John Oxley will turn 80 Jan. 24 but the classic-winning owner feels like he's half that age. And, he's ready to spend that energy on a busy upcoming racing and personal schedule.
"I'm feeling like 80 is the new 40," Oxley said with a laugh.
On Jan. 21 Oxley will send out some talented 3-year-olds in stakes at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots in debut maiden-winning filly Summertime Sky in the Silverbulletday and maiden-winning colt Takeoff in the Lecomte (G3). That evening Oxley's Classic Empire is expected to be named champion 2-year-old male at the Eclipse Awards dinner at Gulfstream Park.
A week later, Oxley will send out grade 1 winner Noble Bird in the richest race ever run in North America, the $12 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes (G1) Jan. 28 at Gulfstream. In the Pegasus, Oxley will race through stakeholder Earle Mack and his partners Moustapha Fostock and Chester Broman Sr.
Then seven days after the Pegasus, Classic Empire is scheduled to make his 3-year-old debut in the Holy Bull (G2) Feb. 4 at Gulfstream. Also that day at Gulfstream, grade I-winning filly Pretty City Dancer is scheduled to make her 3-year-old debut in the Forward Gal (G2) at Gulfstream.
Oxley, who campaigned 2001 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Monarchos, is enjoying his current racing ride and he is quick to credit trainer Mark Casse for much of the success.
"It's really a case where sometimes I say, 'Is this really happening?' We seem to be on a bit of a roll here and Mark Casse and his team are doing such a great job with training, guidance, planning and also picking a lot of these horses. I'm pretty excited about it; I really am."
Because he will be traveling with his family to celebrate his birthday—a trip he scheduled in May 2016—Oxley will miss the Eclipse Awards ceremony but he plans to attend Gulfstream for the Pegasus and the Holy Bull.
"My wife Debby and I planned this cruise with the family. We had to book this last May and I can't disappoint them," Oxley said. "If I was on my own, I would probably turn down the cruise and head to the awards banquet. I hate to miss it."
Oxley said while they may be jet-lagged, he and wife Debby plan to attend the Pegasus where he hopes Noble Bird delivers one of his top efforts. While inconsistent, at his best Noble Bird is very capable. He displayed that top form in winning the 2015 Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) at Churchill Downs and last year's Hagyard Fayette (G2) by 5 3/4 lengths at Keeneland.
Noble Bird, a son of Birdstone , has been training well for his 6-year-old season debut. After Noble Bird finished seventh in the Clark Handicap (G1) in November at Churchill, Oxley said initially they had decided to pass on the Pegasus but the recent good form in the mornings changed their minds. Noble Bird has breezed four times at Palm Meadows Training Center since Dec. 24 and has earned the bullet in his past three moves.
"After the Clark, that was disappointing. I talked with Mark several times and we decided to just pass on the Pegasus. We thought the other race they're having that day, the Poseiden, is attractive as well," Oxley said. "So that was our thinking at the time but since then he's had three workouts; he seems to be training better than ever."
Once they made the decision to target the Pegasus, Oxley placed Casse in charge of talking with stakeholders. They reached a deal with Earle Mack and his partners Jan. 16, a deal first reported by Daily Racing Form.
"I've known Earle for some years and he's a great contributor to the game," Oxley said. "We had several parties interested and we decided we wanted to run the horse and Earle and his partners stepped forward and accepted our proposal so we were happy to be involved."
Oxley is looking forward to running Noble Bird in the first edition of the Pegasus.
"When it comes to the horse business, there's a lot involved financially so you sort of have to look at the bottom line and figure out what is best for the horse and what's best for your budget," Oxley said. "Having said that, it's also a pleasure to have reached the decision, considering those factors, of being able to support a new event like this.
"If you finish in the top five it's attractive financially. And it could be meaningful to his stallion valuation too. I applaud the innovative approach in putting it together."
(Earlier this week, Daily Racing Form reported that veteran Prayer for Relief also will run in the Pegasus, bringing the field to a full 12.)
Pegasus Probables (as of Jan. 17)
|Juddmonte Farm||Coolmore Stud|
(Lookin At Lucky)
|Gunpowder Farms, West Point Thoroughbreds, and Reeves Thoroughbred Racing||Reeves Thoroughbred Racing|
|California Chrome LLC||California Chrome LLC|
|Jim McIngvale||Jim McIngvale|
|Donegal Racing||Jerry and Ronnie Frankel|
|Starlight Racing||Starlight Racing|
|John Oxley||Earle Mack, Moustapha Fostock, and Chester Broman Sr.|
|Prayer for Relief
|Zayat Stables||Rosedown Racing Stables (Jeff Weiss)|
|Reddam Racing||Reddam Racing|
|Shaman Ghost (Ghostzapper)||Stronach Stables||Stronach Stables|
|Loooch Racing Stables and partners||Dan Schafer|