For the second Saturday in a row, trainer D. Wayne Lukas aims to win a two-turn graded-stakes race at Oaklawn.
Last Samurai is the 5-2 morning line favorite for the Grade 3, $500,000 Essex Handicap. Post time from Hot Springs, Ark., is 5:54 p.m. EDT, with FanDuel TV covering the 1 1/16-mile race for runners aged 4 and up.
Lukas trains during winter months at Oaklawn, where he saddled Secret Oath to a score last weekend in the Azeri Stakes (G2). That race is the primary local prep for the $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) on April 15.
Now Lukas sends out the favorite in the local prep for the $1 million Oaklawn Handicap (G2) on April 22. The Hall of Fame trainer has won that event four times, most recently with Will Take Charge in 2014.
Last Samurai won the 2022 Oaklawn Handicap at 13-1 odds for trainer Dallas Stewart. Owner Willis Horton Racing then moved the son of Malibu Moon to Lukas’ barn.
In eight starts for Lukas, Last Samurai owns one win, which came last out Feb. 18 in the local Razorback Handicap (G3). Under jockey Cristian Torres, he ran down leader West Will Power a furlong from home and won by 1 1/2 lengths.
Torres stays aboard the 5-year-old Last Samurai, who brings a 23: 5-4-4 record into this race with just shy of $1.61 million in earnings.
Bill Mott trains Vittorio (3-1), who makes his stakes bow in this spot. He ran best-of-the-rest Feb. 5 behind 1-5 favorite Charge It in a Gulfstream Park allowance race.
Forza Di Oro (7-2) won the Discovery Stakes (G3) in November 2020 for Mott but has not won in graded flight since. Now with trainer Brad Cox, he was third Jan. 21 at Fair Grounds in the Louisiana Stakes (G3).
Silver Prospector (6-1), a Grade 2 winner for trainer Steve Asmussen, bested stablemate and 2021 Arkansas Derby (G1) hero Super Stock on Feb. 11 in a local allowance race going one mile.
The Essex Handicap field includes three former Kentucky Derby starters: Necker Island (8-1, ninth in 2020 Derby), Classic Causeway (15-1, 11th in 2022 Derby) and Tawny Port (15-1, seventh in 2022 Derby).
Here is a look at the field for the 2023 Essex Handicap (trainers and jockeys in parentheses) with morning-line odds:
1. Silver Prospector (Steve Asmussen, Ricardo Santana Jr.), 6-1
2. Vittorio (Bill Mott, Martin Garcia), 3-1
3. Rated R Superstar (Martin Villafranco, David Cabrera), 20-1
4. Call Me Fast (Michael Puhich, Francisco Arrieta), 15-1
5. Classic Causeway (Kenny McPeek, Flavien Prat), 15-1
6. Necker Island (Chris Hartman, Nik Juarez), 8-1
7. Forza Di Oro (Brad Cox, Florent Geroux), 7-2
8. Tawny Port (Brad Cox, Rafael Bejarano), 15-1
9. Keystone Field (Mike Maker, Isaac Castillo), 15-1
10. Last Samurai (D. Wayne Lukas, Cristian Torres), 5-2
TimeformUS pace projections show Vittorio under jockey Martin Garcia and Call Me Fast with rider Francisco Arrieta going in tandem to the early lead. Favorite Last Samurai projected to wait near the back of the field.
Visit Horse Racing Nation’s free past performances page for more information on the Essex Handicap and other Saturday stakes.
Other Saturday stakes
Here is a look at other stakes races taking place Saturday at tracks across the U.S. All post times are EDT.
4:07 p.m. – $100,000 Hutcheson Stakes, 3-year-olds, six furlongs, Gulfstream Park, FanDuel TV
Super Chow (1-1) has won stakes races at three different tracks, including two starts back in the local Limehouse Stakes. Jockey Chantal Sutherland has the mount on the Lord Nelson colt, runner-up Feb. 4 in Gulfstream’s Swale Stakes (G3) for trainer Jorge Delgado. Brian Lynch trains Two of a Kind (9-2), who finished third, 11 lengths back of runner-up Super Chow, in the Swale. Diamond Cool (5-1) makes his stakes bow for trainer Patrick Biancone and sheds a furlong of distance after running fourth in a seven-furlong allowance race Feb. 23 at Gulfstream.
5:22 p.m. – $200,000 Whitmore Stakes (G3), 4-and-up, six furlongs, Oaklawn, FanDuel TV
Tejano Twist (3-1) is a Keeneland and Mahoning Valley stakes winner and tries to make the grade Saturday for trainer Chris Hartman. Jockey Francisco Arrieta will get a leg up on the 4-year-old Practical Joke gelding, runner-up to Gunite on Jan. 28 in the local King Cotton Stakes. Steve Asmussen trains Cogburn (7-2), who returned off a layoff of more than eight months to take a Feb. 5 allowance race over this distance and surface. Edge to Edge (4-1), a second entry for Hartman, has won back-to-back starts in local allowance races, the last coming Feb. 17.
5:32 p.m. – $100,000 Cicada Stakes, 3-year-old fillies, six furlongs, Aqueduct, FS2
Downtown Mischief (1-1) is off to a 2-for-2 start in her career, with both her races coming this winter at Aqueduct. Linda Rice trains and Jose Lezcano will ride the Into Mischief filly, winner of an allowance race Feb. 17. Rodolphe Brisset trains Hot Little Thing (5-2), a Horseshoe Indianapolis stakes winner whose last start was a third-place finish there in the Miss Indiana Stakes on Oct. 5. Fabulously Funny (9-2) broke her maiden on second asking locally Feb. 17 for trainer Anthony Dutrow.
6:31 p.m. – $100,000 China Doll Stakes, 3-year-old fillies, one mile (turf), Santa Anita, FanDuel TV
Comanche Country (8-5) makes her first start since the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, in which she ran seventh Nov. 4 at Keeneland. Jockey Umberto Rispoli gets the call on the Highland Reel filly, a local Grade 3 winner for trainer Phil D’Amato. Jeff Mullins trains The Wild Grazer (5-2), runner-up Feb. 12 at Santa Anita in the Lady of Shamrock Stakes. Princess Bettina (5-1) was third in the Lady of Shamrock, 3/4 of a length shy of The Wild Grazer, for trainer Peter Eurton.