Oaklawn opens Jan. 24, but trainer Brad Cox is already targeting major local races in February for two of his most promising runners now based at Fair Grounds and a third already in Hot Springs.
Cox said Friday morning that he is pointing unbeaten Taraz for the $150,000 Martha Washington Stakes for 3-year-old fillies Feb. 1, Warrior's Charge for the $500,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) for older horses Feb. 17 and Answer In for the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) for 3-year-olds Feb. 17.
Lightly raced Answer In closed his 2-year-old campaign with a runner-up finish, beaten a head, in the $400,000 Springboard Mile – the Dialed In gelding's third career start – Dec. 15 at Remington Park.
“It was his first time around two turns and not the greatest of trips,” Cox said. “It was a step forward. He ran a winning race. He was right there and very proud of the effort. He bounced out of it in good shape. We're hoping he can be a contender in the 3-year-old division.”
Answer In returned to the work tab Jan. 5 at Oaklawn, covering a half-mile in :51.60. Answer In earned four qualifying points toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby with his runner-up finish in the Springboard Mile. The 1 1/16-mile Southwest is Oaklawn's second of four Kentucky Derby points races and like the Springboard Mile and Oaklawn's first prep, the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 24, it will offer 17 points to the top four finishers (10-4-2-1).
Although Answer In is among 51 nominees to the Smarty Jones, Cox said the gelding is not a candidate for the 1-mile race.
“Too much, too quick for a young horse, in my opinion,” Cox said. “Obviously, that Triple Crown trail is very demanding. Those races are won in the spring, not in the winter.”
Answer In races for Robert LaPenta and Madaket Stables LLC.
Madaket (Sol Kumin) also co-owns Warrior's Charge with Memphis-based Ten Strike Racing, whose founding members, Marshall Gramm and Clay Sanders, have been major supporters of Oaklawn and have strong local ties.
Warrior's Charge made his first four starts last year at Oaklawn, scoring powerful front-running maiden and allowance victories before being supplemented to the Preakness, the second leg of racing's Triple Crown, for $150,000. Warrior's Charge, in his stakes debut, finished fourth, beaten 2 ½ lengths by War of Will.
Warrior's Charge was a front-running two-length allowance winner of his Dec. 18 comeback race at Fair Grounds.
“Really pleased with his first race off the layoff,” Cox said. “He'll go from the allowance race to the Razorback.”
Cox said Warrior's Charge, a son of Munnings, will continue to prep for the 1 1/16-mile Razorback at Fair Grounds before shipping to Oaklawn, “probably” after Feb. 1.
One of the most intriguing prospects in Cox's barn is Taraz, a massive daughter of super sire Into Mischief who is a homebred for famed Juddmonte Farm. Taraz (2 for 2 sprinting) won her career debut by 7 ½ lengths Nov. 14 at Churchill Downs and the $75,000 Letellier Memorial Stakes Dec. 21 at Fair Grounds by 11 ¼ lengths.
“Wait to you see her,” Cox said. “She might make Zenyatta look small. A gorilla. She doesn't even look like a Thoroughbred.”
Cox also trains probable 2-year-old filly champion and Fair Grounds-based British Idiom, but he said the 1-mile Martha Washington isn't necessarily a move to keep the fillies separated. Cox chose the Martha Washington over two races at Fair Grounds, next Saturday's $150,000 Silverbulletday Stakes and the $300,000 Rachel Alexandra Stakes (G2) Feb. 15.
“Even if I didn't have British Idiom, it really comes down to, honestly, I like the idea of – she's got speed,” Cox said. “The Martha Washington is two turns, it's a short stretch. It gives me the opportunity to utilize her speed and introduce her to two turns and not have to ask her to run a long way down the lane. I just think from a fitness standpoint, or an education standpoint, it makes more sense to try that as opposed to going to the Silverbulletday or the Rachel.”
Cox said Taraz will probably remain at Fair Grounds until about a week before the Martha Washington, but could, depending on weather, have one work at Oaklawn.
The Martha Washington is Oaklawn's first of three Kentucky Oaks points races and offers 17 to the top four finishers (10-4-2-1).
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