Un Ojo eyes first stakes win since early ’22 in Polynesian

More than a year after a foot bruise took him off the Triple Crown trail and an intended start in the Preakness Stakes (G1), Cypress Creek Equine and Whispering Oaks Farm’s Un Ojo is entered to make his debut at historic Pimlico Race Course in Sunday’s $100,000 Polynesian.

The 19th running of the 1 1/16-mile Polynesian for 3-year-olds and up anchors three stakes during a 10-race program on opening weekend of Pimlico’s boutique nine-day fall meet, following the $75,000 Challedon for non-winners of an open sweepstakes 3 and older and $100,000 Sensible Lady for fillies and mares 3 and up, which will be taken off the turf and run on the main track.

First race post time is 12:25 p.m.

Un Ojo, whose name means ‘an eye’ in Spanish, lost his left eye as a foal in a freak paddock accident, when he was struck by a branch during a severe storm in the winter of 2020. He debuted the following fall and won one of five starts before bursting on the national scene with a rail-skimming 75-1 upset of the Rebel (G2) at Oaklawn Park.

From there Un Ojo ran eighth in the Arkansas Derby (G1) and was being pointed to the Kentucky Derby (G1) before he emerged from a workout with a bruised foot and was withdrawn from consideration five days before the race. The connections then targeted the Preakness, but the Laoban gelding was again withdrawn, this time the morning entries were taken.

Un Ojo didn’t race again for nearly nine months, finishing fourth in the one-mile, 70-yard Woodchopper on New Year’s Eve 2022. Sixth in a Jan. 19 allowance at Delta Downs, he didn’t return until running second by less than a length in a 1 1/8-mile optional claiming allowance Aug. 2 at Saratoga.­­

“[His last race was] very rewarding,” said Cypress Creek manager Ryder Finney. “He’s a very special horse to the farm for obvious reasons. To see his Derby dreams go sideways last May and then sort of wonder if we were ever going to get him back to his top class, and then to see it happen at Saratoga, it’s been a long process leading up to his last start. I have every reason to believe that he’ll move forward off of that. It impressed me how well he ran off that kind of layoff. We thought he’d run well, but that was probably a little better than we expected.”

Sent off at 10-1 in his comeback, Un Ojo raced along the inside and led the way through six furlongs in 1:12.56 before being headed at the quarter pole. He was second by a half-length at the top of the stretch but continued to fight on, falling three-quarters of a length short of winner Olympic Dreams but nearly two lengths ahead of Wild Banker in third.

Un Ojo
Un Ojo working at Churchill Downs. Photo Coady Photography.

“I was very, very pleased with the debut back off the layoff at Saratoga,” Finney said. “The plan would have been to run in the same condition up there but we couldn’t get the race to go, so we had to look at other options. The race at Pimlico came up and we decided to take a shot. I think he’s sitting on a big race no matter where he goes.”

Un Ojo has been with trainer Linda Rice since his race at Saratoga, which came for William Walden. He was previously in the barns of Anthony Dutrow and Ricky Courville, the latter for his signature win; all three train horses for Cypress Creek.

“He’s the ultimate warrior. There are very few horses I’ve ever been around that are as game and as gutsy as he is, and he’s one of those horses that’s just magnetic,” Finney said. “If you talk to any trainer that’s had the horse in their barn, they just glow when they talk about him. Every trainer just loves this horse to death. He just has that personality and that tenacity on the track that inspires all of us that are around horses every day. If we had a barn full of horses like Ojo, it would be a lot easier game.”

Un Ojo’s only previous try at 1 1/16 miles came in the Rebel, which he won by a half-length over Ethereal Road, who would come back three starts later to capture the Sir Barton on the Preakness undercard for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Un Ojo has worked twice at Saratoga since his run, most recently going five furlongs in 1:00.xx Sept. 3.

Jevian Toledo has signed on to ride Un Ojo from Post 3 in a field of five.

“You would hope a smaller field means less chance for a bad trip, less chance for bad things to happen, so we’re optimistic,” Finney said. “I wish the race was a tick longer. I don’t love the mile and a sixteenth for him. He’s the kind of horse that I think the longer the better. But this is the race that came up, and I certainly think he fits even at a distance that is not the ideal.”

Un Ojo is 5-2 on the morning line. The 7-5 favorite is Be Better for trainer Brittany Russell and Repole Stable. A winner of three straight, Be Better ran down Nimitz Class last ou to win the Deputed Testamony at Laurel Park.