Multiple stakes winner Pioneer Spirit will make his next start in the $350,000 Essex Handicap for older horses March 14, trainer Robertino Diodoro said Friday morning. The 1 1/16-mile Essex is a major local prep for the $1 million Oaklawn Handicap (G2) April 18.
Pioneer Spirit has won 2 of 3 starts for Diodoro since he claimed the son of Malibu Moon for $150,000 Nov. 2 at Churchill Downs. Pioneer Spirit launched his 7-year-old campaign with a front-running victory in the second division of the $100,000 Fifth Season Stakes Jan. 25 before finishing fourth, beaten 4 ½ lengths by Warrior’s Charge, in the $500,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) Feb. 17.
“In the first turn, he got bumped by Joevia,” Diodoro said, referring to the 1 1/16-mile Razorback. “He really hammered him and kind of took his position away. I don’t think we needed to be on the front end. If that didn’t happen, I think we run second. No one was beating Warrior’s Charge that day.”
Warrior’s Charge is scheduled to make his next start in the Oaklawn Handicap, but stablemate Night Ops is pointing for the Essex, said Brad Cox, who trains both horses. Also targeting the Essex is millionaire Bravazo for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Bravazo ran sixth in the Essex.
In his first start after being claimed, Pioneer Spirit won the $75,000 Tenacious Stakes Dec. 21 at Fair Grounds. Pioneer Spirit has bankrolled $131,500 since Diodoro, on behalf of Lawrence P. Roman, Heads Up Racing Stable LLC (Todd Fitch) and Lucky Dog Stables (Robert Green and Larry Nafe), claimed the horse.
“He came out of the race good,” Diodoro said. “That’s the main thing. A little cleaner trip, we would have been second, so there’s no reason why the horse doesn’t deserve to run in the Essex.”
Nominations to the Essex close March 5.
Via Oaklawn Park Press Release