Rockin Rudy to Stretch Out for O'Neill
Like Irap, Sans Blinkers
Trainer Doug O’Neill will try to do another "Irap" in the Arkansas Derby with lightly raced Rockin Rudy racing with blinkers off.
“It’s not every day to go from 6 ½ to 9 furlongs, but it’s possible, and we’re going to give it a roll,” O’Neill said.
“He’s a horse that won very impressively, and there was word on the street he was for sale, so we looked into him and then didn’t get a deal done,” O’Neill said. “Then as it turned out, he was turned out for a little body soreness and immaturity stuff.”
According to O'Neill, trainer John Brocklebank called later in the year and was ready to part with the more mature gray colt.
Rockin Rudy began his career with a front-running 11 1/2-length victory at 5 1/2 furlongs on Aug. 5 at Del Mar Brocklebank and was purchased privately late last year by J. Paul Reddam, who owns Irap, won the Kentucky Derby in 2012 with I’ll Have Another and again last year with Nyquist – all trained by O’Neill.
Rockin Rudy has finished second in both of his 2017 starts at 6 1/2 furlongs on Santa Anita’s hillside turf course. After holding the early lead in each race, Rockin Rudy was beaten 1 3/4 length in the $75,000 Baffle Stakes on Feb. 20 and a head in a first-level allowance/optional claimer on March 24.
“One of the things I enjoy about training is letting horses train along good and let them put their feet where they want to put them, and we put good air into them,” O’Neill said. “I really think, even though 6 1/2 seems like a far cry from a mile and an eighth, it was really a hard-run race, especially a horse with speed. You’re burning gate to wire.”
O’Neill said he will remove blinkers for the Arkansas Derby because he wants to harness some of the colt’s natural early speed.
“With the blinkers on, it’s all focused on gate to wire, so he needs to chill out a little bit,” O’Neill said. “Blinkers off does it.”
Irap won the Blue Grass after removing blinkers.
Rockin Rudy will be O’Neill’s third Arkansas Derby starter, following Harvard Avenue (fourth behind Smarty Jones in 2004) and Jealous Profit (sixth behind Lawyer Ron in 2006).
Rockin Rudy was bred in Iowa by Allen Poindexter, also the breeder and owner of multiple Oaklawn stakes winner Chanel’s Legacy. He was to be flown Tuesday to Arkansas.
“He’s a neat individual,” O’Neill said. “I really think he’s a got chance to run a bang-up race, which obviously he would have to, to be competitive there. But we’re excited and eager to deal with those.”
Classic Empire, Malagacy
Classic Empire, the 2-year-old champion last year, is scheduled to arrive Wednesday at Oaklawn Park for the Arkansas Derby. He will be flown to Arkansas via Tex Sutton charter.
“We’re coming with Pletcher,” trainer Mark Casse said, referring to trainer Todd Pletcher’s Arkansas Derby entrant Malagacy. The two Florida-based horses will be flown to Little Rock, then vanned 57 miles southwest to Oaklawn.
Malagacy ranks 12th on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 50 points, all earned by winning the Rebel Stakes. Classic Empire is 21st with 32 points and last raced in the Holy Bull Stakes when he finished third.
Edited Oaklawn release