Two photo finishes and a runaway favorite highlighted the stakes triple header at Oaklawn before a crowd of 30,000 on opening Saturday.
On a day with lots of tight finishes, including two dead heats, the final stakes of the day also came down to the wire with Pioneer Spirit holding off a late charge by Bankit to prevail by a head in a final time of 1:38 4/5 over a track upgraded to good.
The winner, a slight 5-2 second choice behind Bravazo, took the lead soon after the break and proceeded to set fractions of :23 3/5 and :47 3/5 for the first half mile. By the time Pioneer Spirit entered the stretch he had opened up a three-length lead, but a determined Bankit was closing fast from seventh place. Mocito Rojo, who raced evenly near the top tier, held on for third. The favorite, Bravazo, finished fifth.
Pioneer Spirit, who paid $7.40, $4 and $2.80, will “most likely” make his next start in the $500,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) Feb. 17, trainer Robertino Diodoro said.
In the first division of the Fifth Season Stakes, Contreras Stable Inc. and David Rodriquez’s Guest Suite, who was claimed for $62,500 Oct. 5, 2019 at Keeneland, got up in the final strides to edge 8-5 favorite Snapper Sinclair by a neck as the highest priced horse in the field.
The winner vied early for the lead, but was taken back and patiently handled down the backstretch by Walter De La Cruz before coming three wide into the stretch and nipping the favorite at the wire. Night Ops finished third. The winning time was 1:39 for one mile over a muddy (sealed) racetrack.
Guest Suite improved his record 6-2-8 in 24 starts and has now earned $477,633. He returned $24.40, $8.40 and 5.
In the Pippin, Fox Hill Farm, Inc.’s Whoa Nellie, the 2-1 favorite, drew off to a 4 ½ length victory over Special Reality.
Despite her name, the 4-year-old Orb filly was content to race behind the early leaders as Lady Suebee took the field through fractions of :22 4/5 and :46 2/5 for the first half mile. Whoa Nellie began to make her move five wide entering the stretch and took off under a confident ride by Joe Rocco Jr. to win in a final time of 1:39 2/5 over a track upgraded to good. Cairenn finished third.
The winner improved her record to five wins from nine starts and has now earned $256,230. She returned $6.60, $4.20, $3.40.
Whoa Nellie will be pointed for the $200,000 Bayakoa Stakes (G3) Feb. 17, Jones said.
Live racing resumes Sunday with a 1:30 p.m. first post. The Oaklawn meets runs through May 4.
Fifth Season Stakes, Division 1
Cipriano Contreras, winning trainer Guest Suite: “He ran a big race. He's a nice old horse. We got lucky, I guess. It's nothing really I did. He made $300,000 before I got him. He's got a world-class pedigree. You just claim them and hope for the best.”
Walter De La Cruz, winning jockey, Guest Suite: “The 3 horse (Snapper Sinclair) was the speed. I just sat in the back and just waited and waited. From the three-eighths (pole), I asked him and he gave me everything.”
Fifth Season Stakes, Second Division
Robertino Diodoro, winning trainer, Pioneer Spirit: "He's been doing real well. He's been really coming around. He's a nice horse and hopefully we can keep him healthy and have some fun with him during the Oaklawn meet. One step at a time. Things are going to get a little tougher here as the money goes up, as we get a little deeper into the stakes schedule, but we'll see what happens. Got to like an old classy horse that's got a big heart. He's got a couple of wins in a row now. He's got a big heart on him. Keep him healthy and we'll keep moving forward."
Larry Jones, winning trainer, Whoa Nellie: “She's been doing very well. You always wonder. Her only bad race came over this racetrack. I said last year, 'Man, I hope it's not that she doesn't like the track.' But she works lights out over it. I just don't think the trainer had her fit enough last year when we ran her. I ran a short horse and didn't realize it.”
Joe Rocco Jr., winning jockey, Whoa Nellie: “It worked out good. There was a lot of speed on paper it and developed in front of us, and it went really fast. My filly was there the whole time. A little wider than I wanted, but that's how the field played out. That's what we needed to do, and we had plenty for the ride home. She has a great name, the whole way I was saying ‘Whoa Nellie, Whoa Nellie.’”
Robertino Diodoro, trainer of second-place finisher Special Reality: “Little rough trip, but I thought she ran really well, especially the first time running a mile for us. Got a little tight on the first turn and kind of lost position a little bit. Going into the final turn, got into a little more traffic, just a little bit. She's a big mare and just enough to take a little momentum away from her. But at the same time she ran a big race, I thought.”
Johnny Ortiz, trainer of third-place finisher Cairenn: “It was a very good effort by Cairenn. She had plenty of speed in front of her, so she was able to settle for Channing (Hill). Loved what he did. He put her in a very good position and started making an early move around the turn. We were hoping to run that 2 (Lady Suebee) down a little quicker, but the track was a little tiring here.”