Un Ojo Upsets Rebel, Secret Oath Dominates Honeybee

It’s rare enough to have the winner of a stakes worth $1 million or more pay at least $150 in the win pool.

But to have it happen twice in the same day?

Welcome to Feb. 26, the day when pari-mutuel lightning struck first in Asia when Emblem Road pulled off a shocker in the $20 million Group 1 Saudi Cup and paid a staggering $229.20 for a $2 win bet in the United States wagering pools.

About 6 hours later and some 7,500 miles away in Arkansas a one-eyed New York-bred gelding by the highly appropriate name of Un Ojo pulled off a stunning 75-1 surprise in the $1 million Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

Rallying along the rail in dark, rainy conditions, Cypress Creek Equine’s Un Ojo passed fellow longshot Ethereal Road in the final strides to win the Rebel by a half-length and pay an astonishing $152.80 to win for capturing the 1 1/16-mile stakes for 3-year-olds and assuring himself of a spot in the May 7 Grade 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve.

“It’s crazy,” said trainer Ricky Courville, who collected his first graded stakes since he started training in 2008.

The wagering on the Rebel painted the race as yet another showcase for Newgrange, who came in undefeated for eight-time Rebel-winning trainer Bob Baffert and was a 4-5 favorite to add the Rebel to a list of stakes wins that included the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park and the Grade 3 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita Park. But the son of Violence turned in a rare misstep by a Baffert-trained 3-year-old in this year’s preps for the Kentucky Derby as he pressed the early pace but came up empty in the stretch and faded to sixth in the field of 11.

“I thought he was in a good spot. When the running started, he didn’t have it today. But that happens,” Baffert said. “He didn’t show up today. I really can’t think of any excuses.”

With Newgrange out of the picture, it opened the door for a nice payoff at the betting windows, but little did anyone figure it to be nice times 75.

With a furlong to go, it looked like Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas was on the verge of an epic performance stolen from the pages of his record-breaking exploits in the 1980s and 1990s. After winning the $300,000 Grade 3 Honeybee Stakes for 3-year-old fillies with the brilliant Secret Oath earlier on Saturday’s card, Lukas’ 15-1 shot Ethereal Road seemed headed for victory in the Rebel with a half-length lead at the eighth pole.

Then Un Ojo entered the picture.

Un Ojo was not without merit in the Rebel. He was second in the 1 1/8-mile Grade 3 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct Racetrack in his previous start, finishing 4 1/2 lengths behind Early Voting, and was second by a neck in a $500,000 New York Stallion Series stakes in his 2-year-old finale. His odds in those races, however, foretold what happened Saturday as the gelded son of Laoban went off at 28-1 and 23-1, respectively.

Un Ojo was trained in New York by Tony Dutrow for his two starts there before he returned to Courville, who trained the gelding in his first three starts, for the Rebel.

“It’s kind of shared between me and Tony (Dutrow) because I sent him to Tony, to Aqueduct, for the winter and Tony had him until Monday and sent him back to us,” Courville said. “Gosh, I feel bad for Tony. The owners kind of decided (on the Rebel). I think Tony was wanting to keep him up there for the (March 5 Grade 3) Gotham Stakes, but they wanted to not go back to a one-turn mile and (Kevin Moody of Cypress Creek Equine) wanted to send him down here and take a shot at the money. He kept saying the two turns is going to be better for us.”

Bred by Southern Equine Stable in the Empire State out of the A.P. Indy mare Risk a Chance, the winner of 2 of 6 starts is the first stakes winner for his dam, who has a 2-year-old Ghostzapper colt.

Un Ojo and jockey Ramon Vazquez hugged the rail throughout and were third after a half-mile in :48.86, behind the pacesetting Kavod and Newgrange. They were still third at the eighth pole, trailing Ethereal Road by a length, but the gelding came to life in the final furlong and covered the distance in 1:45.69 on a fast track.

With 50 Kentucky Derby qualifying points going to the winner, Un Ojo earned his ticket to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May while taking over second in the points race.

Aaron Sones’ Ethereal Road, a Quality Road colt, was second by a nose over WSS Racing’s Barber Road and earned 20 points to move into fourth on the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard.

“This horse is a really nice colt,” Lukas said. “When he encountered all that trouble in his last start and was able to overcome it that showed his type of talent. He’s worked like a good horse. We now leave this race with a really nice prospect for the races moving forward.”

Barber Road, a son of Race Day trained by John Ortiz who was second in the Southwest, picked up 10 points and is fifth with 18 points.

“We are really proud of the way he ran today under these conditions,” Ortiz said. “It seems like as the distances keep getting longer he will keep improving. That’s what’s going to be most important to getting him to the Derby.”

Kavod was fourth and received five points to move up to 19th on the Leaderboard. -Bob Ehalt

Secret Oath Much the Best in Honeybee

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas indicated before the Feb. 26 $300,000 Honeybee Stakes that he wasn’t afraid to run a filly against the boys as long as she was dominant, a Goliath amongst her rivals—and Briland Farm’s Secret Oath was just that as she powered to a 7 1/2-length victory Feb. 26 at Oaklawn Park.

It was hard to not dream of Derby roses as the daughter of the late Arrogate streaked to her third straight win over the Hot Springs oval and the first graded score of her career. She came off a similarly dominant performance in the Jan. 29 Martha Washington Stakes.

“I got to get together with Rob and Stacy Mitchell (of Briland Farm) to see how they feel about (running in the April 2 Grade 1 Arkansas Derby),” said Lukas. “You’d like to take the softer one if you can, and certainly the boys will be a tougher job for us, but we’ll see what the boys are doing and how they run today (in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes) and then make that decision. She’s nominated here (to the Arkansas Derby) and (to the) Grade 1 Kentucky Derby”

Bet down as the 1-5 favorite, Secret Oath was slow away from the gate under regular pilot Luis Contreras, as is customary for her, and settled into a second-to-last position early as Optionality sped to a narrow lead over Yuugiri. Past a tepid first quarter in :23.15 and half-mile in :47.07, Yuugiri, making her first start since a runner-up finish in the Nov. 27 Grade 2 Golden Rod Stakes, overtook a retreating Optionality for command.

Secret Oath advanced willingly into the far turn but was forced to take up behind Yuugiri as Ice Orchid and Ricardo Santana Jr. held firm in their position, hedging the chestnut on the inside with nowhere to run. Despite the mighty effort to contain the favorite, Secret Oath burst through a narrow seam along the fence as Yuugiri drifted out turning for home.

Widening her advantage with every stride, Secret Oath hit the wire in 1:44.74 for the 1 1/16-miles on a fast track. -Molly Rollins