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2022 Tinsel Stakes Preview & FREE Picks | Last Samurai Back At Oaklawn Park, Now With D. Wayne Lukas
Last Samurai (Coady Photography)

2022 Tinsel Stakes Preview & FREE Picks | Last Samurai Back At Oaklawn Park, Now With D. Wayne Lukas

Aaron previews the 2022 Tinsel Stakes from Oaklawn Park, then gives his top picks & long shots. After winning the 2021 Poinsettia Stakes and the 2022 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for a previous barn, local hero Last Samurai is back at his favorite track and is now under the care of “The Coach” – aka Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Find out if Aaron picked him to win, then tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!

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The track press release:

Tom Durant’s promising Run Classic is the 8-5 program favorite for his scheduled Oaklawn debut in Saturday’s second running of the $200,000 Tinsel Stakes at 1 1/8 miles.

Probable post time for the Tinsel, the ninth of 10 races, is 4:14 p.m. (Central). Racing begins at 12:30 p.m. The undercard includes the $150,000 Poinsettia Stakes and the return of 2022 Arkansas Derby runner-up Barber Road in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race.

The projected eight-horse Tinsel field from the rail out: Last Samurai, Rafael Bejarano to ride, 125 pounds, 9-2 on the morning line; Hozier, Ricardo Santana Jr., 125, 10-1; Run Classic, Brian Hernandez Jr., 122, 8-5; Bal Harbour, Cristian Torres, 118, 5-2; Silver Dust, Nik Juarez, 118, 20-1; Logical Myth, Tyler Baze, 118, 10-1; King Fury, David Cabrera, 118, 6-1; and Scarlet Fusion, Francisco Arrieta, 125, 12-1.

The Tinsel, for 3-year-olds and up, is the first major local prep for the $1 million Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older horses at 1 1/8 miles April 22. The Oaklawn Handicap is the major spring objective for Barber Road, who had been under consideration for the Tinsel before trainer John Ortiz opted for the allowance spot.

Trainer Bret Calhoun said he hopes Run Classic will be in the conversation for races like the Oaklawn Handicap next spring. The 4-year-old son of champion sprinter Runhappy has only made six lifetime starts, owing to physical setbacks dating to his stakes debut in the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) for 3-year-olds at 1 3/16 miles in March 2021 at Fair Grounds. Run Classic, a $475,000 2-year-old in training purchase, was sidelined 18 months.

“He had a sore suspensory out of the Louisiana Derby,” Calhoun said. “We gave him time off. Got him back and was almost all ready to run. He had a (sprained) joint capsule. Gave him more time off. Just some things back and forth. There was never anything major, but it always required some time. He’s a big horse, very fast and athletic, and sometimes that will cause some injuries. Tom Durant’s been very patient with him. We’ve given him all the time he’s needed and he’s made it back and rewarded us. Hopefully, he’ll reward us with a very long, strong campaign this time.”

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Sandwiched around an eighth-place finish in the Louisiana Derby was a 3 ¼-length maiden victory at 1 1/16 miles in February 2021 at Fair Grounds and a three-quarter length victory in his comeback, a Sept. 22 first-level allowance sprint at Churchill Downs.

Run Classic then generated a career-high 105 Beyer Speed Figure for a sparkling 8 ¼-length victory of an about 7-furlong allowance race Oct. 16 at Keeneland before finishing second, beaten a head, in his last start, a 1 1/16-mile allowance race Nov. 13 at Churchill Downs.

Under Hernandez, his regular rider, Run Classic made the early lead in his route return, but was pressed through demanding fractions of :46.88 for a half-mile and 1:11.92 for 6 furlongs. Run Classic shook free in the upper stretch, only to be nailed in the shadow of the wire.

“It was kind of a heartbreaking effort, honestly,” Calhoun said. “Disappointing. Not disappointed in him or his effort, just disappointed to lose. He did all the dirty work, suicide-type pace. He held on to the bitter end. Very good race. Just a tough one to lose.”

Although Run Classic has been based this month at Fair Grounds, Calhoun said he chose to send the colt to Oaklawn because of its lucrative series of two-turn stakes races for older horses. It continues with the $150,000 Fifth Season at 1 mile Jan. 14, $600,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) Feb. 18 and the $500,000 Essex Handicap (G3) March 18. The Razorback and Essex are 1 1/16 miles. Calhoun also has a string at Oaklawn.

“Obviously, Oaklawn’s got some large purses to run at later in the year,” Calhoun said. “I really wanted to let this horse get over there and get a feel for the racetrack and see how he handled it and see if we might be pointing for some of the bigger stakes later on in the meet. This was the first one that came up and timing-wise it gives us some spacing between this race and some of the others. It’s a good spot for us.”

Calhoun said the distance is a natural progression since Run Classic’s other three starts this year have come at 6 furlongs, about 7 furlongs and 1 1/16 miles.

“Everybody asks about the distance,” said Calhoun, who won the 2020 Oaklawn Handicap with By My Standards. “I don’t think you know until you try it. Physically, he looks like a horse that’s made for this – his high cruising speed. I don’t think that will be an issue.”

Trainer Robertino Diodoro, who sends out Grade 1-placed Bal Harbour, won the inaugural Tinsel last December with millionaire multiple Grade 2 winner Lone Rock. Claimed on behalf of Little Rock, Ark., attorney John Holleman for $50,000 Sept. 5 at Saratoga, Bal Harbour will be making his second start for his new connections. The gelding finished third in the $350,000 Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance Stakes (G2) at 1 5/8 miles on the Breeders’ Cup undercard Nov. 4 at Keeneland. Lone Rock swept the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and Tinsel in 2021.

“We really thought, hopefully, that he would be a stakes horse here, for the ($150,000s),” Diodoro said of Bal Harbour. “Later on, when you get to the big money, there’s going to be ship ins. The way he won the day we claimed him, we were pretty excited and again the way he ran in the Breeders’ Cup. I think he should be good to go. He’s had some good works.”

Last Samurai, now with Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, is seeking his first victory since last April’s $1 million Oaklawn Handicap (G2). King Fury is a Grade 3 winner for trainer Kenny McPeek. Hozier exits a front-running 3 ½-length victory in the $300,000 off-the-turf River City Handicap at 1 1/8 miles Nov. 13 at Churchill Downs for trainer Rodolphe Brisset. Hozier is also entered in the $125,000 Prairie Bayou Stakes at 1 1/16 miles Saturday at Turfway Park.