By Robert Yates

Plainsman winning the Razorback Handicap 2022

Photo Credit: Coady Photography

HOT SPRINGS, AR (Friday, April 22, 2022) – After narrowly missing in last year’s edition, Fearless has been installed the 5-2 program favorite for the $1 million Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older horses Saturday at Oaklawn.

Probable post time for the 1 1/8-mile Oaklawn Handicap, which goes as the 11th of 12 races, is 5:41 p.m. (Central). Racing begins at 12:10 p.m. The infield will be open because of expected pleasant weather. Saturday’s card also features the $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) for older fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles and the $150,000 Oaklawn Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles.

The projected eight-horse Oaklawn Handicap field from the rail out: Beau Luminarie, Florent Geroux to ride, 117 pounds, 12-1 on the morning line; Thomas Shelby, David Cohen, 117, 8-1; Last Samurai, Jon Court, 117, 8-1; Idol, Ramon Vazquez, 119, 6-1; Rated R Superstar, Ricardo Santana Jr., 120, 5-1; Plainsman, Joel Rosario, 121, 5-2; Super Stock, Isaac Castillo, 118, 10-1; and Fearless, Jose Ortiz, 121, 9-5.

Trained by Todd Pletcher, Fearless exits a six-length victory in the $100,000 Ghostzapper Stakes (G3) at 1 1/8 miles April 2 at Gulfstream Park. Fearless finished second, beaten a half-length by future Grade 1 winner Silver State, in last year’s Oaklawn Handicap.

Pletcher is seeking his third Oaklawn victory after winning in 2007 with future Eclipse Award winner Lawyer Ron and 2015 with Race Day.

The local contingent includes millionaire multiple Grade 3 winner Plainsman for two-time reigning Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox and owner John Ed Anthony of Hot Springs (Shortleaf Stable). The Oaklawn Handicap could be the final career Oaklawn start for Plainsman, who is scheduled to begin a stallion career in 2023 in Kentucky.

Plainsman, a 7-year-old son of Flatter, has overcome physical ailments, specifically, feet, to bankroll $1,303,207 in his 29-race career. His resume includes a neck victory over Thomas Shelby in the $600,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 12 and a runner-up finish behind Rated R Superstar in the $500,000 Essex Handicap (G3) at 1 1/16 miles March 19. Both races were major local preps for the Oaklawn Handicap.

“He’s a tough horse,” Cox said. “He’s a very tough horse. But he’s also been a very high-maintenance horse and took a very long time, obviously, to get him back to graded-stake level. I think people forget this horse won the (Grade 3) Discovery at 3, which is now three-plus years ago. For him to return to graded-stake company last year and this year just tells you how good of a horse he really is and his quality and class and determination. He’s a good horse, he really is. Classy horse.”

Late-running Rated R Superstar also is a millionaire multiple Grade 3 winner for trainer Federico Villafranco and four-time Oaklawn leading owner Danny Caldwell.

A 9-year-old gelding, Rated R Superstar is in the best form of his career after capturing the $150,000 Fifth Season Stakes Jan. 15 and rolling to a 2 ¼-length victory in the Essex in his last start. Santana, an eight-time Oaklawn riding champion, inherits the mount Saturday because of an injury to David Cabrera.

“I think there’s going to be plenty of pace in the race and he needs that,” Villafranco said. “I know he’s been closing really nice at a mile and a sixteenth. A mile and an eighth is completely different.”

Thomas Shelby’s quest for his first career stakes victory continues after finishing second in the $200,000 Tinsel at 1 1/8 miles Dec. 18, third in the Fifth Season at 1 mile, second in the Razorback and fourth in the Essex earlier in the meeting for 2020 Oaklawn training champion Robertino Diodoro.

Like Plainsman, Thomas Shelby has speed and figures to again be a forward factor early Saturday.

“I keep saying he deserves to win one of these,” Diodoro said. “I really do like a mile and an eighth a lot better. I just think it’s better for him because they’re not going to go quite as quick. He’s doing great. You’re always worried that the horse is getting tired, but he’s training like a frigging monster.”

Super Stock recorded his biggest career victory to date in last year’s $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.

Another Grade 1 winner, Idol, will be making his first start since finishing a well-beaten sixth in the $300,000 Awesome Again Stakes (G1) at 1 1/8 miles Oct. 2 at Santa Anita for Southern California-based trainer Richard Baltas.

A hind-end problem has limited Idol to just seven lifetime starts. But the 5-year-old son of Curlin won the $400,000 Santa Anita Handicap (G1) at 1 ¼ miles in March 2021 at Santa Anita and set a 1 3/16-mile track record (1:55.97) in a November 2020 allowance race at Churchill Downs.

Baltas said he considered several other races for Idol’s comeback, notably the $300,000 Ben Ali Stakes (G3) at 1 1/8 miles Saturday at Keeneland, $200,000 Californian Stakes (G2) at 1 1/8 miles April 30 at Santa Anita and the $500,000 Alysheba Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles May 6 at Churchill Downs, before opting for the Oaklawn Handicap.

“I thought this race would probably be better,” Baltas said. “It’s a lot of money and he’s ready. I think he’s ready to run.”

Idol, who adds Lasix, figures to be tracking Thomas Shelby and Plainsman under Vazquez, the horse’s new rider.

“They can go duke it out,” Baltas said. “We’re going to be running late. He takes a little more time to get going. He’s got such a big, long stride. He’s very smooth and covers a lot of ground.”

The consistent Beau Luminarie – first, second or third in 18 of 20 lifetime starts – exits a third behind Rated R Superstar and Plainsman in the Essex for trainer Rodolphe Brisset. Beau Luminarie was making his first start since finishing third in the Tinsel.

“We were anxious to see how he would run, just because when you give the older horses the layoff like this, you never know how they are going to perform,” Brisset said. “I think he showed us what we wanted to see. He was a close third. He came flying.”

Last Samurai cuts back to 1 1/8 miles after finishing second, beaten a neck by millionaire multiple Grade 2 winner Lone Rock, in the $150,000 Temperence Hill Stakes at 1 ½ miles April 3 for trainer Dallas Stewart.

Lone Rock, also trained by Diodoro, edged Thomas Shelby by three-quarters of a length in the Tinsel.