Stakes Winners Vie for Oaklawn Handicap Honors

April 20, 2024

Oaklawn H. entry Double Crown took the Polynesian at Pimlico Sept. 10, 2023. (Jim McCue/MJC)

• Bathhouse Row ‘Win & In’ for Preakness
• Neom Beach Favored in Valley Of The Vapors

By Robert Yates

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Seven graded stakes winners are entered in Saturday’s $1.25 million G2-Oaklawn Handicap at Oaklawn, a 1 1/8-mile event for older runners that headlines a stakes tripleheader.

First post is 12:10 p.m. (Central), with probable post time for the field of 11 in the Oaklawn Handicap, the 11th of 12 races, 5:52 p.m. The card also features the $200,000 Bathhouse Row Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles and the one-mile $200,000 Valley of the Vapors Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.

As part of the Maryland Jockey Club’s “Win Today, See You in May Series,” the Oaklawn Handicap winner receives automatic entry into the $250,000 G3-Pimlico Special at 1 3/16 miles May 17 at Pimlico. Program favorite Skippylongstocking is trying to give Florida-based trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. his first career Oaklawn victory.

Although Skippylongstocking is a multiple graded stakes winner of $1,654,185, he has never won consecutive races in his career. He exits a 2 ½-length victory in the $100,000 G3-Challenger Stakes for older horses March 9 at Tampa Bay Downs. 

Skippylongstocking’s 22-race resume includes a front-running five-length victory in the $1 million G2-Charles Town Classic at 1 1/8 miles Aug. 25 at Charles Town and a third-place finish in the $1 million G1-Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile Nov. 4 at Santa Anita.

Late-running millionaire Red Route One exits a victory in the $500,000 G2-New Orleans Classic for older horses at 1 1/8 miles March 23 at Fair Grounds for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. Red Route One made four starts last year at Oaklawn, including three in Kentucky Derby qualifying races. Red Route One capped his stay in Hot Springs with a victory in the $200,000 Bathhouse Row Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles in April.

“Obviously, very nice win in New Orleans last time out,” Asmussen said. “This is a very good opportunity for him. Keeps moving forward.”

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert seeks his third seven-figure victory this season at Oaklawn with Grade 3 winner Reincarnate.

Sham Stakes (GIII) winner Reincarnate with exercise rider Baltazar Contreras at the 2023 Kentucky Derby. (JennyPhoto/Past The Wire)

Reincarnate, then under the care of trainer Tim Yakteen, ran in two Kentucky Derby qualifying races last year at Oaklawn, finishing a troubled third in the $1 million G2-Rebel Stakes and third in the $1.25 million G1-Arkansas Derby. Red Route One was second and sixth, respectively, in both races.

Reincarnate closed 2023 with a ninth-place finish in the $250,000 G2-Twilight Derby on the turf Nov. 4 at Santa Anita. In his only start this year, Reincarnate finished third, beaten 2 ½ lengths, in the $400,000 G1-Santa Anita Handicap (G1) at 1 ¼ miles March 3 at Santa Anita. It was his first race against older horses.

“He ran a big race off the layoff in the Big ’Cap,” Baffert said. “He’s been up there before. He shows up every time. I think it’s a good spot. I think he will fit with those horses. It’s going to be tough, but he’s doing pretty well.”

Regally bred Highland Falls exits a fourth-place finish in the Santa Anita Handicap, his stakes debut, for trainer Brad Cox and breeder/owner Godolphin. The 4-year-old colt is by two-time Horse of the Year Curlin out of Breeders’ Cup Distaff Champion Round Pond – multiple Oaklawn stakes winners. Highland Falls, beaten 2 ¾ lengths in the Santa Anita Handicap, will be cutting back to nine furlongs in his sixth lifetime start.

“I think he can handle it,” Cox said. “Listen, I think most of these races that are run, these Grade 1s in this division, are run at a mile and an eighth. Obviously, the Breeders’ Cup is a mile and a quarter. We’re hoping he can establish himself as one of the better handicap horses in the country. He’s obviously light on seasoning, but hopefully he can have a big year and see where he takes us.”

Godolphin won last year’s Oaklawn Handicap with Proxy, who edged millionaire Last Samurai by a head. Now with trainer Eddie Milligan Jr., Last Samurai came off a lengthy layoff to finish a tiring sixth in the $500,000 G3-Oaklawn Mile March 30. 

Last Samurai scoring the 2022 Oaklawn Handicap. (Coady Photography)

Last Samurai won the 2022 Oaklawn Handicap when trained by Dallas Stewart. In addition to finishing second in the 2023 Oaklawn Handicap, Last Samurai won Oaklawn’s $600,000 G3-Razorback Handicap and $500,000 G3-Essex Handicap last year for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

“He’s doing well, working well,” said Milligan, who trains Last Samurai for Arkansan Kevin Horton. “I just don’t know if he’s a 100 percent ready to compete with that group, as consistent as he was last year. I think after this race, yes, I think we’ll be back on track with him.”

Florida-based Octane returns to Oaklawn after winning the Feb. 24 G3-Razorback in his last start.

Instant Coffee, a former Cox runner, is a Grade 2 winner. Now based in Florida, Instant Coffee recorded a 5-furlong workout April 12 at Oaklawn in preparation for the Oaklawn Handicap.

Grade 2 winner Double CrownMagic Tap, Guntown and County Final complete the field. The Oaklawn Handicap carries a record purse in 2024 after previously being worth $1 million.

Oaklawn Handicap Field

Bathhouse Row ‘Win & In’ for Preakness

Lightly raced Militant is the 5-2 program favorite for the Bathhouse Row, which will award the winner automatic entry into the Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown, May 18 at Pimlico.

A homebred for Gary and Mary West, Militant exits a one-length maiden allowance race victory at 1 1/16 miles March 30 at Oaklawn. In his only other start, Militant, a son of Quality Road, finished an even third while racing for a $125,000 claiming tag March 7 at Oaklawn. That race was one mile.

“Nice horse,” trainer Brad Cox said. “Throwing a lot at him in a short period of time, but I do think he’ll like the mile and an eighth. He should off pedigree and based off his last run. Looks like a horse that should like the distance. Good colt. Had a good winter there at Oaklawn. Just the two runs, but they were positive races.”

Militant (5-2) is scheduled to break from post 5 under Florent Geroux and carry 118 pounds. Cox won the Bathhouse Row in 2021 and 2022 and finished second and third last year. He also finished second in its inaugural edition in 2019, when it was the Oaklawn Invitational. 

Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen is also bidding for his third victory in the race after winning in 2019 with Laughing Fox and again last year with Red Route One. Asmussen’s entrants, Informed Patriot and Imperial Gun, finished fifth and seventh, respectively, in the $1.5 million G1-Arkansas Derby (G1) March 30.

Brilliant Man, Maximus Magic, Gould’s Gold, Willy D’s and Count Dracula complete the eight-horse Bathhouse Row field.

Maximus Magic exits a front-running neck victory over Count Dracula in a one-mile allowance race March 28 at Oaklawn for trainer Norman McKnight. Willy D’s finished sixth in the race, beaten 3 ½ lengths, for co-owner/trainer Greg Compton.

Bathhouse Row Field

Neom Beach Favored in Valley Of The Vapors

Neom Beach is the 5-2 program favorite for the second running of the Valley of the Vapors.

Neom Beach ran in Oaklawn’s first two Kentucky Oaks points races for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, finishing third in the $250,000 Martha Washington Stakes Feb. 3 and fourth in the $400,000 G3-Honeybee Stakes Feb. 24. Both races were 1 1/16 miles. Neom Beach resurfaced March 29 at Oaklawn and captured an allowance race.

Merasol Sugar (7-2) tackles stakes company for the first time after finishing third, beaten 1 ¼ lengths by Neom Beach, last month. Winnable (8-1) will be making her dirt debut after finishing second in the $300,000 Bourbonette Oaks March 23 at Turfway Park for trainer Kenny McPeek. Winnable drew post 11 in the 11-horse field.

Valley of the Vapors Field

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