned to the track Wednesday morning at Oaklawn to begin preparations for her next scheduled start in the $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies March 7.
Bred and owned by Juddmonte Farms and trained by Brad Cox, Taraz was a 3 ¾-length wire-to-wire winner of Saturday’s $150,000 Martha Washington Stakes in her 2020 and two-turn debut. Taraz was previously based at Fair Grounds, but Cox said he decided to keep the daughter of Into Mischief at Oaklawn, and not immediately challenge males, after conferring Monday with Juddmonte General Manager Garrett O’Rourke and Prince Khalid bin Abdullah, who owns the noted worldwide racing and breeding operation.
“At the current time, we are going to stay with the fillies and point for the Honeybee,” Cox said during training hours Tuesday morning at Oaklawn. “She’ll stay at Oaklawn.”
The 1 1/16-mile Honeybee is Oaklawn’s second of three Kentucky Oaks points races and will offer 85 (50-20-10-5) to the top four finishers toward starting eligibility for the country’s biggest event for 3-year-old fillies. The $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks (G1) is May 1 at Churchill Downs.
Asked if running in the Honeybee means Taraz isn’t a candidate to face males in a Kentucky Derby prep, Cox said: “I wouldn’t say that.”
“We would leave our options open, for sure,” Cox said. “Anything can happen. Started getting better horses a few years back; you try to keep them (nominated) as much as you can. Leave your options open.”
Taraz is among seven fillies who are early Triple Crown nominees, according to the Churchill Downs media relations department. The $3 million Kentucky Derby (G1) is May 2 at Churchill Downs.
Taraz won her first two career starts by a combined 18 ¾ lengths and earned 10 Kentucky Oaks qualifying points for her victory in the 1-mile Martha Washington. She arrived Jan. 28 in Hot Springs after recording the first of five published workouts at Fair Grounds in mid-December.
“It crossed my mind,” Cox said of returning Taraz to Fair Grounds to train. “But once we settled on the Honeybee, I just thought it made more sense to leave her right here, given the time. I feel like we’re in the clear, as far the weather, here hopefully – knock on wood. I feel like the temperatures play a big role in what you can get done here, as far as training. The 10-day forecast looks pretty good. I don’t think we’re going to miss any training. I think once you get into the middle of February, you’re in pretty good shape.”
Cox said Taraz came out of the Martha Washington “fantastic” physically and walked Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Cox said his horses normally walk the shed row three days following a race before returning to the track to train.
“Really came out of the race great,” Cox said. “I was borderline taking her back to the track (Tuesday), but I thought I would give her one more day.”
Cox said Taraz will probably have three works leading up to the Honeybee, the final major local prep for the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles April 10.
“Just kind of routine type things,” Cox said. “Nothing too fancy.”
Oaklawn’s final major Kentucky Derby prep is the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 11. Cox has divisions at Oaklawn, Fair Grounds and New York and has horses at Louisiana Downs.
Cates Nears 200 Career Wins
Trainer Al Cates of Hot Springs enters a new week of racing with 194 career victories, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. Cates will have a chance to add to that total Thursday and Friday with two promising Arkansas-breds, lightly raced Souixper Charger and unstarted Princess Lilli Bug.
Souixper Charger, entered in Thursday’s seventh race, hasn’t started since breaking his maiden against state-breds by 4 ¾ lengths in January 2019 at Oaklawn. Souixper Charger was to be pointed for the $100,000 Rainbow Stakes for Arkansas-bred 3-year-olds later in the meeting, Cates said, before a minor ankle issue sidelined the colt for the remainder of 2019.
“When we got here the first day the track opened, he was here,” Cates said before training hours Tuesday morning. “He had been training for about two or three months before I got him. This race is kind of the one we circled and pointed for.”
Souixper Charger, a son Portobello Road, has raced only other time, that coming Oct. 25, 2018, at Keeneland, which represented Cates’ first career starter at the famed Kentucky venue. Boldor and Super Steed, the winner and runner-up, respectively, in the race both returned to capture stakes races. Super Steed won the $500,000 Southwest (G3) last year at Oaklawn. Boldor was also a Jan. 26 allowance winner at Oaklawn.
“He’s a nice horse, but first race back in a year – it’s going to be tough,” Cates said. “Physically, we’re 100 percent. It’s just in the back of my mind, I can see him, although he’s trained great, I can see him needing one.”
Souixper Charger will be reunited with six-time Oaklawn riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr., who was aboard for the colt’s maiden victory. Cates said Thursday’s race, a state-bred allowance sprint, is a possible bridge to Arkansas-bred stakes later in the meeting.
Princess Lilli Bug, who is scheduled to make her career debut in Friday’s second race, is the first foal out of Our Quista, a multiple stakes winner for Cates and the Louisiana Thoroughbred Breeders Association’s champion 3-year-old filly of 2014. Princess Lilli Bug, a 3-year-old filly by Sky Mesa, is entered in a state-bred maiden special weights sprint.
“We’re really not sure where we’re at with her right now,” Cates said. “We know she’s got talent, but we’re going to give her this one and see where we’re at and go from there.”
Cates started his first horse in 2005 and has 62 career victories at Oaklawn.
Oaklawn shifts to its normal Thursday-Sunday racing schedule this week. … American Butterfly, the first Oaklawn starter by 2015 Triple Crown winner and multiple Oaklawn stakes winner American Pharoah, finished second, beaten a head, in last Sunday’s eighth race for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. The 6-furlong race was an entry-level allowance sprint for 3-year-olds. American Pharoah, North America’s leading first-crop sire in 2019, won Oaklawn’s $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) and $1 million Arkansas Derby before sweeping the Triple Crown. The winner of Sunday’s eighth race, Little Menace, is by Into Mischief, North America’s leading sire in 2019. … Multiple stakes winner Break Even will be nominated to the $125,000 Spring Fever Stakes for older female sprinters Feb. 29, trainer Brad Cox said Tuesday morning. Break Even, 6 of 7 overall, returned to the work tab late last month at Louisiana Downs. She won the $150,000 Purple Martin Stakes for 3-year-old filly sprinters last year at Oaklawn. … Cox said next-race plans are pending for Irish Mischief, runner-up in last Saturday’s $125,000 American Beauty Stakes for older female sprinters, adding she is not a candidate for the Spring Fever. … One-time Kentucky Derby hopeful Coliseum is now with Cox after previously being based in Southern California. A Godolphin homebred, Coliseum hasn’t started since a third-place finish as the odds-on favorite in the $200,000 San Vincent Stakes (G2) for 3-year-olds last February at Santa Anita for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. Cox said Coliseum, a gelded son of Tapit, is scheduled to run at the meeting. “It will be a little bit before he breezes, but the goal is to run here,” Cox said Tuesday morning. … Multiple Oaklawn stakes winner Ministry will be bred to multiple Oaklawn stakes winner and millionaire Alternation, the 6-year-old mare’s owner, Linda Robbins of Hot Springs, said Tuesday morning. … Post positions were to be drawn Wednesday for Saturday’s $125,000 King Cotton Stakes for older sprinters. … Nominations to the $125,000 Dixie Belle Stakes for 3-year-old filly sprinters Feb. 15 close Thursday. Nominations also close Thursday for the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) for 3-year-olds, $500,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) for older horses and the $200,000 Bayakoa Stakes (G3) for older fillies and mares. The three races, all 1 1/16 miles, will be run Feb. 17.