Race Day's return engagement at Oaklawn Park was a smashing success as he handled both the class hike and the other nine horses in the field to score a runaway victory in the 69th edition of the $600,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) on Saturday.
The 6-5 favorite, who broke alertly from the rail under regular rider John Velazquez, led the rest around the clubhouse turn and up the backstretch while setting honest fractions of :23.4, and :46.71 while being pressured by Carve. Although Carve would get his head in front when they turned for home, Race Day fought back and took the lead back with steady urging from his rider. He put splits of 1:10.3 and 1:35.3 up on the board before kicking clear past the eighth pole and drawing off to cross under the wire in 1:47.4 for the 1 1/8 miles on a fast track and win by 3 3/4 lengths.
Carve, who drifted a bit late in the going, held second and Tapiture staged a mild rally to be another 3 3/4 lengths behind.
Race Day, who is owned by Matthew Schera, won the Razorback Handicap (G3) last out on March 14 and became a Grade 2 winner for the first time in eight outings with five wins, with his last four coming for trainer Todd Pletcher.
“It was a super effort. We are very pleased with the trip. We'll get him home and discuss with Matthew about some options,” said Pletcher, who also trained fourth-place finisher Golden Lad, when reached by phone in South Florida.
Race Day's Hall of Fame rider was equally impressed with his effort.
“It worked out perfect. We went a little quicker than I expected to, but we had no choice to be upfront. We got good position going into the first turn and I tried to save enough horse for the run home. He did everything so easy coming to the quarter pole. When I asked him right at the eighth pole he responded. I'm very proud of the way he ran today,” Velazquez said.
Oaklawn based-trainer Brad Cox was pleased with the performance of 8-1 choice Carve, who was third in the 2014 edition of the race.
“I was kind of concerned when they went down the backside and I saw 46 and change. But when they got to the three-eighths pole everyone else was struggling behind them pretty hard so I thought it was going to come down to the two of us. Turning for home I thought we had a pretty good shot at going by but maybe losing the ground around both turns had a little to do with it. But it was a big effort and I'm very happy with him,” said Cox.
Schera, 39, is a Connecticut commodities trader who purchased Race Day for $285,000 at the 2014 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale. The colt improved his bankroll to $610,450 with the $360,000 winner's share of the purse and paid $4.40 for a $2 win bet.
In the 13th running of the $100,000 Instant Racing Stakes, Promise Me Silver sparkled brilliantly while rewarding the backers who sent her off as the 4-5 favorite in the field of six 3-year-old fillies and cruised to an easy win to remain a perfect seven-for-seven in her career.
Trained by Bret Calhoun and ridden by Cliff Berry, she asserted her dominance at the top of the lane and drew clear to win by 2 1/2 lengths while covering the six furlongs on a fast track in a sprite 1:10.3. Harbor Island was second, 2 1/4 lengths in front of Indian Brava, who was another 4 1/2 lengths behind.
Owned by Myrna and Robert Luttrell, Promise Me Silver captured her sixth straight stakes race since graduating from the maiden ranks in her career debut. She returned $3.60 for a $2 wager and upped her career earnings to $319, 355.