by J. KEELER JOHNSON
Photo finishes were the fashion of the afternoon in both divisions of the $100,000 Fifth Season S. at Oaklawn Park, with tried-and-true veterans battling to narrow victories in Saturday’s feature events.
In the first division of the popular one-mile test for older males, 11-1 shot Guest Suite turned back the clock to secure his first stakes win since the 2017 Lecomte (G3) on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. Guest Suite was the biggest price in Saturday’s six-horse field, but his back class came through when it counted.
Under a perfectly-timed ride from Walter De La Cruz, Guest Suite settled behind the early leaders before shifting out in the stretch to run down Snapper Sinclair and win by a neck in 1:39.18 over a muddy track.
Snapper Sinclair, the 17-10 favorite, vied for the early lead and opened up a three-length in the stretch before faltering late. He did manage to hold second over the late-charging Night Ops, while Sky Promise, pacesetter Remembering Rita, and Chris and Dave trailed across the finish line.
A 6-year-old son of Quality Road, Guest Suite is conditioned by Cipriano Contreras for the partnership of David Rodriguez and Contreras Stable.
The second division of the Fifth Season produced another heart-pounding finish, but with the opposite outcome. The pacesetting Pioneer Spirit, employing bold tactics under jockey Orlando Mojica, committed for home at an early juncture and led by three lengths passing the eighth pole. A stiff challenge emerged from Bankit, who came slicing through the pack in deep stretch, but the wire came just in time for Pioneer Spirit, who prevailed by a desperate head in 1:38.94 over a track that had been upgraded to good.
Mocito Rojo and M G Warrior ran evenly to round out the top four, while 5-2 favorite Bravazo—runner-up in the 2018 Preakness (G1) behind Triple Crown winner Justify—failed to threaten and finished a distant fifth. Rated R Superstar, Colonelsdarktemper, and Servier completed the order of finish.
For Pioneer Spirit, the Fifth Season marked his second consecutive stakes win, following up on a victory in the Dec. 21 Tenacious S. at Fair Grounds. The 7-year-old son of Malibu Moon is trained by Robertino Diodoro and owned by Lawrence P. Roman, Heads Up Racing, and Lucky Dog Stables.
Also on Saturday, trainer Larry Jones saddled his improving 4-year-old filly Whoa Nellie to secure her initial stakes triumph in the $100,000 Pippin S. A stoutly-bred daughter of Orb, Whoa Nellie was content to settle in eighth place early on under jockey Joe Rocco, 8 1/2 lengths behind quick fractions set by Lady Suebee. But when the real running began, Whoa Nellie rallied powerfully to crush runner-up Special Relativity by 4 1/2 lengths, stopping the timer in 1:39.50 for a mile.
Cairenn finished third, followed by Lady Suebee, Notapradaprice, Magical Remedy, Sara Sea, and Blue Moonrise. Purchased for $220,000 as a yearling by Fox Hill Farms, Whoa Nellie was securing her fifth victory from nine starts and appears poised to enjoy a strong season.