In his first serious move since notching his upset victory in the Preakness Stakes on May 18, Calumet Farm’s Oxbow drilled six furlongs in 1:14.60 at Churchill Downs Thursday morning as he prepares for his expected start in next weekend’s Belmont Stakes.
Oxbow was among the first horses onto the track following the renovation break and broke off in his typically headstrong manner from the 5 1/2 furlong pole. The son of Awesome Again clocked splits of 24.20, 35.80, 47.60, 1:00.60 and galloped out seven furlongs in 1:29.40.
“The thing I liked the most about Oxbow’s work was the first eighth,” said Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. “I think he went in 13 2/5 and that’s what we want to see. We’ve really turned the corner with this horse I think in as far having him grab the bit and charge that first half mile. That we’ve made some significant gains on, we’ve got a much more manageable racehorse now. And the track is a lot slower now than it was earlier.
“A work is a work,” Lukas continued. “It’s just a barometer of where we’re at. I want to watch his energy more than energy and monitor do I do more, do I do less. Just kind of tweaking the deal.”
Kentucky Derby winner Orb was the overwhelming favorite heading into the Preakness, having won five straight races dating back to last November. Oxbow caught everyone off guard, however, when he was allowed to clock tepid fractions on the front end of the middle leg of the Triple Crown leaving him plenty in reserve to record his 1 3/4 length victory.
“All you can expect in the spring is…they’re either regressing, holding their own or getting better,” Lukas said. “And I really feel – and I’m not just saying this – mine are getting better. I think it’s evident in the way they’re training.”
Oxbow’s stablemate Will Take Charge, seventh in the Preakness, went out in the first set of the morning and was credited with a six furlong move in 1:15.80, throwing up splits of 12.80, 24.60, 37.40, 50.40. Jockey Jon Court, who guided the son of Unbridled’s Song to his victories in the Smarty Jones and Grade II Rebel Stakes this season, was aboard for the move and will regain the mount for the Belmont Stakes after Mike Smith piloted the colt in the Preakness.
“I liked his work too,” Lukas said of Will Take Charge. “I think the horse is improving. He’s maturing and he’s definitely getting more nifty, knowing where his feet are. I told (owner) Willis Horton that I think his best race could be the Belmont, without a doubt.”
Lukas was overseeing his charges on no sleep having flown all night after attending his grandson Brady’s graduation from the Air Force Academy. One of his former protegees, trainer Dallas Stewart, radiated enough energy for both however after watching Golden Soul go through his first breeze since finishing a surprising second in the Kentucky Derby.
Stewart had held off on working Golden Soul after the colt exhibited a decline in his appetite last week. There appeared to be no shortage of energy for the son of Perfect Soul Thursday as he covered five furlongs in 1:00.40, galloping out six furlongs in 1:13.20.
“I thought he worked great, he finished up good, switched leads real smooth, didn’t seem to be blowing a ton,” Stewart said. “We’ll see how his energy is tomorrow. But I think we’re good to go. His energy was great backing up. He was shaking his head, he was full of himself. It was everything I wanted to see this morning.
“It’s important for me to see the last week the energy and the appetite where it needs to be. He was really good after the Derby, he was pumped for 2-3 days. When we started back training and…into the third week he was just real quiet. But it’s a hard race on them.”