Belmont Stakes 2024 Notes

Barksdale works for G1 Woody Stephens

Cypress Creek Equine’s Barksdale is set to make his stakes debut in the Grade 1, $500,000 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun, a seven-furlong sprint for sophomores on Belmont Stakes Day June 8 at Saratoga Race Course.

Trained by Will Walden, the Street Sense dark bay graduated on debut in October traveling two turns at Horseshoe Indianapolis but followed with a pair of distant off-the-board efforts at Churchill Downs to complete his juvenile campaign.

“He’s a big, long two-turn bred type horse and I think I was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole there,” Walden said. “He broke his maiden going two turns at Indiana and then we stretched him out in a tough allowance race – Bill Mott won it with a Constitution colt [Parchment Party] that was supposed to get on the Derby trail but had a setback; Catching Freedom was in there, and a few others that have turned out to be stakes quality. That being said – it didn’t turn out well. We wheeled him back quick in a one-turn mile and that also didn’t go well.”

Barksdale was subsequently gelded and has focused on sprint events this season, finished a pressing fifth in March at Turfway Park when entered for a $50,000 tag in an optional-claiming race won by the speedy Joe Shiesty, who blitzed to a 29-1 upset two starts later on turf in the William Walker on May 1 at Churchill Downs.

Barksdale has won both starts since in gate-to-wire fashion, taking a seven-furlong starter allowance on April 7 at Keeneland under Tyler Gaffalione and a 6 1/2-furlong optional-claimer at Aqueduct by four lengths with Dylan Davis at the helm on April 26 that registered a career-best 91 Beyer Speed Figure.

Walden said the Turfway effort set Barksdale up perfectly for his recent success.

“Joe Shiesty is extremely fast. That was an allowance optional race and because of his two efforts prior at Churchill, I put him in for the $50,000 to make him starter eligible,” Walden said. “That day at Turfway he didn’t break sharply and Joe Shiesty went 43 and 4 for the half-mile and Barksdale ran into that pace. I thought he ran pretty valiantly to hold on for fifth. He was really tired after that race and got a lot out of it and it set him up for Keeneland and the drop in class.”

Walden said Barksdale has responded well to being gelded and a patient approach from the gate.

“He’s a big, heavy horse and carried a ton of extra weight. I think that [being gelded] helped him physically and mentally,” Walden said. “We learned don’t ask him out of the gate, just let him do his thing. If you press the button too early, you won’t have anything to finish up with whereas if you break, he’ll place himself forwardly in the race on his own. He just has a lot of natural speed.”

Barksdale had his first work back on Thursday at Keeneland, covering a half-mile in 49.40 in company with graded stakes-winner Manny Wah.

Horse racing to begin at Belmont in June“We ran him back a little quicker than we typically would, and we usually give them 14 days after a race to work them, but I gave him 20 days,” Walden said. “The work was awesome. He worked in company with Manny Wah, who is a graded stakes winner here at Keeneland and I thought they both worked really well. He’ll have a five-eighths next week and then back down to a half in preparation for the Woody Stephens.

“He ran a big number last time and he ran a good number the time before that,” added Walden. “We’re excited about going back to seven-eighths and taking a shot against the big boys.”

Tyler Gaffalione will have the call on Barksdale in the Woody Stephens.

Walden could also be represented at the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival with Cypress Creek Equine’s Clear the Air in the Grade 1, $500,000 Jaipur presented by Resolute Racing on Belmont Stakes Day June 8 at Saratoga Race Course. The 5 1/2-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds and up offers a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint in November at Del Mar.

Clear the Air is entered in an allowance sprint Saturday at Churchill Downs but the 4-year-old Ransom the Moon colt has demonstrated an affinity for running well on short rest, winning a Turfway Park claimer [98 Beyer] on 15 day’s rest in December and a Keeneland turf allowance [92 Beyer] last out on April 21 on three week’s rest.

“As much as I don’t love wheeling back on quick rest this horse seems to thrive on it. He’s run a lot of big numbers off short rest,” Walden said. “It feels like he uses the first one as a tee up and then really brings it. I don’t know if that’s coincidence or if that works for him, but we’ll see how he runs here this weekend.”

Walden is also excited about a pair of talented turf fillies purchased at the Tattersalls December Mare Sale for Woodford Thoroughbreds in recent Grade 3 Soaring Softly winner Pipsy and Group 2-placed Olivia Maralda, who rallied to finish second in an allowance on April 20 in her stateside debut.

Pipsy, a Kodiac bay, was purchased for $929,489 after having won 2-of-3 starts for her former conditioner Ger Lyons in her native Ireland. She reared up at the break of the six-furlong Soaring Softly here in her U.S. debut and raced in last-of-10 before closing with an impressive turn of foot to best Kairyu by a half-length. The effort garnered an 82 Beyer.

Walden said Pipsy will look to stretch out next in the Listed $250,000 Tepin, a one-mile turf test for sophomore fillies on June 29 at Churchill Downs with an eye towards the one-mile Grade 3, $175,000 Lake George on July 20 at Saratoga Race Course.

“We’re just in a holding pattern right now but all signs point to her having come out of the race perfect and she’s back galloping at Keeneland,” Walden said. “The plan is probably to go to the Tepin at a mile on June 28 at CD. If she handles the stretch out, the Lake George is the plan after that. WE have to take it one race at a time and if she doesn’t stretch out then we’ll have to cut her back, but I feel confident she will [stretch out].”

Olivia Maralda, a $961,949 purchase and also by Kodiac, was a close second in the 2022 Group 2 Debutante at The Curragh for trainer M.D. O’Callaghan. She was campaigned last year by Roger Varian, winning the seven-furlong Surrey at Epsom.

In her stateside debut with Flavien Prat aboard, Olivia Maralda rallied from eight-of-11 to finish second just three-quarter lengths back of Misread and a head in front of next-out winner Sacred Wish.

“They went 46 and change for the half-mile and they were pretty spread out. The winner was five lengths off it and got a perfect trip,” Walden said. “We were proud of her effort that day. She had a lot of traffic in the lane and didn’t really get free until about 10 jumps before the wire and she made a big move to get up for second. That was first off a long layoff so I’m really excited about how she’s doing.”

Olivia Maralda is likely to make her next start in the Grade 1, $300,000 Gamely, a nine-furlong turf test for 3-year-olds and up on May 27 at Santa Anita Park.

“She’s been everywhere but she travels well – she’s a well-mannered filly,” Walden said. “It would really improve her residual value going forward to get that Grade 1 win or placing. She’s doing really good. She came out of the Keeneland race in good order and is training better now than she was going into it.”

Walden said Olivia Maralda’s calm demeanor is advantageous as she looks to stretch out in distance.

“Olivia Maralda is not a filly that’s going to lock onto the bit and be really aggressive,” Walden said. “She’s really bred to go short and has tactical speed to do so, but her mentality and the way she places herself in a race and relaxes really allows her to stretch out a little bit further than pedigree would suggest.”

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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is a 19-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 of the NHC twice. A former executive with Brisnet.com and a member of the NHC Players’ Committee, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of AGameofSkill.com, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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