Armagnac Newest Contender for 147th Preakness

May 14th, 2022

Early Voting Looking Good for Preakness; Zandon Out

Secret Oath At Least Worth a Look in Middle Jewel

BALTIMORE – Armagnac, a front-running first-level allowance winner May 8 at Santa Anita, will make his next start in the 147th Preakness Stakes (G1), Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown, next Saturday at historic Pimlico Race Course.

Both the $1.5 million Preakness at 1 3/16 miles and the $100,000 Sir Barton for 3-year-old non-winners of an open stakes going 1 1/16 miles on the undercard were being considered for Armagnac, according to managing partner Tom Ryan of SF Racing.

The ownership group also includes Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Robert Masterson, Stonestreet Stables, Jay Schoenfarber, Waves Edge Capital, Catherine Donovan, Golconda Stable and Siena Farm.

“We had some considerable conversation about it this morning,” Ryan said. “They were the two races we were considering. It feels like with his progression, he’s really trending in the right direction.”

Irad Ortiz Jr., a three-time Eclipse Award winner as champion jockey (2018-20), has signed on to ride Armagnac. Ortiz finished second in the 2021 Preakness aboard Midnight Bourbon.

“We’re excited,” Ryan said. “The horse is well, and statistically we’ve got one of the best jockeys in the nation. Sometimes when you’re healthy and well, if the opportunity is there you have to make a decision. Do I want to go large or [not]? It’s coming together in a way that we feel comfortable with the challenge.”

Armagnac has raced exclusively at Santa Anita, making two starts since being transferred to trainer Tim Yakteen from the barn of Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, who is serving a 90-day suspension that goes to July 2. The Quality Road colt was fourth in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) April 9 at odds of 72-1 prior to his recent 4 ¼-length allowance triumph, which was his first race without blinkers.

The top three horses from the Santa Anita Derby – Taiba, Messier and Happy Jack – all ran back in the Kentucky Derby (G1) May 7. Happy Jack is also Preakness-bound, along with Derby runner-up Epicenter, and fourth-place finisher Simplification.

“We’ve always felt that he has talent. Obviously, this is an incredible step up in class, no question, but he has some racing under his belt,” Ryan said. “He’s a fit, sound horse. Running him back in 13 days I suppose is an aggressive move but, that said, horses are coming back from the Derby in 14 days.”

Ryan said the plan for Armagnac is to ship to Pimlico on Wednesday, gallop Thursday and Friday over the main track, and run Saturday.

“He had a good, confidence-building race last Sunday. I thought he got out there and enjoyed himself. You could see he was pricking his ears,” Ryan said. “The one thing that kind of swayed me was he really galloped out with energy. It wasn’t a case that he just kind of got around there and won the race; the case was he won it and he kept on rolling. I just really felt good about that.”

Early Voting Looking Good for Preakness; Zandon Out

Trainer Chad Brown expressed complete satisfaction with Klaravich Stables Inc.’s Early Voting’s preparation for next Saturday’s 147th Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course while officially removing Jeff Drown’s Zandon from consideration for the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown. 

Early Voting, who bypassed the May 7 Kentucky Derby (G1), has exited his five-furlong workout in 1:00.63 Friday at Belmont in good order. 

“I’m extremely pleased. He’s been here all winter. What a tough horse to stay here in the winter. My crew here at Belmont really did a fantastic job with this horse all winter,” Brown said. “He’s just come around. We always thought he would be a later horse and he turned out to be. I just couldn’t be more pleased how he looks and how he’s training.” 

Early Voting, who will be ridden by Jose Ortiz, registered a pair of eye-catching front running victories at Aqueduct in his first two career starts before setting the pace in the April 9 Wood Memorial (G2), only to fall short of holding off Mo Donegal by a head.

Zandon, a 2 ½-length winner of the Blue Grass (G1) at Keeneland, finished third in the Kentucky Derby, 1 ½ lengths behind winner Rich Strike.

“We’re going to pass the Preakness and rest him at this point. I want to give him a little bit more time after what I saw today,” Brown said. “He’s nice and sound but definitely a little fatigued from that tough Derby run. I’m so proud of him for that race. We’ll see him later on in the summer.”

Secret Oath Worth a Look in Preakness

Secret Oath gave owner-breeders Stacy and Rob Mitchell their first Grade 1 victory as the 3-year-old filly dominated a deep field in last Saturday’s Kentucky Oaks (G1). Having won America’s most important stakes for 3-year-old fillies, Secret Oath now will try to enhance her legacy by winning in next Saturday’s 147th Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course.

But the Mitchells might not be in Baltimore to see it. They take a lot of pride in doing all the work on the farm, and that includes Stacy virtually always assisting their mares in foaling. And it just happens that Secret Oath’s dam, Absinthe Minded, is due to have a foal by Liam’s Map right around Preakness Day – the last of Briland Farm’s three 2022 foals to be born.

“We may be watching the Preakness on TV from Lexington,” Rob Mitchell said by phone Saturday morning. As for hoping that Absinthe Minded has her baby before Saturday, he joked, “Yeah, because we might have to put her on a plane, bring her up there, put her in the hotel or something.”

As was Absinthe Minded, Secret Oath is trained by six-time Preakness winner D. Wayne Lukas.

The Mitchells’ passion for their horses came out in the post-Oaks winners’ interview at Churchill Downs, when Rob Mitchell told the media, “If we raise a horse, we foaled it and we delivered the foal itself,” before Stacy Mitchell added, “We have invested our heart and our soul into that horse.”

The Mitchells got into the breeding industry a little more than 20 years ago when Stacy got a Quarter-Horse to ride on their newly purchased 90-acre Briland Farm in Lexington, Ky. Told that horses are social animals and they should get a companion horse, they wound up buying their first Thoroughbred mare, who had never raced, for $1 from a friend of a friend. 

They bred the $1 mare, Chao Praya, to Storm Cat’s son Level Sands for $1,500. The result was Level Playingfield, who was sold for $15,000 and wound up a graded-stakes winner and $664,822 earner. The Mitchells’ subsequent $36,000 purchase Rockford Peach produced Absinthe Minded, a multiple stakes-winner who was Grade 1-placed while making $607,747 racing for the Mitchells.

The Mitchells have had extraordinary success with limited numbers, having only three or four foals a year and never more than six mares on the farm. According to the Paulick Report, between 2002 and 2018, Briland Farm had 44 foals that went on to race, of which three were graded-stakes winners, six were graded-stakes placed, five were stakes winners and 11 were stakes-placed.

“We haven’t bought a mare in over 20 years,” Rob Mitchell said. “We have never put a horse on the racetrack to race that wasn’t born on our farm — kind of the way they did it 100 years ago.”

The Mitchells often sell their foals, racing those who don’t fetch the price they believe the horse is worth. Secret Oath, a daughter of the late Arrogate, was one they pulled from the yearling sale after few people came by to see her.

“They keep a list of how many people look at a horse, and I didn’t think many people looked at her,” Rob Mitchell said. “And not many people ‘vetted’ her and looked at her X-rays in the repository. Very few people looked at her twice. You like to see people come back and look two or three times. It was not going to be a situation where you had 10 people bidding on her. So, I’m thinking, ‘Why put her through the ring and not have her bring what I think she’s worth?’ So, I dropped her out of the sale.”

On May 6 at Churchill Downs Secret Oath, a two-length Oaks winner over the highly regarded Nest, was one of the most looked-at fillies in the world.

“She had at least 100,000 looks last Friday,” Rob Mitchell said with a laugh.

The same will be true at the 1 3/16-mile Preakness, with its massive on-track crowd, international television audience and the interest generated whenever a top filly takes on top males in a major race.

As Stacy Mitchell concluded after the Oaks: “We’re very blessed that the clouds and the heavens worked out just right and she didn’t sell for a reason. And here we are.”

Secret Oath galloped early Saturday morning at Churchill Downs. She is scheduled to van to Pimlico on Monday.

Un Ojo Breezes 5F at Churchill; Preakness Decision Sunday  

Oaklawn’s Rebel (G2) winner Un Ojo, withdrawn from Kentucky Derby consideration because of a minor but untimely foot bruise the morning of entries, worked an easy five-eighths of a mile Saturday morning at Churchill Downs under Colby Hernandez. The Churchill clockers caught the one-eyed gelding in 1:02, with a six-furlong gallop-out time of a strong 1:14 3/5. 

“He worked really well,” said Clay Courville, the assistant and son of trainer Ricky Courville. “He seemed happy after his work. I’m excited with the way he worked and came out of it. We’ll see how he is (Sunday) and we’ll make a final decision. So far, everything is excellent. He dragged Colby around there. He didn’t need anything hard, just something to keep him happy. He’s a fit horse.”

Ramon Vazquez, who guided Un Ojo to the Rebel victory at 75-1, will be back aboard for the Preakness. With Vazquez now based in California, Hernandez has been working Un Ojo for the Courvilles, who are longtime friends from Louisiana.

“I thought the horse worked really well,” Hernandez said. “He just kind of tugged me around there. I never even had to ask him. I caught him in like 1:01 3/5, and it was a very strong gallop-out. He felt good before the Derby, and he feels the same now.”

Clay Courville said if everything continues well, Un Ojo will van to Baltimore Monday.

Simplification Thriving in Pimlico Environment

Tami Bobo and Tristan De Meric’s Simplification galloped 1 ½ miles early Saturday morning at Pimlico Race Course while sending positive signs to his connections that the son of Not This Time is sitting on a big race for next Saturday’s 147th Preakness Stakes (G1).

“He really likes it here. He likes the track [surface],” said Jesus ‘Chino’ Prada, longtime assistant to the Florida-bred colt’s trainer, Antonio Sano. “I think he likes it here more than he liked it at Churchill Downs.”

Simplification is coming off a fourth-place finish in the May 7 Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill, where he closed from 15th with a very wide rally to finished 3 ½ lengths behind victorious Rich Strike.

Hall of Famer John Velazquez will ride Simplification for the first time next Saturday, replacing Jose Ortiz, who has a commitment to ride Chad Brown-trained Early Voting in the Preakness.

“I think he can win the Preakness,” Prada said. “I read John Velazquez hasn’t won the Preakness. He will win the Preakness with this horse.”

Simplification began his 3-year-old campaign with a front-running four-length victory in the one-turn-mile Mucho Macho Man at Gulfstream Park, where he went on to finish second in the Holy Bull (G3); win the Fountain of Youth (G2) by 3 ½ lengths while rallying from off the pace; and finish third in the Florida Derby (G1).

Sano, who saddled Gunnevera for a fifth-place finish in the 2017 Preakness, is scheduled to arrive in Baltimore from South Florida Sunday morning.

O’Neill Seeking 2nd Preakness Score with Happy Jack 

In his last three starts, Calumet Farm’s homebred Happy Jack hasn’t moved the needle much when it came to how much the betting public perceived the 3-year-old son of Oxbow. When he goes into the starting gate at Pimlico Race Course for the 147th running of the May 21 Preakness (G1), he won’t be one of the favorites, either.

His trainer, Doug O’Neill, has had success in Triple Crown races of years gone by. He saddled I’ll Have Another for a victory in the 2012 Preakness (G1) two weeks after he won the Kentucky Derby (G1). That was the first Preakness starter of his training career. O’Neill brought another Derby winner to Charm City in 2016 but Nyquist could only manage third in that Preakness. His other Preakness runners, Goldencents (fifth in 2013) and Term of Art (10th in 2017) did not hit the board.

To the 53-year-old O’Neill, he feels the stress whether he has the odds-on choice in a race or the longest shot in the field.

“As a professional, you always put some pressure on yourself to have your horse perform to the best of their ability,” O’Neill said.

When he was in Kentucky preparing Happy Jack for his date in the Derby, O’Neill saw media types wandering all over the backstretch. None of them seemed interested in finding him or Happy Jack, who was 30-1 on the Derby morning line. He finished 14th at 23-1 odds.

“You would see schools of media walking towards you and then they would walk right by you,” he said with a laugh. “That’s ok. It’s a sign the pressure is off, media wise, anyway.”

In his two starts prior to the Derby, Happy Jack was 26-1 in both the Santa Anita Derby (G1) and San Felipe (G2). He finished a well-beaten third in each race.

Happy Jack will continue to gallop at Churchill Down, where he has remained since the Kentucky Derby. He is scheduled to ship to Pimlico on Tuesday.

O’Neill, who returned to his base in California after the Derby, is expected to fly to Baltimore Wednesday night and be on the Pimlico grounds Thursday afternoon.

Creative Minister Set for Preakness Test

Derby Day allowance winner Creative Minister might be light on experience with only three races heading into the Preakness (G1), but he’s handled those three races like a pro. After finishing a close second in his debut at Gulfstream Park, he registered 1 1/16-mile victories at Keeneland in the slop and Churchill Downs over a fast track.

“He’s run over three difference racetracks and handled it all well,” trainer Kenny McPeek said. “I think he’ll like the little added distance. Does he fit against the top 3-year-olds? I’ve worked him against (graded-stakes winners) Smile Happy and Rattle N Roll, and he holds his own every day.

Any time you raise one up, it’s like ‘OK, he’s jumped through these two hoops, but they weren’t very high: a maiden and an ‘a-other-than’ [entry-level allowance]. But once you get a 3-year-old who has jumped through both of those, they don’t write a ‘two-other-than’ anymore. You might as well find out how good he is,” he added. “Both owners [Paul Fireman and Greg Back] are game as Dick Tracy. That’s what they want: They want a top horse. I’d like to have another week, but none of them have another week.”

Creative Minister will be supplemented into the Preakness at a cost of $150,000. The Creative Cause colt galloped Saturday at Churchill Downs. McPeek said depending on the weather, he’ll van to Baltimore either Monday or Tuesday.

Anticipated Preakness favorite Epicenter, the Kentucky Derby runner-up who appeared headed to the winner’s circle until passed late on the inside by 80-1 Rich Strike, had a routine gallop Saturday at Churchill Downs. Trained by two-time Preakness winner Steve Asmussen for Winchell Thoroughbreds, Epicenter is scheduled to have any easy half-mile breeze Monday and van to Pimlico on Tuesday. Asmussen has been in Texas the past few days and is expected back in Louisville on Sunday. 

Skippylongstocking ‘Very Well’ Following Friday Work

Daniel Alonso’s Skippylongstocking was reported to be ‘very well’ Saturday morning, one day after breezing five furlongs in 59.60 seconds at Palm Meadows, Gulfstream Park’s satellite training facility in Palm Beach County, in preparation for next Saturday’s Preakness (G1) at Pimlico Race Course.

“I think he’ll leave tomorrow between 11 [a.m.] and 12 [noon] and get there Monday between 4 and 6 [a.m.],” trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. said. “When he gets on the road, we’ll have a better idea.”

Skippylongstocking, a son of 2016 Preakness Stakes winner Exaggerator, is coming off a third-place finish behind Mo Donegal and Early Voting in the April 9 Wood Memorial (G2) at Aqueduct.

Junior Alvarado has the return mount aboard Skippylongstocking.

Joseph is scheduled to travel to Baltimore Sunday.

Owner/trainer Rudy Sanchez-Salomon’s Shake Em Loose galloped at Laurel Park Saturday morning in advance of a scheduled workout on turf Sunday morning. Following the breeze, Shake Em Loose will be pointed to either the Preakness or the James W. Murphy, an undercard turf feature.