Three projected starters for upcoming stakes events, including two recent arrivals from Southern California, breezed over a fast track Friday morning at Oaklawn Park.
Eight Rings, in company, recorded a five-furlong bullet out of the gate in 59 seconds for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who is pointing the Grade 1 winner for the $100,000 Bachelor Stakes at six furlongs April 25.
Eight Rings, unraced since a sixth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Nov. 1 at Santa Anita, breezed after the first surface renovation break under Martin Garcia, Baffert’s former go-to rider in Southern California who is riding regularly at Oaklawn for the first time this year.
Clockers had Eight Rings covering a half-mile in :46.60, six furlongs in 1:11.40 and galloping out seven furlongs in 1:24.80. Eight Rings had a workmate in Hot Shot Kid, a 6-year-old multiple stakes winner for trainer Mac Robertson. Hot Shot Kid, Canterbury Park’s 2019 Horse of the Year, was credited with six furlongs out of the gate in 1:11.40.
“I heard we ended up working with a pretty good horse,” Jimmy Barnes, Baffert’s traveling assistant, said after Eight Rings returned to the barn. “He hasn’t run since the Breeders’ Cup and California, we had some wet weather, so (Baffert) wasn’t able to work him before he left, so then this was our scheduled breeze. It’s not uncommon to see us go to the gate off a layoff to make sure we’re ready.”
Eight Rings had been poised for an Eclipse Award as the country’s champion 2-year-old male after winning the American Pharoah Stakes (G1) on Sept. 27 at Santa Anita. The son of Empire Maker was purchased for $520,000 at the 2018 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.
Garcia, locked in a four-way battle for leading rider, has been getting on horses for Baffert since they began filtering in from Southern California. Garcia rode first-time starter Inshannity, another recent Southern California arrival for Baffert, to an April 10 debut victory.
“It helps to have Martin here,” Barnes said. “It’s been a big help. He knows our horses so well. He knows how Bob wants them worked. You go out there with a lot of confidence.”
Eight Rings and Grade 2 winner Venetian Harbor for trainer Richard Baltas were among the Southern California-based horses flown Tuesday to Arkansas.
Venetian Harbor also breezed after the first break Friday morning, covering five furlongs in 1:00.80 in advance of the Fantasy Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies on May 1. Under Tyler Baze, Venetian Harbor galloped out six furlongs in 1:13 and seven furlongs in 1:25.
“She worked phenomenal,” Baze said after getting on Venetian Harbor for the first time. “He (Baltas) said just cruise the five-eighths and make sure she gets something out of it – galloping out. She galloped out in 1:12 and change, 1:25, 1:38, something like that. She’s something special. Very nice filly.”
Aimee Dollase, who oversees Baltas’ Oaklawn string, termed the work “perfect,” adding Venetian Harbor will probably work a half mile next week in preparation for the 1 1/16-mile Fantasy, which is also expected to attract, among others, 2-year-old filly champion British Idiom.
A daughter of Munnings, Venetian Harbor has won two of three starts overall. She broke her maiden by 10 ¾ lengths Dec. 29 at Santa Anita and was a 9 ¼-length winner of her last start, the Las Virgenes Stakes (G2), on Feb. 8 at Santa Anita.