Un Ojo will not run in the May 21 Preakness Stakes (G1) because of a bruised foot, according to trainer Ricky Courville.
The same injury that kept the son of Laoban out of the May 7 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) has flared up.
“This morning his foot was a little warm again,” Louisiana-based Courville said May 16. “The vets went over him, and he’s not 100%. I’m dealing with the same thing. I guess the work kind of re-aggravated it.”
The one-eyed gelding last worked May 14 at Churchill Downs where he breezed five furlongs in 1:02. The foot issue began following his prior work April 30, also at Churchill.
Forced to bypass the Kentucky Derby because of a minor but untimely foot bruise, Un Ojo’s team believes the gelding will be ready to put his best hoof forward in the Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course.
Un Ojo jogged twice around Churchill Downs’ mile track Monday morning under Clay Courville, assistant to his dad, Louisiana-based trainer Ricky Courville, while also serving as exercise rider, groom and hotwalker when their stable star is on the road.
“He’s doing good. He’s been training good, been back to the track three times now,” Clay Courville said. “He’s on the right track, moving forward. He wanted to gallop. I decided to give him another day of jogging and I’ll gallop him (Tuesday) morning. The foot seems good. He’s hitting the ground well, traveling well. We’ll gallop tomorrow and see how he is.”
The one-eyed Un Ojo was withdrawn from the Derby the morning that entries were taken, five days before the Churchill Downs classic.
“It was tough,” Clay Courville said. “It was hard to do, but it was the right thing for the horse. If everything goes well, we’ll be on to the Preakness. He’s scheduled to work on Saturday morning. We’ll see how he is after that and decide what to do.”
Courville said his dad has never raced a horse at Pimlico but that he came to Old Hilltop when trainer Eric Guillot asked him to help out with Laoban, who finished sixth in the 2016 Preakness.
“I was working for my dad when Mr. Eric called me and gave me the opportunity to travel and come up with him and get on the horse for the Preakness,” he said. “I took advantage of it and went. It was just cool to be up there and experience new things as a young kid.”
Clay Courville, now 25, can appreciate Rich Strike’s Kentucky Derby victory at 80-1 odds after drawing into the field at literally the last minute to carry the banner for the “little guy.” Rich Strike is only the second graded-stakes winner for trainer Eric Reed, in a career that began in 1985 and includes 1,445 victories through Sunday. Un Ojo won Oaklawn Park’s $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) at 75-1 to give Ricky Courville his first graded-stakes score.
“I was extremely happy for their connections,” Clay Courville said of the Rich Strike team. “I feel people like that deserve it, people who work hard and don’t have a lot of horses like that, like most people don’t. They take pride in their work, and I like seeing people like that win.”
Still, Clay Courville acknowledged of the Derby: “It kind of sucked watching it, because I was like, ‘Man, it set up perfect for our type of horse: the hot pace and all the closers came running.’ You never know.”
Dreams of a Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) victory were dashed for some and sprang to life for others May 2 when Un Ojo was declared out of the race because of a bruised left front foot, allowing Ethereal Road to make the body of the 20-horse field.
Un Ojo’s trainer Ricky Courville confirmed the news to BloodHorse Monday.
“He came out of that work Saturday with a bruised foot and it’s just not the right thing to do to run him; he’s still a little tender on it,” Courville said. “We’ll let the dust settle … He might go to the farm here in Kentucky; he might come back home (to Louisiana), or if he’s better in a week, we might find something else for him.”
The one-eyed New York State-bred gelding Un Ojo came out of a tumultuous eighth-place finish in the Arkansas Derby (G1) with some shoulder scrapes and stiffness but remains on course for a start in the May 7 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1).
Trainer Ricky Courville said April 5 that the son of Laoban needed some surgical staples in his left shoulder blade after hitting the rail April 2 during the $1 million stakes at Oaklawn Park, and will be walked the rest of this week as he recovers from the rough trip.
For the last few weeks, Ricky Courville’s family and friends have been peppering him with suggestions for the first week in May. They have been urging the Louisiana-based trainer to buy airline tickets or make hotel and restaurant reservations. Some have recommended buying a new suit. But at the moment, Courville would prefer to wait until next week before handling all those details.
“It’s been an exciting time,” Courville said, “but I know anything can happen in this game so I just keep on working like normal and think about what’s going on. I’ve got family talking about making reservations in Kentucky but I tell them, ‘Whoa, we have one more race to go. Let’s not jinx anything now.”‘
For Courville, who has a string of about 30 horses based in Louisiana and spent the first 13 years of his training career without experiencing the thrill of a graded stakes win, his life finally shifted into the fast lane Feb. 26 through the heroics of Un Ojo, a one-eyed gelding by the late stallion Laoban owned by Cypress Creek Equine and Whispering Oaks Farm.
Three projected starters for the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 2 recorded their final workouts over a fast track Saturday morning at Oaklawn.
The trio of workers included Un Ojo, the one-eyed gelding who recorded an upset victory in Oaklawn’s final major Arkansas Derby prep, the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) Feb. 26, for Louisiana-based trainer Ricky Courville.
Un Ojo breezed by himself after the surface renovation break under Rebel-winning rider Ramon Vazquez and covered a half-mile in :48.80. The gelding galloped out 5 furlongs in 1:02.
“Easy half, in hand,” said Clay Courville, who assists his father and regularly gallops Un Ojo. “Just a maintenance work. Northing hard. Just something to keep him happy.”
Un Ojo was breezing for the second time since winning the 1 1/16-mile Rebel at odds of 75-1. Un Ojo arrived Wednesday afternoon after a 5 ½-hour van ride from his south Louisiana base, The Training Center At Copper Crowne. Un Ojo returned to the work tab March 19 at The Training Center At Copper Crowne, clocking 5 furlongs in 1:03.
Working a half-mile approximately 15 minutes after the track opened at 7 a.m. (Central) was unbeaten We the People for trainer Rodolphe Brisset. We the People, as he normally does, breezed in company, this time with Triple Crown nominee and stablemate Kuchar, who is being pointed for the $150,000 Oaklawn Stakes April 23. We the People went in :47.80 and galloped out 5 furlongs in 1:00.80 under Brisset, his normal morning partner.
“Very good,” Brisset said. “Usual work for him. Same work we did last time before the allowance – :48, a minute and change – galloped out strong. Just a maintenance work at seven days. It was very good. Hopefully, he came out of it OK and we go from there.”
Also working in company just after the track opened was Ben Diesel for trainer Dallas Stewart. A full brother to multiple Oaklawn stakes winner Girls Secret, Ben Diesel recorded a 5-furlong bullet (:59) under regular rider Jon Court. Ben Diesel breezed with older stablemate Last Samurai, who won the $150,000 Poinsettia Stakes for 3-year-olds Dec. 11.
Trainer Ricky Courville never hesitated to send a young man to do a job that might typically be associated with an older person.
Kevin Moody of Cypress Creek Equine had made a last-minute decision to run Un Ojo in the Feb. 26 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. The Grade 2 Rebel offered a $l million purse and 50 Kentucky Derby qualifying points, enough to ensure a spot in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May. The stakes could not have been higher for Courville, a trainer who had never won a graded stake.
Still, the Louisiana-based conditioner could not possibly travel to Arkansas for the major Derby prep. He was tending to his wife, jockey Ashley Broussard, as she recovered from a broken leg. On the same day as the Rebel, he had one horse entered at Fair Grounds, another at Delta Downs. And, like so many outfits, his 31-horse operation was scrambling for help.
Heading into the GII Rebel S. a lot of people may not have known the name Ricky Courville. That’s the way it is when you’re a small-time trainer based in Louisiana who, going into the Rebel, had never had a graded stakes winner, let alone one in a $1-million race.
They know who he is now. Courville pulled off the upset of the year when winning the Rebel with 75-1 shot Un Ojo (Laoban), a one-eyed horse who now has enough points to make it into the field for the GI Kentucky Derby.
Courville was this week’s Green Group Guest of the Week on the TDN Writers’ Room presented by Keeneland to tell his story and the story of a horse who has surpassed all expectations after losing by 24 lengths in his first career start.