2022 Kentucky Derby Hopeful Snapshots: Un Ojo

Welcome to 2022 Kentucky Derby Prospect Snapshots, where we’ll take a look each week at a recent winner on the Triple Crown trail, usually from the Road to the Kentucky Derby schedule from which the race horses earn points toward qualifying.

The 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve will be held May 7, 2022, at Churchill Downs.

This week, we’ll take a closer look at Un Ojo, winner of the $1 million Rebel Stakes on Feb. 26 at Oaklawn Park. He earned 50 points toward qualifying for the 2022 Kentucky Derby with that victory. Un Ojo ranks second on the latest Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 54 points.

Racing Résumé: Un Ojo is Spanish for “one eye.” The Rebel Stakes winner lost his left eye as a yearling in a paddock accident. Losing an eye can be devastating to a horse’s equilibrium, but sometimes, especially when it happens early in life, Thoroughbreds adapt quite well and go on to excel on the racetrack. Patch, third in the 2017 Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets, is a recent example.

Un Ojo made his first three starts for trainer Ricky Courville, winning one of three races, before he was transferred to the New York barn of Tony Dutrow. In Dutrow’s care, Un Ojo finished second by a neck in the $500,000 New York Stallion Series Stakes at Aqueduct in his final race as a 2-year-old and second by 4 ½ lengths to Early Voting in the Grade 3, 1 1/8-mile Withers Stakes, a qualifying race on the 2022 Kentucky Derby trail.

Un Ojo subsequently was shipped back to the Midwest to Courville to keep him in a two-turn race in the 1 1/16-mile Rebel Stakes, rather than cutting back to one mile for the Gotham Stakes March 5.

Un Ojo rallied belatedly with a determined final push to win by a half-length at 75.40-1 odds after stalking an easy pace. The Laoban gelding showed plenty of tenacity late from the inside and finished relatively fast with a final sixteenth of a mile in about 6 2/5 seconds. He improved to two wins and two seconds in six starts and has not run a bad race since his career debut in October 2021 at Keeneland.

Speed Figures: Un Ojo improved his best Equibase Speed Figure 14 points to a 91 for the Rebel Stakes, and he boosted his career-best Beyer Speed Figure 13 points to an 84. Both represent significant jumps – and another notable improvement, which would be necessary to compete against elite 3-year-olds, is a big ask from a 3-year-old. On paper, he would need to improve by 10-15 points by both speed figures to be a serious Kentucky Derby candidate.

Running Style: Un Ojo closed from well off the pace in his previous four starts before the Rebel, but he was significantly closer when presented with a much easier pace – half-mile in :48.86 and three-quarters of a mile in 1:14.30 – Feb. 26 at Oaklawn. He was about 3 ½ lengths back after the opening quarter-mile and about a length behind the pacesetter on the backstretch. It’s probably fair to peg Un Ojo as a stalker/closer capable of rating behind an easy tempo or dropping back a bit farther if the pace is fast.

Connections:  Un Ojo is owned by Kevin Moody’s Cypress Creek Equine, which also raced in partnership graded stakes winners Dream Lith and Keepmeinmind, who ran fourth in the 2021 Preakness Stakes and Runhappy Travers Stakes.

Ricky Courville earned his first win of the year with the Rebel and the $600,000 winner’s share of the $1 million purse was more than he had amassed in purse earnings in any other season since taking out his trainer’s license in 2008.

Tony Dutrow, who conditioned Un Ojo for his previous two starts, has trained nine Grade 1 winners throughout his career while amassing 1,988 victories through Feb. 28. Top runners include Havre de Grace, Grace Hall, and Seattle Smooth.

Ramon Vazquez guided Un Ojo to victory in the Rebel for his ninth career graded stakes win; he is one of five riders for Un Ojo in his six starts. A native of Puerto Rico, Ramon Vazquez graduated from the Puerto Rico Vocational Jockey School in 2002 and began his career in his home country. He has amassed 3,377 wins through Feb. 28.

Pedigree Notes: Un Ojo is from the second crop of 2016 Jim Dandy Stakes winner Laoban, who also sired the aforementioned Keepmeinmind as well as Grade 1 winner Simply Ravishing. Laoban, by Uncle Mo, showed promise as a stallion, ranking second on the 2020 first-crop sire list and eighth last year on the second-crop sire list, but his second career was cut short when he died unexpectedly in May 2021.

Multiple stakes-placed winner Risk a Chance, by 1992 Belmont Stakes winner and Horse of the Year A.P. Indy, is the dam (mother) of Un Ojo. Risk a Chance was a three-time winner at one mile and placed in stakes at one mile and one-mile and 70 yards on the dirt. She is a close sibling to multiple stakes winner Mineralogist.

Grade 2 winner Seeking the Ante, by Seeking the Gold, is Un Ojo’s grandam (maternal grandmother) and his third dam (maternal great-grandmother) is three-time Grade 1 winner Antespend, by Spend a Buck.

Derby Potential: While I love a great story as much as the next racing fan, and one-eyed Un Ojo certainly qualifies, there is a significant amount of improvement needed for him to become a bona-fide Kentucky Derby contender. Right now, he’s just not fast enough.

However, with 54 points toward qualifying for the run for the roses, Un Ojo’s spot in the starting gate is essentially secured and he’s coming out of a breakout performance. He will need a lot of things to go right to reach the winner’s circle on May 7 at Churchill Downs – another significant improvement and a clean trip on Derby day among them – but Un Ojo is far from a finished product and we’ve seen similar jumps by 3-year-olds in the spring many times over the years.