He is the most talented horse–pound for pound–in a field of seven that was drawn earlier this week, but Whisper Hill Farm’s ‘TDN Rising Star‘ Charge It (Tapit) nevertheless has a fair bit to prove as the 8-5 morning-line favorite in Saturday’s $1-million GII Oaklawn H. in Hot Springs.
The 23-length winner of last year’s GIII Dwyer S., the homebred returned with a stylish Gulfstream allowance victory first off a seven-month absence Feb. 5, but exits a disappointing runner-up effort in the GII Gulfstream Park Mile Mar. 4. The blinkers go on for this return to nine panels.
“He’s always been a little bit of a curious colt,” said trainer Todd Pletcher, a two-time winner of the race. “We contemplated putting blinkers on him after [finishing second in] the Florida Derby last year. We just didn’t think doing in the Kentucky Derby was the right move and then came back and won the Dwyer so impressively. It’s hard to make a change off that, but it’s something that’s been in the back of our mind. We’ve worked him with them since his last race and I think they may make a difference.”
Not since Gay Revoke in 1964 and 1965 has a horse gone back-to-back in the Handicap, but Last Samurai (Malibu Moon) has a shot to put pay to that streak Saturday. If anything, the 5-year-old is in even better form this time around, having bested next-out, big-figure GII New Orleans Classic romper West Will Power (Bernardini) and subsequent SW Law Professor in the GIII Razorback H. Feb. 18 before reeling in Classic Causeway (Giant’s Causeway) last time in the GIII Essex H.
“We’ve gone from winning the Essex to probably fourth choice in the Handicap,” said Hall of Famer Wayne Lukas, who took over the training of Last Samurai from Dallas Stewart after last year’s race and registered the most recent of his record four wins in the race with Willis Horton’s Will Take Charge (Unbridled’s Song) nine years ago. His first? Imp Society in 1985.
“It’s a very, very tough race. But for a million dollars, it should be,” Lukas said.
Were Stilleto Boy (Shackleford) to emerge victorious Saturday, he would become the first horse since Best Pal in 1992 to complete the GI Santa Anita H./Oaklawn H. double. In addition to the presumable market leaders, he’ll also need to hold off Godolphin’s Proxy (Tapit), who came with a stinging late rally at the Great Race Place six weeks ago only to fall a neck short.
‘Skippy’ Looking Like A Million Bucks for Ben Ali
Handicap horses also head to the post at Keeneland for the GIII Ben Ali (ally as in friend, not the late pugilist) S., lengthened to a mile and three-sixteenths for the first time. The hard-knocking Skippylongstocking (Exaggerator) looms a warm favorite and would surge past the $1-million mark in career earnings if adding this to his latest comprehensive score in the GIII Challenger S. at Tampa Mar. 11.
“He came out of the Challenger well and gave us the confidence to put him in here,” said Beau Chapman, assistant to trainer Saffie Joseph, Jr. “He has improved with age. He is a big, lanky horse and he has grown into himself and really developed.”
Keeneland also stages the GIII Elkhorn S. for male marathon turfers and attracts last year’s one-two finishers, 9-year-old Channel Maker (English Channel) and 7-year-old Another Mystery (Temple City), who between them have made 84 career starts for 17 trips to the winner’s circle.
In California, Big ‘Cap third Defunded (Dialed In) squares off with 2021 winner Royal Ship (Brz) (Midshipman) in the GII Californian S., while top Cal-bred Brickyard Ride (Clubhouse Ride) takes on the progressive Anarchist (Distorted Humor) in the GIII Kona Gold S.