COUGAR RIDGE AND CARVE LEAD ESSEX HANDICAP FIELD
Hot Springs, Ark. (Friday, Fe. 12, 2016) – Cougar Ridge will try to stretch his winning streak to five in Saturday’s $100,000 Essex Handicap for older horses Saturday at Oaklawn. Probable post time for the 1 1/16-mile Essex, the ninth of 10 races, is 5:09 p.m. (Central). First post Saturday is 1:05 p.m.
Seven horses are entered in the Essex, but the projected field was reduced by one Friday morning when 9-5 program favorite Midnight Hawk didn’t board a flight originating in Southern California for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.
Oaklawn officials said Midnight Hawk, runner-up in last year’s $250,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) at Oaklawn, apparently stayed home to run in an allowance race at Santa Anita.
The early 5-2 co-second choice is Cougar Ridge, a 6-year-old Johannesburg gelding trained by Randy Morse. Cougar Ridge has won three stakes races during his winning streak, including the $250,000 Delta Mile Nov. 21 at Delta Downs in his last start. A $62,500 claim April 8 at Keeneland, Morse has been pointing the gelding for the Essex for approximately two months.
He is scheduled to break from the extreme outside under Corey Nakatani and carry top weight of 118 pounds.
“Post is fine,” Morse said. “It doesn’t matter in a short field. He’ll be forwardly placed, I would imagine. He usually lays pretty close.”
Completing the Essex field from the rail out: La Macchina, Channing Hill to ride, 112 pounds; Sharm, Alex Birzer, 112; Carve, Ricardo Santana Jr., 117; Texas Bling, Glenn Corbett, 115; and Ain’t Got Time, Alex Cintron, 115.
Carve, a powerful winner of last year’s $100,000 Fifth Season Stakes at Oaklawn, will be making his first start since being reunited with trainer Steve Asmussen last fall. On behalf of owner Mike Langford of Jonesboro, Ark., Asmussen claimed Carve out of his Jan. 25, 2013, career debut victory at Oaklawn $30,000.
Langford moved Carve to trainer Brad Cox before the 2014 Oaklawn meeting and back to Asmussen after the 6-year-old gelding finished sixth in the $200,000 West Virginia Governor’s Stakes Aug. 1 at Mountaineer. A foot problem shelved Carve for the remainder of 2015 and forced him to miss his first intended target of 2016, the $100,000 Fifth Season Jan. 16 at Oaklawn.
“We don’t look for his best race, but I bet they know he’s in there,” Langford said. “We could have ran in that race, and probably been competitive, but we tried to do the right thing and let it [foot] grow out.”
The $300,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) March 19 is the final major local prep for the $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) April 16. The goal for Carve, Langford said, is to run in both races. Carve finished third in the 2014 Oaklawn Handicap and second last year.
A victory Saturday would push Carve, a multiple stakes winner of $959,240, over $1 million in career earnings.
“I hope it happens tomorrow,” Langford said.