By Richard Rosenblatt
The day started with a 99-1 shocker in the $20 million Saudi Cup (G1) and wrapped up with a 75-1 upset when Un Ojo won the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn Park on Saturday.
About six hours after Emblem Road stunned an international field in Saudi Arabia, New York-bred Un Ojo – a one-eyed horse — earned a berth in the Kentucky Derby (G1) with an along-the-rail victory over D. Wayne Lukas-trained Ethereal Road in the Derby points qualifier at Oaklawn Park.
The Rebel win was worth 50 qualifying points and moved Un Ojo – which means one eye — to No. 2 in the Derby standings following his second victory in six starts.
The 3-year-old gelding, trained by Ricky Courville and ridden by Ramon Vazquez, returned $152.80 on a $2 win bet. Ethereal Road looked to have the race won, but Un Ojo rode the rail to a half-length victory. It was the first stakes win for Courville.
The winner’s share of the purse was $600,00 for owners Cypress Creek Equine. Un Ojo was second in the Withers (G3) in his previous start
Ethereal Road earned 20 Derby qualifying points for the Derby, and Lukas said his 3-year-old colt is on track to run on the first Saturday May. The son of Quality Road (as is Emblem Road) is fourth with 20 points.
“I think we’re in the picture,’’ the 86-year-old Lukas, a four-time Derby winner, said. “I’m really pleased with the race. We don’t want him to be at his best at the end of February. We want to progress. We can build on this.”
Barber Road was third and pace-setter Kavod ended up fourth, earning 10 and five Derby qualifying points, respectively. Bob Baffert-trained Newgrange, the strong favorite, was in contention early but failed to come through with a strong effort and finished sixth. Jockey John Velazquez said his colt did not take well to the wet track.
Winning time for the 1 1/16 miles was 1:45.69.
Secret Oath clinches Kentucky Oaks spot for Lukas
Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas also has himself a Kentucky Oaks (G1) starter after 3-10 favorite Secret Oath won the $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn by 7½ lengths after a slow start.
In her third straight win, Secret Oath earned 50 qualifying points for the Oaks at Churchill Downs on May 6, a field limited to 14 starters.
Under Luis Contreras, the filly moved into contention in the backstretch, then ran into traffic around the final turn but found room along the rail to take charge in the stretch. Winning time for the 1 1/16 miles was 1:44.60.
“I loved that acceleration,” Lukas said. “When she decides to leave them, she leaves them. Wow!”
Ice Orchid was second to earn 20 Oaks points with Yuugirl third (10 points. Lukas said running the filly in the Kentucky Derby (G1) on May 7 is not out of the question.
“She’s nominated here (for the Arkansas Derby) and the Kentucky Derby,’’ Lukas said. The 86-year-old Lukas won the 1988 Derby with the filly Winning Colors – one of three fillies to win the Run for the Roses.
Letruska returns with a win at Gulfstream Park
Champion Letruska ($2.20) opened her 6-year-old campaign with a three-length victory in the $150,000 Royal Delta (G3).
A four-time Grade 1 winner in 2021 who ended the year with a subpar race in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) on Nov. 6, at Del Mar, Letruska, sent off at 1-10, won handily under Jose Ortiz.
“I think this is important. Now, she is 6 years old, and she made it look easy. It’s not easy. It’s a Grade 3. To win you have to make this kind of effort,” trainer Fausto Gutierrez said. “She looks in very good form and ready for the next race.”
Winning time for the 1 1/16 miles was 1:43.43. Next stop for Letruska is scheduled for the Apple Blossom (G1) on April 23 at Oaklawn, a race in which she nosed out Monomoy Girl last year in a thrilling duel to the wire.
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.