July 13, 2024

Last Samurai notches fourth Oaklawn stakes win in Essex Handicap

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

Last Samurai will head into his title defense of next month’s $1 million Oaklawn H. (G2) on a two-race winning streak after a popular score in the $500,000 Essex H. (G3) at Oaklawn Park on Saturday.

The even-money favorite against eight rivals following a win in last month’s Razorback H. (G3), Last Samurai made a four-wide bid into contention on the far turn and wore down long-time leader Classic Causeway in upper stretch. Under Cristian Torres, Last Samurai extended his margin to one length at the wire, completing 1 1/16 miles over a fast track in 1:43.17.

“The horse I think is just finding himself,” said Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who was winning the Essex for a third time but his first since 1991. “His confidence level is way up. Cristian’s confidence level is way up. Mine’s starting to get up.”

Owned by Willis Horton Racing, Last Samurai returned $4. Grade 1 winner Classic Causeway easily held second in his first start since late October, finishing 2 3/4 lengths clear of Forza Di Oro, who nosed out Vittorio for third. Tawny Port, Silver Prospector, 2022 Essex winner Rated R Superstar, Necker Island, and Call Me Fast completed the order of finish.

A five-year-old, Last Samurai has now won 6 of 24 starts for earnings of more than $1.9 million. All four of his stakes wins has come at Oaklawn, the first being the Poinsettia S. in December 2021.

Bred in Kentucky by Stonestreet, Last Samurai is by Malibu Moon and out of Lady Samurai, a daughter of First Samurai who has also produced the stakes-winning filly Candy Raid.

Earlier in the card, Tejano Twist stormed home down the lane to prove a decisive winner of the $200,000 Whitmore (G3) for older sprinters, beating Miles Ahead by 1 1/2 lengths. Edge to Edge, who was heavily involved in the early pace, weakened to third.

Ridden by Francisco Arrieta, Tejano Twist sped six furlongs in 1:09.27 and returned $5.80 as the 19-10 favorite in a field of 10. He is owned by JD Thoroughbreds and Joey Keith Davis, and is trained by Chris Hartman.

Winner of the Steel Valley Sprint at Mahoning Valley in November and the Lively Shively S. at Churchill Downs as a two-year-old in 2021, Tejano Twist has now taken two of three starts at Oaklawn this winter. An allowance winner on Jan. 6, he followed up with a second to Gunite in the King Cotton S. on Jan. 28.

A four-year-old by Practical Joke, Tejano Twist was bred in Kentucky by Tom Durant and is a half-brother to the stakes-winning Game Day Play. Both were reared by the Grade 3-placed Haley’s Lollipop, by Cuvee.