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Barn notes 3/22 | Sports & Recreation

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Barn notes 3/22
Barn notes 3/22

No Mistaking Lukas’ Optimism Over Optimizer


Trainer D. Wayne Lukas holds records for Triple Crown race and Kentucky Derby (G1) starts and is in the Hall of Fame for his mastery of the marquee races over the last 30-plus years, yet Bluegrass Hall’s          Optimizer has the 72-year-old acting like a one-horse conditioner after his fast-closing runner-up finish in the $500,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) last week at Oaklawn.


“He’s down the shedrow packed in Styrofoam and I’ve set up a rollaway bed to keep an eye on him,” joked Lukas. “I have to take sleeping pills at night, because he’s got me awake at night with excitement. We’ll be keeping a very watchful eye on him this next month.”


Lukas is being somewhat facetious, but he is clearly amped about what the 3-year-old son of English Channel showed in the 1 1/16th-mile Rebel in his ¾-length loss to Secret Circle. Off at 27-1, Optimizer had many pointing to his sire’s prowess on grass and his gradually worsening dirt form as evidence the colt wasn’t Triple Crown material. Forget that, says Lukas.


“I have no problem if people think his best races should be on the turf,” he said. “But they don’t run the Derby on the grass and this horse is clearly suited to longer distances. I think the mile-and-an-eighth is going to suit him a lot. I think a mile-and-a-quarter is going to suit him even better. And you’re better horses will run well on whatever you ask them, be it grass, dirt, crushed glass or rocks.”


Lukas does acknowledge another disappointment in the Rebel similar to his ninth-place finish in the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds likely would have sent him to a race like the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G1) at Keeneland on Polytrack, but now it is full steam ahead toward the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) here the same day April 14.


“I think it’s a compliment to his sire that he’s showing he’s a factor on the dirt,” he said. “He’s showing that English Channel’s horses have different dimensions, like a Giant’s Causeway-type, where they run well on both surfaces and don’t need their track specialty.”


Checking up on other Lukas stars, Hamazing Destiny, the runner-up in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) is skipping the $75,000 Hot Springs Stakes this Saturday and instead aiming at the $250,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) on the Arkansas Derby-day undercard.


Absinthe Minded came out of her surprisingly disappointing fourth-place performance in the Azeri Stakes last Saturday fine and remains a contender for the $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) on Friday, April 13.


Another Bluegrass Hall 3-year-old prospect, Red Jack, will take a longshot swing in the Vinery Spiral Stakes (G3) at Turfway Park in Kentucky Saturday after two third-place finishes in four starts at Oaklawn this winter and an 11th-place result in a division of the Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 20.


Riley Tucker Reloads In Hot Springs Stakes


Zayat Stables’ Riley Tucker has quietly enjoyed a few extra weeks to lay low, but the winner of the King Cotton Stakes in January in a gutsy performance is back on the job Saturday in the $75,000 Hot Springs Stakes at Oaklawn.


Trained by Steve Asmussen and his Arkansas branch manager, assistant Mitch Denison, Riley Tucker ended a 10-race losing streak when he managed to tap a reserve tank of energy and run down Hamazing Destiny Jan. 28 in what was his first start at age 7.


“He’s an old pro,” said Denison after the son of Harlan’s Holiday drew post 2 in the six-furlong contest. “He’s like a pony around our barn. Everybody rides him and he’s push-button. He knows what he’s doing.”


Five years ago, Riley Tucker was on the Triple Crown trail, finishing sixth in the 2008 Southwest Stakes and 12th in the Preakness that year for trainer Bill Mott. Owner Ahmed Zayat named the then-colt in honor of Mott’s son. He eventually moved to another Hall of Fame trainer in Bob Baffert and developed into a solid miler and then found his way to Asmussen’s Arkansas string in 2010 where he’s been sprinting ever since. He finished second in the 2010 Hot Springs and was third in that year’s Count Fleet Sprint Handicap.


Reckless Jerry Was Sick In Rebel


Trainer Kenny Smith says scoping results after Dream Walkin’ Farms’ Reckless Jerry turned in a listless 10th-place effort in the Rebel Stakes last Saturday showed the colt had a lung infection.


Veterinarians treated the son of Cactus Ridge with antibiotics and Smith has kept Reckless Jerry from the track since the race. The colt will be scoped again following his next major exercise to see if the infection has cleared up. Smith says any plans for races like the Arkansas Derby (G1) April 14 are on hold and doubtful at this point.