07/23/2013 2:12PM

Saratoga: Oxbow goes light in training ahead of Haskell, Travers

Email
Barbara D. Livingston
Preakness Stakes winner Oxbow breezed at Saratoga on July 15, though fog prevented clockers from accurately timing him.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – When it comes to Preakness winner Oxbow, trainer D. Wayne Lukas hopes that by doing less with him in the morning, he’ll get more out of him in the afternoon.

When Oxbow returns to the races in Sunday’s $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park, he will look conspicuous by his absence from the work tab. In fact, Oxbow will show just one published workout – a five-furlong move in 1:02 on July 6 at Churchill Downs – in between the Belmont Stakes and the Haskell, a span of 50 days.

Oxbow did breeze at Saratoga on July 15, but it was too foggy to be recorded by clockers at the Oklahoma training track. Since then, however, Lukas has gone easy on Oxbow, electing to jog and/or gallop him most mornings, in part due to a heat wave that enveloped Saratoga last week.

On a cool, rainy Tuesday morning, Oxbow was the first horse on the Oklahoma training track at 5:30 a.m. He alternated jogging and galloping clockwise, or the "wrong way," for two miles along the outside rail of the track. Lukas said he did that with Oxbow on Monday and planned to do it again Wednesday. He said he may turn him around Thursday, the day before he ships to Monmouth Park for Sunday’s race.

“It might get him to do a little less in the morning, which might not be bad,” Lukas said of his new training method.

This approach isn’t typical for Lukas, the 77-year-old Hall of Fame trainer who is usually known to work his horses regularly leading up to a big race.

“You got to change up with whatever you got in front of you,” said Lukas, who noted that he is not taking the same approach with Will Take Charge, who will run in Saturday’s Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga. “You do what you have to do.”

After finishing sixth in the Kentucky Derby, Oxbow put himself in the mix for the 3-year-old championship by winning the Preakness and finishing second – ahead of Kentucky Derby winner Orb – in the Belmont Stakes.

Lukas said Oxbow handled the Triple Crown series so well that if the Swaps Stakes – run at Betfair Hollywood Park on July 4 – had been worth $500,000 instead of $150,000, he might have taken him to California for that race.

Lukas said that three or four weeks after the Triple Crown, Oxbow “was ready for something, but I didn’t want to stir him up.”

Oxbow, a son of Awesome Again, basically has been racing without a significant break since he debuted at Saratoga last August. In addition to running in all three Triple Crown races this year, he raced twice at Oaklawn Park and twice at Fair Grounds. He raced five times at 2, ending his campaign with a maiden victory Nov. 25 and a fourth in the CashCall Futurity on Dec. 15.

Lukas hopes by going easier with Oxbow now, it will set him up for a run at the 3-year-old championship with the $1 million Travers on Aug. 24 – and a potential meeting with Orb and Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice – following the Haskell. Lukas, who last won the Haskell in 1995 with the filly Serena’s Song, has trained 24 champions, the most recent being Folklore, the Eclipse Award-winning juvenile filly of 2005, and would love another one.

“I’m trying to develop that,” Lukas said. “I realize that the pivotal race is probably the Travers, but I’m sure not overlooking the fact the Grade 1 of the Haskell wouldn’t be good for him, too.”

As Oxbow went to get his bath in the rain Tuesday, a smile came across Lukas’s face.

“I like where I got him now,” he said. “I feel like I’ve got a fresh horse. He’s going to get two tough ones in a row. I’d like to keep him mentally where I got him. I’m not worried about the physical – the horse is dead fit.”