Close menu
Rocket Man Looks to Upset Whitmore in Hot Springs
C Z Rocket arriving at Oaklawn Park (Credit: Coady Photography)

Rocket Man Looks to Upset Whitmore in Hot Springs

HOT SPRINGS, AR – The last time C Z Rocket ran at Oaklawn, the gelding was on a 10-race losing streak and in for a $40,000 claiming price.

C Z Rocket may have lost again last April, but Southern California-based trainer Peter Miller and owner Tom Kagele won big after claiming the gelding out of his fifth-place finish.

( Content Continues Below Ad )

C Z Rocket captured his next 5 starts before his streak was snapped with a runner-up finish behind Whitmore in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) November 7 at Keeneland. Flip the results of the 6-furlong race and C Z Rocket would have gone from claimer to champion in roughly six months.

“My owner actually picked him,” Miller said Wednesday afternoon. “I OK’d it, but he picked him. He was off form, but obviously he had back class and back fast figures, fast sheet numbers. That was kind of what Tom Kagele saw and I agreed.”

Miller, who didn’t have to shake for C Z Rocket, said the gelding bled the day he was claimed and “just assumed he was a bad bleeder and we were able to control that.”

C Z Rocket went on to set a 6-1/2 furlong track record (1:15) in a July 12 allowance race at Keeneland and edge Flagstaff in the $150,000 Pat O’Brien Stakes (G2) August 29 at Del Mar and $200,000 Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G2) September 27 at Santa Anita before being beaten 3 1/4 lengths by Whitmore in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

C Z Rocket returns to Oaklawn, this time for a rematch with Whitmore in Saturday’s $200,000 Hot Springs Stakes for older sprinters. Like Whitmore, the country’s champion male sprinter of 2020, the Hot Springs will mark C Z Rocket’s first start since the Breeders’ Cup. The 7-year-old son of City Zip has recorded a series of workouts at San Luis Rey Downs in Southern California in advance of the Hot Springs, which also drew Flagstaff.

“The fact that we could run on Lasix was a major factor in us choosing to go to Oaklawn,” Miller said.

( Content Continues Below Ad )

C Z Rocket’s career U-turn has him poised to reach $1 million career earnings this year. The gelding boasts a 9-2-2 mark from 23 lifetime starts and earnings of $891,641. Prominent North Little Rock, Arkansas businessman Frank Fletcher purchased C Z Rocket for a sale-record $800,000 at the 2016 Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company June Sale of 2-year-olds. C Z Rocket won his first 3 career starts (2017) and the $75,000 Kelly’s Landing Overnight Stakes (2018) before he began running for a tag last spring at Oaklawn.

C Z Rocket will be reunited Saturday with Florent Geroux, who was aboard for two of the gelding’s five consecutive victories last year. C Z Rocket is the 2-1 second choice in the program for the 6-furlong Hot Springs. Whitmore, who has won the Hot Springs a record four consecutive years, is the 8-5 favorite. Whitmore and C Z Rocket are scheduled to break from posts 6 and 7, respectively, in the projected seven-horse field.

“We felt like we could have won the Breeders’ Cup if we had a better trip,” Miller said. “We were plus-40 or 50 feet in the race, even though we broke from the 2-hole and (Whitmore) broke from the (7) hole. Don’t ask me how that happened going 3/4 (of a mile), but somehow or another, we ended up giving up 40 or 50 feet in ground and we were closer to the pace than he really likes to be when the pace is that fast. We’re excited. Obviously, our end goal would be the Breeders’ Cup, but we’re looking forward to the rematch.”

C Z Rocket now races for Kagele, Madaket Stables LLC (Sol Kumin), and Gary Barber.

The Hot Springs is the final major local prep for the $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) April 10. Whitmore has won the Count Fleet a record three times (2017, 2018, and 2020).

Join the Inner Circle

Sign up for exclusive 10% discount on orders, plus be the first to access our daily free and premium horse racing picks, articles, podcasts, and more!

Sign Up