Former Kentucky Derby Hopeful Un Ojo Continues Comeback In Pimlico’s Polynesian

More than a year after a foot bruise took him off the Triple Crown trail and an intended start in the Preakness Stakes (G1), Cypress Creek Equine and Whispering Oaks Farm’s Un Ojo is entered to make his debut at historic Pimlico Race Course in Sunday’s $100,000 Polynesian.

The 19th running of the 1 1/16-mile Polynesian for 3-year-olds and up anchors three stakes during a 10-race program on opening weekend of Pimlico’s boutique nine-day fall meet, following the $75,000 Challedon for non-winners of an open sweepstakes 3 and older and $100,000 Sensible Lady Turf Dash for fillies and mares 3 and up.

First race post time is 12:25 p.m.

Un Ojo, whose name means ‘an eye’ in Spanish, lost his left eye as a foal in a freak paddock accident, when he was struck by a branch during a severe storm in the winter of 2020. He debuted the following fall and won one of five starts before bursting on the national scene with a rail-skimming 75-1 upset of the Rebel (G2) at Oaklawn Park.

From there Un Ojo ran eighth in the Arkansas Derby (G1) and was being pointed to the Kentucky Derby (G1) before he emerged from a workout with a bruised foot and was withdrawn from consideration five days before the race. The connections then targeted the Preakness, but the Laoban gelding was again withdrawn, this time the morning entries were taken.

Un Ojo didn’t race again for nearly nine months, finishing fourth in the one-mile, 70-yard Woodchopper on New Year’s Eve 2022. Sixth in a Jan. 19 allowance at Delta Downs, he didn’t return until running second by less than a length in a 1 1/8-mile optional claiming allowance Aug. 2 at Saratoga.­­

“[His last race was] very rewarding,” said Cypress Creek manager Ryder Finney. “He’s a very special horse to the farm for obvious reasons. To see his Derby dreams go sideways last May and then sort of wonder if we were ever going to get him back to his top class, and then to see it happen at Saratoga, it’s been a long process leading up to his last start. I have every reason to believe that he’ll move forward off of that. It impressed me how well he ran off that kind of layoff. We thought he’d run well, but that was probably a little better than we expected.”

Sent off at 10-1 in his comeback, Un Ojo raced along the inside led the way through six furlongs in 1:12.56 before being headed at the quarter pole. He was second by a half-length at the top of the stretch but continued to fight on, falling three-quarters of a length short of winner Olympic Dreams but nearly two lengths ahead of Wild Banker in third.

“I was very, very pleased with the debut back off the layoff at Saratoga,” Finney said. “The plan would have been to run in the same condition up there but we couldn’t get the race to go, so we had to look at other options. The race at Pimlico came up and we decided to take a shot. I think he’s sitting on a big race no matter where he goes.”

Un Ojo has been with trainer Linda Rice since his race at Saratoga, which came for William Walden. He was previously in the barns of Anthony Dutrow and Ricky Courville, the latter for his signature win; all three train horses for Cypress Creek.

“He’s the ultimate warrior. There are very few horses I’ve ever been around that are as game and as gutsy as he is, and he’s one of those horses that’s just magnetic,” Finney said. “If you talk to any trainer that’s had the horse in their barn, they just glow when they talk about him. Every trainer just loves this horse to death. He just has that personality and that tenacity on the track that inspires all of us that are around horses every day. If we had a barn full of horses like Ojo, it would be a lot easier game.”

Un Ojo’s only previous try at 1 1/16 miles came in the Rebel, which he won by a half-length over Ethereal Road, who would come back three starts later to capture the Sir Barton on the Preakness undercard for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Un Ojo has worked twice at Saratoga since his run, most recently going five furlongs in 1:00.xx Sept. 3.

Jevian Toledo has signed on to ride Un Ojo from Post 3 in a field of five.

“You would hope a smaller field means less chance for a bad trip, less chance for bad things to happen, so we’re optimistic,” Finney said. “I wish the race was a tick longer. I don’t love the mile and a sixteenth for him. He’s the kind of horse that I think the longer the better. But this is the race that came up, and I certainly think he fits even at a distance that is not the ideal.”

Three of Un Ojo’s foes are also stakes winners. In 2020, Built Wright Stable’s Double Crown won the Roar and Carry Back and placed in the Smile Sprint (G2) at Gulfstream Park as well as the Chick Lang (G3) at Pimlico. Second in the 2021 Maryland Million Sprint and 2022 Polynesian, he has won one of 14 starts since his 42-1 upset in last fall’s one-mile Kelso Handicap (G2) at Aqueduct. This would be his fourth start in four weeks, coming six days after finishing fifth in the Red Bank on the Monmouth Park turf.

Morris Kernan Jr., Yo Berbs and Jagger Inc.’s Ournationonparade, Double Crown’s former South Florida stablemate, is also a multiple stakes winner. He captured the 2019 Maryland Million Sprint at Laurel Park before being sold privately, and returned to win the 2022 Maryland Million Classic in his first start off a $50,000 claim for trainer and co-owner Jamie Ness. The 6-year-old gelding has placed in 12 consecutive races including six stakes since his Classic win.

Ournationonparade was third in his most recent start, the 1 1/8-mile Deputed Testamony July 29 at Laurel, 1 ¾ lengths behind Repole Stable’s homebred Be Better, who returns in the Polynesian looking to run his win streak to four races. After starting his career with Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher, winning two of seven starts, he has been third or better in all five tries since joining Maryland’s leading trainer, Brittany Russell.

“This was always a nice horse. Todd Pletcher had him and he always liked this horse. It’s not like he was a horse that just showed up [and they said], ‘Here, good luck, see what you can do with him,’” Russell said. “He’s always been a good horse. I think he just needed to kind of get back on track. He likes Maryland, he found some confidence winning a couple races and ultimately it means we’ve just got him back on track now and hopefully we can keep him where he is.”

Be Better, a 4-year-old son of champion Uncle Mo, began his win streak with a decisive 3 ¾-length optional claiming allowance triumph going 1 1/16 miles May 20 at Pimlico on the Preakness undercard. After winning a similar spot June 17 at Laurel, he cruised past both Ournationonparade and multiple stakes winner Nimitz Class in the stretch to win the Deputed Testamony.

“It was thrilling. Being a Repole homebred, it was even a little more fun,” Russell said. “He’s been great. I’m really happy with the timing, I’m happy with how he’s trained in between. He’s worked well. He’s just a happy horse right now. He trains out at Fair Hill, and I really think it just kind of keeps his mind fresh out there. He seems to be running well doing it, so we haven’t changed a thing.”

Russell’s husband, champion jockey Sheldon Russell, will ride Be Better from Post 2.

“It’s five horses, but it’s five good horses,” she said. “He’s done the Pimlico trip around. He did that in the spring, and he handled it well. I think he’s the kind of horse that he’s going to show up and run his race. If it’s good enough on the day, that’ll be the question.”

Frank Sample’s Zabracadabra rounds out the field. The 6-year-old gelding trained by Gary Capuano has won two straight races and four of his last six dating back to mid-December, all at Laurel, defeating runner-up Ournationonparade by 3 ½ lengths July 7, his most recent start. Zabracadabra has never run at Pimlico and has made two prior stakes starts, his best finish being a fourth in the 2022 Governors Day Handicap last fall at Delaware Park.

The Polynesian is named for the 1945 Preakness (G1) winner that put together a record of 27-10-10 with purse earnings of $310,410 from 1944-47, 16 of his victories coming in stakes. Named the U.S. champion sprinter in 1947, he went on to a successful stud career most notably as the sire of Hall of Famer Native Dancer, the 1953 Preakness winner, and grandsire of 1966 Preakness winner Kauai King.

The post Former Kentucky Derby Hopeful Un Ojo Continues Comeback In Pimlico’s Polynesian appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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