Veteran group ready for Oaklawn Handicap
The real Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort Championship takes place today.
Horse racing’s mature elite has long rallied for each incarnation of the Oaklawn Handicap. Eight are entered for today’s Oaklawn $1 Million Grade 2 Handicap over 1 1/8 miles for horses 4 years and older.
The start time for the Oaklawn Handicap, the 11th of 12 races on today’s card, is scheduled for 5:41 p.m.
“There are a lot of people who have always looked at this race much more favorably than the Arkansas Derby,” said jockey Jon Court, who is expected to ride Last Samurai, the co-fifth pick in the 8-1 morning line. . “Everyone talks about derbies, but with derbies you’re always talking about juvenile horses, and now we can look at older horses that are much more proven.”
Notable Oaklawn Handicap winners and contenders since the first race in 1950 include Alydar, Cigar, Concern, Cryptoclearance, Lil E. Tee, Snow Chief, Temperence Hill and other equine stars.
“It’s a pretty prestigious race,” said Robertino Diodoro, who coaches Thomas Shelby, also an 8-1 pick. “It’s huge, that’s for sure.”
Diodoro coached Inside Straight, winner of the 2017 Oaklawn Handicap.
Fearless, a 6-year-old gelding son of Ghostzapper, is 3-3-1 in his last eight progressive stakes starts, including a second-place finish in last season’s Oaklawn Handicap. Jockey Jose Ortiz is set to ride the gelding for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. Fearless won the Gulfstream Grade 3 Ghostzapper on April 2.
Plainsman, owned by Hot Springs resident John Ed Anthony, recently completed a 5-2-1-2 series from the Oaklawn barn of two-time Eclipse Award-winning Coach of the Year Brad Cox. His recent success has been marked by victories in the Grade 3 AckAck at Churchill Downs last October and the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn on February 12.
Joel Rosario, the 2021 Eclipse Jockey of the Year, has earned two of Plainsman’s three career wins, a 7-year-old son of Flatter, and is his listed rider for the Oaklawn Handicap.
“It’s very nice to put it back together,” Rosario said. “I thank the owner for the opportunity he gave me. He’s a very good horse. He always tries very hard. It’s definitely a tough race, but we’ll see what happens.”
Thomas Shelby, a gelding 6-year-old son of Curlin, finished no better than second but no worse than fourth in four attempts at Oaklawn this season. He was second in the Razorback, a neck behind Plainsman.
“He’s just tough,” Diodoro said. “He just gives you 110%. We’ll see if we can get off the lead and try to steal it.”
Last Samurai, a 4-year-old son of Malibu Moon owned by Marshall’s Willis Horton, finished an elbow behind the winner at Oaklawn’s Temperence Hill over 1 1/2 miles on April 3 in his last start.
“This race is loaded with that kind of money at stake,” Court said.
Rated R Superstar, 9, of Danny Caldwell, a fan-favorite son of Kodiak Cowboy trained by Federico Villafranco with Ricardo Santana Jr. about to ride, was a winner by far twice in three attempts at stakes. Oaklawn this season. His famous upsets include an 8-1 victory over favorite Plainsman in his last start, the Grade 3 Essex Handicap on March 19.
“I couldn’t ask him to do better,” Caldwell said. “I think he will make his run. If the track favors closeness, it will give us a chance. I think he will be there at the end.”
Diodoro said he knows the reputation of Oaklawn Handicap and the depth of today’s field.
“They’re all tough,” he said. “Plainsman and of course Fearless Expeditions now are very tough, but they’re just a strong group of horses.”