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Barn Notes: Saturday, January 7

·        Lookin At Lee Aiming for February Return

·        Pontifical Shows Promise in Debut Win

·        Gun Runner, Green Mask Top Work Tab

 

LOOKIN AT LEE AIMING FOR FEBRUARY RETURN

L and N Racing’s highly regarded Grade I-placed stakes winner Lookin At Lee continues to train forwardly for conditioner Steve Asmussen as he aims for the Kentucky Derby trail. The son of Lookin At Lucky worked for the third time since a post-Breeders’ Cup freshening over the Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots surface, getting five furlongs in 1:02.80. The move followed a half-mile in 50 flat on New Year’s Eve and another in 52.20 on Christmas Eve. 

“(He’s a) nice horse,” Asmussen said via text. “(He’s) doing well off of his freshening.”

A winner at second asking in a six-furlong Ellis Park heat, he returned to win the $75,000 Ellis Park Juvenile at seven furlongs in August before finishing second in the Grade III Iroquois Stakes and Grade I Breeders’ Futurity in consecutive starts. The winners of those races, respectively, were Not This Time and Classic Empire who would go on to complete the exacta in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, with the latter proving victorious. 

Lookin At Lee, a a respectable fourth that day, is out of the multiple stakes-winning Langfuhr mare Langara Lass, who also produced Grade I-placed stakes winner Battlefield Angel

Asmussen indicated that a February return is most likely for the well-seasoned bay colt, who sports a 6-2-2-0 record. Likely targets could be the Grade II Risen Star Stakes at the New Orleans oval on Feb. 25 or the Grade III Southwest Stakes on Feb. 20 at Oaklawn Park. 

PONTIFICAL SHOWS PROMISE IN DEBUT WIN

Jay Em Ess Stable’s Paul McGee-trained Pontifical surprised those who study trainer patterns, but few bettors when the 3-2 second choice won first-time out on Jan. 5 in a 5½-furlong turf maiden. Settling well after a good break from the outside six-hole, the newly turned 4-year-old son of Gio Ponti  sat midpack under Francisco Torres before launching a bid between horses at the top of the stretch and winning by three-quarters of a length over Lothenbach Stables’ more-seasoned Neil Pessin trainee One Kind of Crazy.

“I was admittedly a little surprised that I won with a first-time starter,” McGee, a famously patient conditioner, said. “We’ve not done well with those and I can’t think of the last time that happened. This horse has talent and showed that in a few bullet breezes. (Torres) had been breezing him for me. I thought he was very impressive. 

“Being by Gio Ponti we were going to run him on either surface (if it came off the turf),” McGee, who recently celebrated his 1,000th career victory, continued. “The way he split horses, you like seeing that. I think (Torres) flagged him a couple times with the stick, but never hit him. The horse of Pessin’s showed some run before and may be a nice horse, so it was a nice win.”

Pontifical is part of the first crop of Gio Ponti, a champion turf horse with world-class prowess on turf and synthetics, despite a pedigree splattered with dirt influences. Many of his offspring, including Eclipse Award finalist for champion sprinter Drefong, seem to take to the dirt well.

“I feel like he could go either way with (surface and distance),” McGee concluded. “Has a big strong shoulder that is like a sprinter’s, but he has a lot of guts and I think I’ll stretch him out for sure to see.”

Pontifical is out of the winning Gilded Time mare Ava Darling and is a half-brother to stakes-placed Safe Crossing. Through second dam and multiple Grade I producer Ava Knowsthecode, he hails from the immediate family of Algorithms, Greenpointcrusader, Justin Phillip, Successful Mission and Keyed Entry. 

GUN RUNNER, GREEN MASK TOP WORK TAB

Abdullah Saeed Almaddah’s Brad Cox-trained multiple stakes winner Green Mask signaled his readiness for a possible foray to Dubai with a bullet half-mile in 47.20 for his conditioner. The turf sprinter was joined by a few other members of Cox’s stakes brigade, all working the same distance on Saturday morning. Richard Klein and Bertram Klein’s Cash Control got hers in a sharp 48 flat, while GenStar Thoroughbreds’ Chocolate Ride went in 48.80, Steve Landers’ Dazzling Gem and Marc Detampel’s Western Reserve each went easier in 50 flat. 

Gun Runner worked six furlongs in 1:13.20 — the bullet of five works — as he prepares for a possible run in the richest race in the world, the Grade I $12,000,000 Pegasus World Cup Invitational for trainer Steve Asmussen and owner Winchell Thoroughbreds. The same connections also worked stakes-placed sophomore Totality — second last out in the Listed $300,000 Springboard Mile at Remington Park — five furlongs in 1:02.20. Asmussen also exercised Michael Langford’s older graded stakes winner Carve (1:13.40) and promising newly turned sophomore Untrapped (1:13.60) six furlongs each. Iron Fist, a four-time graded stakes-placed 5-year-old, worked the same distance in 1:13.60 for the 13-time leading trainer. 

Glenmare Farm’s gutsy sprint mare I’m a Looker worked a half-mile in 49.80 for trainer Pat Dupuy. The work came a week after she earned a bullet of 138 moves for a half-mile (47.80) on New Year’s Eve. 

Graded stakes-winning turf router Greengrassofyoming worked five furlongs for Michael Hui and trainer Mike Maker, getting the distance in 1:01.80 in company with Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey’s stakes-level turf horse Granny’s Kitten. Hui’s stakes-level turf horse Hammer’s Terror worked a bullet in his first move back since a fall freshening, getting three panels in 35.80.