Last Samurai gives Jon Court an Oaklawn Handicap to remember

April 24, 2022

Jockey Jon Court at 61 may very well be the oldest jockey to win a one million dollar race after guiding Last Samurai to a sharp win in the Oaklawn Park Handicap at Oaklawn Park

A few weeks prior to Jon Court’s epic win he sat down with our Jonathan Stettin for some one on one Q and A. Jonathan always thought highly of Court as a rider and was more than eager to talk with the veteran rider. You can catch it here:

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Willis Horton Racing LLC’s Last Samurai, who began his 2021-2022 meet at Oaklawn by winning the Dec. 12 Poinsettia Stakes, ended the season in similar fashion by winning Saturday’s $1 million Oaklawn Handicap (G2) before an on-track crowd of 35,000. It was the second straight Oaklawn Handicap victory for Willis Horton of Marshall, AR following the win by Silver State, owned in partnership, last year.

Last Samurai broke alertly and took the lead for the opening quarter mile in :23 4/5, but was happy to assume a stalking position behind Plainsman to the half mile mark in :48 1/5. The winner, under 61-year-old jockey Jon Court, regained the lead entering the stretch and drew off to win by four lengths over favorite Fearless, who was also second in the 2021 running of the race. Plainsman held on for third, two lengths in front of 2021 Arkansas Derby (G1) winner Super Stock. The winning time was 1:49 1/5 for 1 1/8 miles over a fast track.

“He had a good break,” Court said. “We knew speed had been tough today and he’s capable of laying up there. We were able to dictate a pace that we were comfortable with and finished well in front. I love it when a plan comes together like that.”

Last Samurai, trained by Dallas Stewart, improved his record to 4-3-2 in 15 starts and has now earned $946,744. He returned $27.80, $8.50 and $4.20 at odds of 12.90-1

Home Brew (Coady Photography)

Earlier on the card, Gary and Mary West’s favored Home Brew stalked the pace and pounced late to win the $150,000 Oaklawn Stakes by 1 ¼ lengths over Kuchar in 1:50 3/5 for 1 1/8 miles over a fast track. Happy Boy Rocket was third.

Home Brew, who was making his first start since a disappointing finish in the Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 1, improved his record to three wins from five starts and has now earned $203,625. The homebred Street Sense colt returned $4.80, $3.20 and $2.80 as the 7-5 favorite.

Live racing resumes Sunday with a 1 p.m. first post. After tomorrow there are only six more race dates left for the 2021-2022 season that ends Sunday, May 8.

A julibent Jon Court on Last Samurai (Coady Photography)

Oaklawn Handicap Quotes:

Winning jockey Jon Court, Last Samurai: “He had a good break. We knew speed had been tough today and he’s capable of laying up there. We were able to dictate a pace that we were comfortable with and finished well in front. I love it when a plan comes together like that.”

“He’s been training really well. He’s been fun to work with from the time the (Willis and family) Hortons gave me the opportunity to work with Last Samurai. He’s just been a joy in the mornings. As you may have noticed, I broke away from the pony because he’s just so fun to ride in the morning. In the afternoon, he gives it his best effort and things set up perfectly for us and he was willing to take on the challenge. What a blast it certainly was.”

Winning trainer Dallas Stewart, Last Samurai (via phone): “We had a little setback with him. We missed a little time with him, but we got back on track in that mile and a half (April 3 Temperence Hill Stakes). It was a really a courageous race against a nice horse (Lone Rock). He just came out of the race so good, out of that mile and a half, and came with a good work and just preceded on from there. Such a nice horse. Hopefully, he’ll have a big year. We just wanted to get a little position. Jon (Court) did a good job judging the pace, :48 wasn’t that bad, laying off of them, but not that far off. It’s never a bad thing to get out of the gates and get around the first turn at Oaklawn without getting wacked around. Seems like that happens a lot, but he did a good job. Inside post, held his position, not going too fast, big horse, kept him in stride and came home good.”

Jockey Joel Rosario, third on Plainsman: “He put himself into the race and was very comfortable. A horse came to him a little bit on the backside and he was OK with it. He tried really hard. That horse (Last Samurai) kind of ran a big race today, the winner.”

Trainer Brad Cox, third with Plainsman: “Good run. I thought he got a good trip. I kind of sometimes wonder if a mile and an eighth is maybe a little bit outside his scope. I think he can get it, maybe not at this level. He’s probably best at a mile, a mile and a sixteenth.”

Oaklawn Park Press release

Photo: Jon Court aboard Last Samurai, Coady Photography

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