Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Derby Hopeful: Oxbow

Derby Hopefuls feature the horses I view as the best contenders leading up to the Kentucky Derby. Each horse spotlighted in a Derby Hopeful will join the 2013 PTG Derby Hopeful roster, found on the right side of the blog. Horses will be listed in an order that corresponds to how highly I think of them, with the horse I think most highly of ranking at the top. A horse featured in a Derby Hopeful may be taken off the roster if its performances after its article are published are not up to par or if that horse is taken off the Triple Crown trail, though those articles will remain on my blog.

The Kentucky Derby (GI) is no new territory for the connections of Oxbow. Although the esteemed Calumet Farm now has new owners and is now represented by black and gold silks rather than the immortalized blue and red, Oxbow is owned by the farm that owned eight previous Derby victors. His trainer, D. Wayne Lukas, has saddled four winners of the Run for the Roses and Gary Stevens, the colt's jockey, has guided three horses to Derby glory – two of which were trained by Lukas.

But none of these connections have visited the Derby winner’s enclosure as of late. Calumet’s most recent Derby victory was in 1968, Lukas’ was in 1999, and Stevens’ was in 1997. However, this year, these three could team up together for the first time to win the roses with the help of a stunning bay colt named Oxbow.

Oxbow’s career got off to a slow start. Pulled up and vanned off in his debut at Saratoga, the colt then finished fourth in a maiden special weight at Keeneland behind future Lexington Stakes (GIII) victor Winning Cause prior to turning in a third-place effort in a maiden at Churchill Downs.

The colt finally broke through with a win on closing weekend at Churchill Downs. Breaking from one of the outside posts, Oxbow set a brisk pace before drawing off to win by 4 ¾ lengths and thus earning himself a spot on my watch list.

Shipping to California for the CashCall Futurity (GI), Oxbow was sent off as the second longest shot in a field of eleven. Leaving the gate from the far outside post, Oxbow raced very wide into the clubhouse turn but gained ground on the pacesetters, finding a position just off the leaders as the field entered the backstretch. Tracking the pace from the outside, the D. Wayne Lukas trainee attempted to keep up around the far turn, but weakened as the horses turned for home, finishing a distant fourth.

Oxbow returned strong as a three-year-old, making his sophomore debut in the LeComte Stakes (GIII) at the Fair Grounds. Drawing a post closer to the inside than the outside for the first time since October, Oxbow led from start to finish, coasting to a breathtaking 11 ½-length victory.

Remaining at the Fair Grounds for his following start, the Risen Star Stakes (GII), Oxbow drew an outside post yet again. Once again forced wide around the first bend, Oxbow pressed the pace down the backside prior to taking the lead near the five-sixteenths pole. He led rivals into the lane, maintaining his advantage down Fair Grounds’ long homestretch before weakening just before the sixteenth pole, finishing fourth, beaten less than a length.

Finishing his Derby trail in Arkansas with Oaklawn Park’s two most significant Derby preps, Oxbow made his penultimate start before the Derby in the Rebel Stakes (GII), his third mile and one-sixteenth race of his career and second of the season. Receiving yet another outside post, Oxbow broke well but raced widest of all around the far turn. As he had in several previous starts, the colt quickly moved into a position behind the frontrunners. Initially rating several lengths off the leaders down the backstretch, Oxbow – along with the rest of the field – gained ground on the pacesetters as the horses reached the end of the far stretch.

Remaining on the outside, Oxbow rallied around the far turn, easily taking the lead midway through the curve. Despite drifting in as he led the field into the homestretch, Oxbow maintained his lead, beginning to draw clear of his opponents. But his stablemate, Will Take Charge, closed powerfully, getting up in the final strides to defeat Oxbow by a head.

Oxbow’s run of outside posts did not culminate in his final race before the Kentucky Derby, the Arkansas Derby (GI). With Hall of Fame rider Gary Stevens – who had come out of retirement earlier in the year – aboard for the first time, Oxbow broke from the outside post and was not guided to the vanguard as he had been in his previous starts, but rather near the rear of the field. Although his usual speed was not used, he did race wide around the first turn as he had recurrently done in previous starts.

Galloping several lengths off the lead down the backstretch, Oxbow was asked for a run around the far turn by Stevens, but came up on a wall of horses and therefore had to travel wide around the far turn. Offering a subdued rally down the stretch, Oxbow did not find his best stride until it was too late, crossing the wire fifth. After the race, it was revealed that Lukas would have preferred for Oxbow to be ridden nearer the pace – as he had been in his previous races.

Oxbow's pedigree
From pedigreequery.com

Oxbow is bred very similarly to Paynter, a grade one winner at nine furlongs that was a close second in the Belmont Stakes (GI, 12F), being his three-quarters brother. Both Oxbow and Paynter are sired by Awesome Again, winner of many ten-furlong races, including the first leg of Canada's Triple Crown - the Queen's Plate Stakes - and the Breeders' Cup Classic (GI). Awesome Again has sired an abundance of distance horses, including Awesome Gem, Game on Dude, and Ginger Punch - all of which are grade one winners at ten furlongs. Oxbow should inherit stamina from Awesome Again's sire, Deputy Minister, who has appeared within the first three generations of numerous distance horses, including Curlin, Paynter, and Rags to Riches. The Canadian Hall of Famer was a tremendous broodmare sire, producing the dams of many talented distance horses, including the multiple group one-winning Kane Hekili and Sarava, winner of the 2002 Belmont.

Awesome Again is a son of 2000 Broodmare of the Year, Primal Force - a daughter of Blushing Groom. A recipient of several championship honors as both racehorse and sire, Blushing Groom excelled as a miler but produced many distance horses, including Nashwan, Rainbow Quest, and Runaway Groom - all of which were grade/group one winners at ten furlongs or more. But perhaps Blushing Groom's greatest success came as a broodmare sire, as he is the sire of the dams of a wealth of grade/group one winners, including those that have been victorious at ten furlongs or beyond: Flute, Haafhd, and Mezzo Soprano.

Like Paynter, Oxbow is out of a full sister to two-time Breeders' Cup Classic hero Tiznow. Oxbow's dam, Tizamazing, was a million-dollar yearling and has also produced Oxbow's full brother, Awesome Patriot - a stakes winner at nine furlongs. Aside from Paynter's dam - Tizso - and Tiznow, Tizamazing is also a full sister to the multiple graded stakes-winning Budroyale, who won at nine furlongs on multiple occasions and was runner-up in the 1999 Breeders' Cup Classic; Tizbud, a stakes winner and graded stakes-placed runner; and the graded stakes-winning sprinter Tizdubai. She is also a half-sister to the stakes-placed C'mon Tiger.

Cee's Song, Tizamazing's dam, is a daughter of Seattle Song, a group one winner at twelve furlongs and a son of Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew. The sire of Tizamazing is Cee's Tizzy, who was graded stakes-placed at ten furlongs. In addition to Budroyale and Tiznow, Cee's Tizzy also sired champion Gourmet Girl, who captured several nine-furlong races.

Oxbow may not bring to the table the most fashionable race record, but when he is at the top of his game, he is a fierce competitor. Should he draw a more beneficial post and be given a more fitting ride in the Derby, he could turn in a grand performance. Furthermore, although he has appeared to tire in the final stages of a handful of his races, he has had a taxing campaign and though this could be worrisome for his chances in the Derby and the Triple Crown series, the colt is bred for distance.

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