Hitherto a bridesmaid on the Triple Crown trail, habitually late-running Red Route One finally got up in the nick of time in Saturday’s $200,000 Bath House Row S. at Oaklawn Park. In the process, the Winchell Thoroughbreds homebred gained an automatic entry in the May 20 Preakness (G1).
Red Route One was also handing Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen an Oaklawn record 868th victory. North America’s all-time winningest trainer, Asmussen has now surpassed the late Bob Holthus with the most wins at the Hot Springs, Arkansas, oval.
Jockey Joel Rosario was completing a sweep of the Saturday stakes, all accomplished in swashbuckling fashion. The Brad Cox-trained Merlazza began the sequence in the new $150,000 Valley of the Vapors S. for sophomore fillies, looking out of position before storming late. Merlazza gave Cox a record ninth stakes win at the Oaklawn meet. Next came the dramatic last lunge by Godolphin’s Proxy in the $1 million Oaklawn H. (G2), and Red Route One completed the theme by nabbing Tapit Shoes and Victory Formation at the wire.
A blueblood by Gun Runner and out of a full sister to champion Untapable, Red Route One was the definition of a colt knocking on the door. The chestnut had placed third in last fall’s Breeders’ Futurity (G1), and after a troubled fifth in the Street Sense (G3), he was a much closer, if unlucky, fourth in the Nov. 26 Kentucky Jockey Club (G2). Red Route One appeared sure to amass enough points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby at Oaklawn, especially with his improved seconds in the Jan. 28 Southwest (G3) and Feb. 25 Rebel (G2).
The addition of blinkers in the April 1 Arkansas Derby (G1) didn’t help him get involved any earlier, and Red Route One wound up a belated sixth. He wasn’t beaten far for the minors, though, in a bunched finish behind Angel of Empire. Yet he failed to add to his 33 Derby points, a total that puts him too far down the bubble list to have a realistic chance of making the Run for the Roses.
Connections then focused on the 1 1/8-mile Bath House Row, formerly the Oaklawn S., as an attainable spot to regroup with first-time Lasix. Other Derby trail veterans were likewise hoping to take a step forward here, chief among them 17-10 favorite Victory Formation.
Last seen fading to ninth as the favorite in the Feb. 18 Risen Star (G2), Victory Formation is at a crossroads regarding his optimal trip. Another chance at this distance would clarify matters. As it turned out, the Cox pupil found himself subject to pace pressure that exacted a toll, but he put up a valiant fight. He was also carrying joint top weight of 124 pounds, conceding six pounds to a handful of rivals including the two who edged him.
With Two Eagles River egging him on, Victory Formation rattled off fractions of :22.87, :46.95, and 1:12.06. The favorite put away Two Eagles River, only to have his Cox stablemate Tapit Shoes issue a fresh challenge. Victory Formation tried stubbornly, but Tapit Shoes was gradually wearing him down in the final furlong.
The 2-1 Red Route One, who had been switched off near the rear through the first six furlongs, began to pick up steam. Angling out for the stretch drive, he was bearing down fast on the battlers. The question was whether the wire would come too soon, but Red Route One forced his head in front in 1:50.94.
“He ran straight through the wire,” Asmussen said. “He ran straight through the wire. He still gallops out so huge. It feels like there’s more there. Maybe the victory, maybe the winning… Joel gave him a dream trip.”
“I always had confidence in the horse,” Rosario said. “It looked like when we got to the sixteenth pole that we had the race won. Then, they kept moving. But he gave everything to me. It was just a close race.”
Tapit Shoes was a half-length up on Victory Formation, with another 7 1/2 lengths back to Two Eagles River in fourth. Next came Interlock Empire, Aristocracy, Line to Gain, Mazing Mark, and Powerful, who tried to chase early.
Red Route One’s first stakes coup enhanced his record to 9-2-2-1, $631,575. His maiden win came over a grassy mile at Kentucky Downs, so this also marked his first score on dirt.
The Kentucky-bred is a full brother to Red Run, winner of last year’s Texas Turf Mile. Their dam, the Tapit mare Red House, is an unraced sister to Untapable, who garnered the 2014 Kentucky Oaks (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) during her Eclipse Award campaign for the same Winchell/Asmussen team.
Red House and Untapable are daughters of Grade 2 heroine and Broodmare of the Year Fun Prized, also the dam of Grade 1-winning turf millionaire Paddy O’Prado, third in the 2010 Kentucky Derby. Another descendant is Dreamlike, the near-miss third in the April 8 Wood Memorial (G2). Dreamlike is closely related to Red Route One, being by Gun Runner and out of another sister to Untapable, Time to Tap.