Two photo finishes and a runaway favorite highlighted the stakes triple header at Oaklawn Park before a crowd of 30,000 on opening Saturday.
On a day with lots of tight finishes, including two dead heats, the final stakes of the day also came down to the wire with Pioneer Spirit holding off a late charge by Bankit to prevail by a head in a final time of 1:38 4/5 over a track upgraded to good.
The winner, a slight 5-2 second choice behind Bravazo, took the lead soon after the break and proceeded to set fractions of :23 3/5 and :47 3/5 for the first half mile. By the time Pioneer Spirit entered the stretch he had opened up a three-length lead, but a determined Bankit was closing fast from seventh place. Mocito Rojo, who raced evenly near the top tier, held on for third. The favorite, Bravazo, finished fifth.
Pioneer Spirit, who paid $7.40, $4 and $2.80, will “most likely” make his next start in the $500,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) Feb. 17, trainer Robertino Diodoro said.
In the first division of the Fifth Season Stakes, Contreras Stable Inc. and David Rodriquez’s Guest Suite, who was claimed for $62,500 Oct. 5, 2019 at Keeneland, got up in the final strides to edge 8-5 favorite Snapper Sinclair by a neck as the highest priced horse in the field.
The winner vied early for the lead, but was taken back and patiently handled down the backstretch by Walter De La Cruz before coming three wide into the stretch and nipping the favorite at the wire. Night Ops finished third. The winning time was 1:39 for one mile over a muddy (sealed) racetrack.
Guest Suite improved his record 6-2-8 in 24 starts and has now earned $477,633. He returned $24.40, $8.40 and 5.
In the Pippin, Fox Hill Farm, Inc.’s Whoa Nellie, the 2-1 favorite, drew off to a 4 ½ length victory over Special Reality.
Despite her name, the 4-year-old Orb filly was content to race behind the early leaders as Lady Suebee took the field through fractions of :22 4/5 and :46 2/5 for the first half mile. Whoa Nellie began to make her move five wide entering the stretch and took off under a confident ride by Joe Rocco Jr. to win in a final time of 1:39 2/5 over a track upgraded to good. Cairenn finished third.
The winner improved her record to five wins from nine starts and has now earned $256,230. She returned $6.60, $4.20, $3.40.
Whoa Nellie will be pointed for the $200,000 Bayakoa Stakes (G3) Feb. 17, Jones said.
Live racing resumes Sunday with a 1:30 p.m. first post. The Oaklawn meets runs through May 4.