Saffie Joseph Jr. Snags Oaklawn First

April 21, 2024

Skippylongstocking gave Joseph his breakthrough victory in Saturday’s $1.25 million G2-Oaklawn Handicap (Coady Photography)

Asmussen Moves Closer to Record

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By Robert Yates – Oaklawn Park

HOT SPRINGS, Ark.— Florida-based trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. finally broke his maiden at Oaklawn. And it occurred in a seven-figure race.

Favored Skippylongstocking gave Joseph his breakthrough victory in Saturday’s $1.25 million G2-Oaklawn Handicap for older horses at 1 1/8 miles.

Skippylongstocking ($7.60) marked the 17th career Oaklawn starter for Joseph, who collected his third consecutive training title at the recently concluded Gulfstream Park championship meet. Joseph started his first horse at Oaklawn in 2019, with his previous best finish in Hot Springs third.

Skippylongstocking’s sparkling two-length victory came a week after stablemates Sara’s Shaman ran eighth in an allowance race and Honor D Lady finished ninth in the $1.25 million G1-Apple Blossom Handicap. Another Joseph trainee, Cool Memory, finished sixth in Saturday’s second race at Oaklawn, a starter-allowance route. 

“They didn’t run too good last week, last Saturday,” Joseph said in a telephone interview moments after the Oaklawn Handicap. “We shipped two up and they didn’t run good. We put these two on the van the day after. I was like, ‘Oh geez!’ But just different circumstances. He ran well. You’ve got to take the ups and downs and keep moving forward.”

Joseph called the Oaklawn Handicap, which featured seven graded stakes winners, the best performance on Skippylongstocking’s 23-race resume.

A forward factor from the start under Jose Ortiz, Skippylongstocking tracked stablemate County Final for three-quarters of a mile before gliding to the lead on the outside passing the five-sixteenths pole. Skippylongstocking was three lengths clear in midstretch and never threatened approaching the wire.

Under top weight of 122 pounds, Skippylongstocking ran 1 1/8 miles over a fast track in a meet-best 1:49, a time that generated a 114 Equibase speed rating. First Mission (Essex Handicap) and Muth (Arkansas Derby) own the top Equibase speed ratings at the meet (115). Those races were also at 1 1/8 miles.

Skippylongstocking was exiting a 2 ½-length victory in the $100,000 G3-Challenger Stakes March 9 at Tampa Bay Downs. The 5-year-old son of Exaggerator has now won consecutive races for the first time in his career. 

Joseph said the timing and record purse (the Oaklawn Handicap was previously worth $1 million) made a road trip to Hot Springs an attractive option for Skippylongstocking.

“Obviously, it’s huge purse,” Joseph said. “He’s by Exaggerator. He’s not by a fashionable, well-bred stud, so his value, probably, as far as earning things on the track, he’s going to earn it the hard way. Definitely ($1.25 million), you don’t get that opportunity very often. Thankful to come to Oaklawn. Thankful to win such a race. Just proud of the horse and the whole team.”

Skippylongstocking increased his career earnings to $2,291,685 following his eighth victory and sixth in stakes company. 

Owner Daniel Alonso purchased Skippylongstocking for just $37,000 at the 2021 OBS Spring Sale of 2-year-olds in training. 

As part of the Maryland Jockey Club’s “Win Today, See You in May Series,” Skippylongstocking’s Oaklawn Handicap victory earned him automatic entry into the $250,000 G3-Pimlico Special May 17. While next-race plans are pending, Joseph is already eyeing another seven-figure race, the $1 million G2-Charles Town Classic Aug. 23 at Charles Town. Skippylongstocking was a five-length winner of the 2023 Charles Town Classic.

“We’re going to try to get back to the Charles Town Classic and try to see if he can repeat there,” Joseph said. “But nothing was really picked out after this race. This race was going to lead us where to go. We’ll sit down and talk it over and come up with a plan.”

Asmussen Moves Closer to Record

Informed Patriot. (Coady Photography)
Asmussen saddled Informed Patriot (inside) to win the Bathhouse Row for the trainer’s meet-best 65th victory (Coady Photography)

Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen continues to inch closer to Oaklawn’s single season record for victories.

Asmussen saddled Informed Patriot to win Saturday’s $200,000 Bathhouse Row Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles, the trainer’s meet-best 65th victory. Saturday marked Day 57 of the scheduled 64-day meeting that ends May 5. The late Cole Norman won an Oaklawn-record 71 races during the weather-shortened 49-day meeting in 2003. Asmussen needs to average one victory over the final seven days of the meeting to eclipse that total.

Informed Patriot ($8.80) represented Asmussen’s record-extending 113th career Oaklawn stakes victory, including a record three in the Bathhouse Row, and record-tying ninth stakes victory at the 2023-2024 meeting. Trainer Brad Cox won nine stakes races last season at Oaklawn.

Asmussen, who is aware of Norman’s total, already holds Oaklawn records for career victories (941) and training titles (12). Asmussen was Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2021 and 2021-2022 and is already assured of the 2023-2024 title (Kenny McPeek is a distant second with 28 victories). Asmussen has equaled his single-season Oaklawn best for victories after winning 65 races at the 2021-2022 meeting. Asmussen is also approaching his single-season Oaklawn record for purse earnings ($6,057,877), set in 2021. Asmussen’s 2023-2024 total is $5,874,231.

Informed Patriot’s Bathhouse Row victory earned the son of Hard Spun a berth in the Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown, May 18 at Pimlico. Asmussen said he would confer with the colt’s owners, Kirk and Judy Robison, before deciding. Asmussen’s first two Bathhouse Row winners, Laughing Fox in 2019 and Red Route One last year, were wheeled back in the Preakness, finishing fifth and fourth, respectively. The Bathhouse Row was known as the Oaklawn Invitational in 2019.

Asmussen had seven horses entered Sunday at Oaklawn.

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