June 19, 2024

Last Samurai seeks rare repeat in Oaklawn Handicap

Last Samurai wins the Essex Stakes (Photo by Coady Photography)

Last Samurai paid $27.80 to win after upsetting the 2022 edition of the $1 million Oaklawn H. (G2), but will be a fraction of that price should he pull off a rare repeat in the 1 1/8-mile test on Saturday. Indeed, Last Samurai’s recent form — back-to-back wins in the Razorback H. (G3) and Essex H. (G3) — could make him the betting favorite, despite the presence of several capable shippers.

Last Samurai is trained by D. Wayne Lukas, who first won the Oaklawn ‘Cap in 1985 and then captured it for a record-breaking fourth time in 2014 with champion Will Take Charge. The only two-time winning horse in race history has been Gay Revoke, who won back-to-back renewals in 1964-65.

Stiletto Boy and Proxy, separated by a neck in the Santa Anita H. (G1) last month, ship in from their respective bases in California and Kentucky. Both have been inconsistent visitors to the winner’s circle in recent years, though each has a top-level wins to their credit. Proxy’s occurred last November in the Clark (G1) at Churchill Downs, in which Last Samurai finished seven lengths behind in fourth.

The above trio last met in the Pegasus World Cup (G1) in late January. Stilleto Boy finished best in third, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of fourth-place Last Samurai, who had a half-length on Proxy.

The Oaklawn ‘Cap will be the first attempt over nine furlongs for Charge It since his runner-up finish in the Florida Derby (G1) in his stakes debut a year ago. Later a 23-length winner of the Dwyer (G3) around one turn, the Todd Pletcher charge was most recently second as a heavy favorite in the Gulfstream Park Mile (G2).

Classic Causeway, a graded stakes winner on dirt and turf, is the probable pacesetter after showing the way in the Essex, in which he finished second to Last Samurai. Grade 3 winner Senor Buscador, meanwhile, will likely attempt to rally from far back, as is his custom. The field is rounded out by local fan favorite Rated R Superstar, still plugging along at age 10 but seemingly up against it facing this group.

Among the supporting features is the $200,000 Bath House Row S., a nine-furlong event which will offer an automatic entry into the Preakness (G1) for the winning three-year-old. Notables include the deep-closing Red Route One, second in the Southwest (G3) and Rebel (G2) earlier in the meet but only sixth in the Arkansas Derby (G1) earlier this month despite the addition of blinkers.

His competition includes two speed horses, Smarty Jones S. winner Victory Formation and Two Eagles River, who faded to seventh after setting the pace in the Arkansas Derby.