Armagnac, a front-running first-level allowance winner May 8 at Santa Anita, will make his next start in the 147th Preakness Stakes (G1), Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown, next Saturday at historic Pimlico Race Course.
Both the $1.5 million Preakness at 1 3/16 miles and the $100,000 Sir Barton for 3-year-old non-winners of an open stakes going 1 1/16 miles on the undercard were being considered for Armagnac, according to managing partner Tom Ryan of SF Racing.
The ownership group also includes Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables, Robert Masterson, Stonestreet Stables, Jay Schoenfarber, Waves Edge Capital, Catherine Donovan, Golconda Stable and Siena Farm.
“We had some considerable conversation about it this morning,” Ryan said. “They were the two races we were considering. It feels like with his progression, he’s really trending in the right direction.”
Irad Ortiz Jr., a three-time Eclipse Award winner as champion jockey (2018-20), has signed on to ride Armagnac. Ortiz finished second in the 2021 Preakness aboard Midnight Bourbon.
“We’re excited,” Ryan said. “The horse is well, and statistically we’ve got one of the best jockeys in the nation. Sometimes when you’re healthy and well, if the opportunity is there you have to make a decision. It’s coming together in a way that we feel comfortable with the challenge.”
First Start Outside of Southern California
Armagnac has raced exclusively at Santa Anita, making two starts since being transferred to trainer Tim Yakteen from the barn of Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, who is serving a 90-day suspension that goes to July 2. The Quality Road colt was fourth in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) April 9 at odds of 72-1 prior to his recent 4 ¼-length allowance triumph, which was his first race without blinkers.
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The top three horses from the Santa Anita Derby – Taiba, Messier and Happy Jack – all ran back in the Kentucky Derby (G1) May 7. Happy Jack is also Preakness-bound, along with Derby runner-up Epicenter, and fourth-place finisher Simplification.
“We’ve always felt that he has talent. Obviously, this is an incredible step up in class, no question, but he has some racing under his belt,” Ryan said. “He’s a fit, sound horse. Running him back in 13 days I suppose is an aggressive move but, that said, horses are coming back from the Derby in 14 days.”
Ryan said the plan for Armagnac is to ship to Pimlico on Wednesday, gallop Thursday and Friday over the main track, and run Saturday.
“He had a good, confidence-building race last Sunday. I thought he got out there and enjoyed himself. You could see he was pricking his ears,” Ryan said. “The one thing that kind of swayed me was he really galloped out with energy. It wasn’t a case that he just kind of got around there and won the race; the case was he won it and he kept on rolling. I just really felt good about that.”
Early Voting Looking Good for Preakness; Zandon Out
Trainer Chad Brown expressed complete satisfaction with Klaravich Stables Inc.’s Early Voting’s preparation for next Saturday’s 147th Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course while officially removing Jeff Drown’s Zandon from consideration for the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.
Early Voting, who bypassed the May 7 Kentucky Derby (G1), has exited his five-furlong workout in 1:00.63 Friday at Belmont in good order.
“I’m extremely pleased. He’s been here all winter. What a tough horse to stay here in the winter. My crew here at Belmont really did a fantastic job with this horse all winter,” Brown said. “He’s just come around. We always thought he would be a later horse and he turned out to be. I just couldn’t be more pleased how he looks and how he’s training.”
Early Voting, who will be ridden by Jose Ortiz, registered a pair of eye-catching front running victories at Aqueduct in his first two career starts before setting the pace in the April 9 Wood Memorial (G2), only to fall short of holding off Mo Donegal by a head.
Zandon, a 2 ½-length winner of the Blue Grass (G1) at Keeneland, finished third in the Kentucky Derby, 1 ½ lengths behind winner Rich Strike.
“We’re going to pass the Preakness and rest him at this point. I want to give him a little bit more time after what I saw today,” Brown said. “He’s nice and sound but definitely a little fatigued from that tough Derby run. I’m so proud of him for that race. We’ll see him later on in the summer.”
Secret Oath Worth a Look in Preakness
Secret Oath gave owner-breeders Stacy and Rob Mitchell their first Grade 1 victory as the 3-year-old filly dominated a deep field in last Saturday’s Kentucky Oaks (G1). Having won America’s most important stakes for 3-year-old fillies, Secret Oath now will try to enhance her legacy by winning in next Saturday’s 147th Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course.
But the Mitchells might not be in Baltimore to see it. They take a lot of pride in doing all the work on the farm, and that includes Stacy virtually always assisting their mares in foaling. And it just happens that Secret Oath’s dam, Absinthe Minded, is due to have a foal by Liam’s Map right around Preakness Day – the last of Briland Farm’s three 2022 foals to be born.
“We may be watching the Preakness on TV from Lexington,” Rob Mitchell said by phone Saturday morning. As for hoping that Absinthe Minded has her baby before Saturday, he joked, “Yeah, because we might have to put her on a plane, bring her up there, put her in the hotel or something.”
As was Absinthe Minded, Secret Oath is trained by six-time Preakness winner D. Wayne Lukas.
The Mitchells’ passion for their horses came out in the post-Oaks winners’ interview at Churchill Downs, when Rob Mitchell told the media, “If we raise a horse, we foaled it and we delivered the foal itself,” before Stacy Mitchell added, “We have invested our heart and our soul into that horse.”
The Mitchells got into the breeding industry a little more than 20 years ago when Stacy got a Quarter-Horse to ride on their newly purchased 90-acre Briland Farm in Lexington, Ky. Told that horses are social animals and they should get a companion horse, they wound up buying their first Thoroughbred mare, who had never raced, for $1 from a friend of a friend.
They bred the $1 mare, Chao Praya, to Storm Cat’s son Level Sands for $1,500. The result was Level Playingfield, who was sold for $15,000 and wound up a graded-stakes winner and $664,822 earner. The Mitchells’ subsequent $36,000 purchase Rockford Peach produced Absinthe Minded, a multiple stakes-winner who was Grade 1-placed while making $607,747 racing for the Mitchells.
Mitchells have Success With Limited Stock
The Mitchells have had extraordinary success with limited numbers, having only three or four foals a year and never more than six mares on the farm. According to the Paulick Report, between 2002 and 2018, Briland Farm had 44 foals that went on to race, of which three were graded-stakes winners, six were graded-stakes placed, five were stakes winners and 11 were stakes-placed.
“We haven’t bought a mare in over 20 years,” Rob Mitchell said. “We have never put a horse on the racetrack to race that wasn’t born on our farm — kind of the way they did it 100 years ago.”
The Mitchells often sell their foals, racing those who don’t fetch the price they believe the horse is worth. Secret Oath, a daughter of the late Arrogate, was one they pulled from the yearling sale after few people came by to see her.
“They keep a list of how many people look at a horse, and I didn’t think many people looked at her,” Rob Mitchell said. “And not many people ‘vetted’ her and looked at her X-rays in the repository. Very few people looked at her twice. You like to see people come back and look two or three times. It was not going to be a situation where you had 10 people bidding on her. So, I’m thinking, ‘Why put her through the ring and not have her bring what I think she’s worth?’ So, I dropped her out of the sale.”
On May 6 at Churchill Downs Secret Oath, a two-length Oaks winner over the highly regarded Nest, was one of the most looked-at fillies in the world.
“She had at least 100,000 looks last Friday,” Rob Mitchell said with a laugh.
The same will be true at the 1 3/16-mile Preakness, with its massive on-track crowd, international television audience and the interest generated whenever a top filly takes on top males in a major race.
As Stacy Mitchell concluded after the Oaks: “We’re very blessed that the clouds and the heavens worked out just right and she didn’t sell for a reason. And here we are.”
Secret Oath galloped early Saturday morning at Churchill Downs. She is scheduled to van to Pimlico on Monday.