Is Oxbow a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender?
By Jeff Frank
(Sports Network) - D. Wayne Lukas has not been much of a factor in the Triple Crown races in recent years but the Hall of Fame trainer unleashed a runaway winner in the Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds this past Saturday.
Oxbow, ridden by Jon Court, demolished Golden Soul by 11 1/2-lengths to win the Grade III event and gain 10 points in the Kentucky Derby standings. The bay colt is now in third place behind Goldencents (24) and Shanghai Bobby (20) with 11 total points.
Sent off as the 9-2 third choice, Oxbow went right to the front setting moderate 24 2/5 and 28 2/5 fractions. He led by three with a furlong remaining and opened up from there to win by almost a dozen lengths.
Still, one key question remains: How good is he?
The final time of 1:43 1/5 for the 1 mile and 70 yards was a good nine-lengths quicker than the fillies ran in the Silverbulletday Stakes 35 minutes earlier. However, Oxbow's prior form does not show greatness.
He finished nine-lengths behind Violence in the CashCall Futurity, eight- lengths in back of the injured Gulfport in an allowance race at Churchill Downs on Halloween and more than 10-lengths behind Winning Cause at Keeneland on Oct. 18.
On the positive side, both losses to Violence and Winning Cause came on synthetics, which means Oxbow has won two of his last three races on dirt.
Additionally, his breeding screams 10-furlongs as his dam is a full sister to two-time Breeders' Cup Classic winner, Tiznow, and his sire, Awesome Again, also was a BC Classic champion winning the event in 1998.
In order for Oxbow to be considered a major player on the road to Kentucky, he must learn to rate. He's been on the lead in four of his last five races and it is extremely difficult to go gate-to-wire in the Derby.
As for the rest of the field, Golden Soul was second best but at no point in the race did he kick it into high gear. The Dallas Stewart-trained colt picked up four points in the standings, which determine Kentucky Derby eligibility. Nevertheless, he lacks any type of speed and his closing kick is nowhere near the likes of quality 3-year-olds such as Normandy Invasion.
The biggest disappointment in the race came from the favorite, Avie's Quality. A troubled start certainly did not help his chances but the son of Elusive Quality never threatened while running next-to-last beaten 19-lengths. It was his first start on dirt and he apparently did not enjoy the surface.
THE RETURN OF PALACE MALICE
Palace Malice made his 3-year-old debut this past Saturday over a sloppy, sealed track at Gulfstream Park. The 4-5 favorite sat second behind Majestic Hussar for most of the race and finished 2 1/4-lengths behind that one at the wire.
Majestic Hussar had the advantage of a Dec. 15 prep race while Palace Malice was making his first start since early August. The final time of 1:22 2/5 for the seven-furlongs was extremely fast, as was the six-furlong 1:09 3/5 split, which was quicker than older colts ran (1:10 1/5) in the Sunshine Millions Sprint.
The winner is now 2-for-4 lifetime and that record could improve once trainer Eddie Kenneally puts the son of Majestic Warrior on turf. He's a half-brother to Tiz Sardonic Joe, who ran second in the Ft. Lauderdale Stakes earlier in the month and Joes Blazing Aaron, who won the Palm Beach Stakes back in 2011.
As for Palace Malice, look for him to benefit from the race and move up to face stakes company next time out.