The Rebel was actually a rebel-lion last month at Oaklawn, with experience trumping youth in both divisions of the $750,000 Grade 2 race for 3-year-olds March 16.
The winner of the first division was Long Range Toddy, owned by Willis Horton, 78, trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, 53, and ridden by Jon Court, 58. The winner of the second division was Omaha Beach, owned by Rick Porter, 78, trained by Hall of Famer Richard Mandella, 68, and ridden by Hall of Famer Mike Smith, 53.
“I may be 58, but I prefer, 'Ageless,' ” Court said with a laugh. “A lot of people have started calling me that.”
The AARP set is scheduled to reunite Saturday afternoon in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1), Oaklawn's final major prep for the Kentucky Derby. Post positions for the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby will be drawn at noon Wednesday near the information booth on the first floor, an event open to the public.
Court, Oaklawn's leading rider in 2000, is bidding for his third Arkansas Derby victory after winning the race in 2010 with Line of David for trainer John Sadler and 2011 with Archarcharch for trainer Jinks Fires of Hot Springs. Court may have won the race again in 2013 with eventual 3-year-old champion male Will Take Charge, whom he had ridden to a narrow victory over stablemate Oxbow in the Rebel. But Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas opted to skip the Arkansas Derby and train Will Take Charge up to the Kentucky Derby, where he finished a troubled eighth.
Horton also campaigned Will Take Charge and 2014 champion 2-year-old filly Take Charge Brandi, a Lukas trainee who won Oaklawn's $100,000 Martha Washington Stakes under Court in her 2015 debut.
Winning races for Asmussen, inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2016, represents a new chapter in Court's 40-year riding career. According to Equibase, racing's official data gathering organization, only four of Court's 4,147 career victories have been for Asmussen, Oaklawn's leading trainer nine times since 2007. All four victories have come this year at Oaklawn on horses owned by Horton.
“Glenda and Willis, they love Jon Court,” the jockey's agent, “Big Steve” Krajcir of Hot Springs said, referring to the Marshall, Ark., couple. “They've always had a good rapport with Jon.”
Long Range Toddy, a Horton homebred, had been ridden his five previous races, including a third-place finish in the $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 18, by Richard Eramia. Court breezed Long Range Toddy six days before the Rebel, then guided the Take Charge Indy colt to a neck victory over heavily favored and previously unbeaten Improbable in the 1 1/16-mile race. The result mirrored the 2013 Rebel when Will Take Charge, on the outside, collared Oxbow in the shadow of the wire to win by a head.
“Gosh, I've had success for the Hortons,” Court said. “I've always had a good rapport with Willis, and I spend time with him when I can and we talk occasionally about horse racing and breeding. We've talked about conservation. In fact, we've talked about the elk population in Arkansas. So, we carry all kinds of conversations on, besides racing. With that being said, I'm always campaigning. I had some other 3-year-olds, but I had put this one on the top of my list.”
The Rebel has helped Court bankroll $1,496,174 in purse earnings at the meet, a single-season personal Oaklawn best. Court rode his first of 687 winners to date in Hot Springs in 1981. A week after the Rebel, Court won the $125,000 Gazebo Stakes aboard Gray Attempt, another projected Arkansas Derby starter, for Fires.
“My job is to get him some live horses, but he sells himself so well,” Krajcir said. “I'm not just tooting horns, but I think he's the best rider in the room, myself. He's smart, he's strong, he rides a good race.”
Court said he has no thoughts of retirement and credits his longevity at the highest level, particularly the last few years, to biohacking, “the process of using science, biology and self-experimentation to take control of and upgrade your body, mind and life,” according to Dave Asprey, founder and CEO of Bulletproof, a Seattle-based food and nutrition products company.
“Just keep showing up, be healthy, smiling and keep the campaign going,” Court said.
Court entered Tuesday ranked 63rd in North American history in victories and 49th in purse earnings ($105,906,337), according to Equibase.
Long Range Toddy completed major preparations for the Arkansas Derby with a half-mile work in :52.60 Monday morning. Omaha Beach arrived late Tuesday morning following a flight that originated earlier in the day in Southern California. Omaha Beach recorded a 5-furlong bullet workout (1:00.60) Saturday at Santa Anita. Improbable recorded a 6-furlong bullet work (1:14) Friday at Santa Anita in his final major move for the Arkansas Derby. Trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, Improbable was on the same flight as Omaha Beach.
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