Hot Springs, AR (Saturday, April 16, 2016)- Effinex enhanced his status as one of the top older horses in North America with an assertive victory in the 70th edition of the $750,000 (G2) Oaklawn Handicap at Oaklawn Saturday.
The Tri-Bone Stable’s color bearer, who was dispatched by the on-track crowed of 65,000 as the 8-5 favorite in the field of eight, prevailed under Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith in a long and spirited duel through the lane with 2-1 second choice Melatonin to finish one length in front in 1:49 for the 1 1/8 miles on a fast track. Point Piper, the longest shot on the board at 41-1, staged a mild rally to be third, another 2 3/4 lengths back.
Effinex, who is trained by Jimmy Jerkens, turned the tables on the David Hofmans-trained Melatonin. In the last start for both horses, Melatonin won the (G1) Santa Anita Handicap at Santa Anita while Effinex was third. But Effinex was suffering from a severe case of hives at the time.
In the Oaklawn Handicap Effinex was at the top of his game, and he brought his ‘A Game’ against a top quality and deep field.
“He was a different horse today,” said Smith, who has ridden the horse four straight time, including their win in the (G1) Clark Handicap in November. “He just wasn’t happy in California because of the hives “He battled with Melatonin down the backside and just kicked it into another gear.”
Jerkens, who watched the race on TV from his base in New York, was equally impressed.
“That was really nice,” said Jerkens. “I am very pleased with what he did today. He stayed closer to the pace than he’s used to doing. He really likes that track, and he likes it fast like that. He grabbed it right away, which I was happy to see because I thought he was going to end up losing too much ground coming out of the gate. Mike let him run a little more to cross over and that was a good job on his part.”
Joe Talamo, who was aboard Melatonin as they set early easy splits of :23, :47.4, and 1:12, took nothing away from Melatonin and praised his gallant try.
“We had a great trip. The winner was to the outside of me the whole way. My horse tried hard and gave a great effort. I was very proud of his race. He ran a great effort in defeat,” said Talamo.
Effinex, who was second to 2015 (G1) Arkansas Derby winner, Triple Crown winner and Horse of the Year American Pharaoh in the Breeders’ Cup Nov. 1, will head home to New York.
“We don’t know what’s next. We want to get him home and get him back to the barn. We want to savor this one a little bit before think about that. It’s a long year and there are a lot of races for him,” said Jerkens.
Blofeld, Upstart, Domain’s Rap, Carve and Financial Modeling completed the order of finish.
Effinex, a son of Mineshaft out of the E Dubai mare What a Pear, was bred by Dr. Russell Cohen in New York and now has a record of 8-2-4 from 22 starts. The $450,000 winner’s share of the purse pushed his earnings to $3,773,950.
In the 19th running of the Northern Spur Stakes, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners’ Decorated Soldier became a first time stakes winner for trainer Todd Pletcher when he closed from off the pace and kicked clear in the lane to prevail by a neck over Big Red Rocket.
The 3-1 second choice in the field of 10 3yos covered the one mile in 1:37.4, just a tick off the stakes record of 1:34.3, on a fast track with John Velazquez, who won the $600,000 (G1) Apple Blossom here Friday, in the irons. Big Red Rocket, trained by W.T. Howard, was one length in front of Unexplained. Madcap, the 2-1 favorite, was never a factor in the outcome.
“We broke decent enough and we were a little bit wide in the first turn. There were a lot of horses in front of me headed into the backstretch. I wanted to put him in the clear but was too far out. But I got around them and I put him into position and I got him going forward. He did it pretty nicely,” said Velazquez, who would ride Gettsyburg in the $1 million (G1) Arkansas Derby and Blofeld in the $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) later on the card.
Decorated Soldier, a maiden winner in his last at Tampa Bay Downs, has now won two of three outings and the son of Proud Citizen our of a Colonial Affair mare has earned $106,050.
Z Royal, Major League, Madtap, Malibu Moon, Uno MA’s Modelo Giant Trick and Tisdale completed the order of finish.
In the 14th running of the Instant Racing Stakes for 3yo filly sprinters, Bert Klein and Richard Klein’s homebred Cash Back was trying the main track for the first time, stretching out to six furlongs for the first time and making her first start at Oaklawn Park.
But none of that deterred the 2.30-1 second pick in the field of six from remaining undefeated in four efforts as she dueled through early fractions with Simple Surprise and kicked clear down the lane to cross under the wire in 1:11 on a fast track under Irad Ortiz, Jr.
Cash Back, who is by Congrats out of the Mt. Livermore mare Hidden Assets, finished 2 lengths in front of 2-1 favorite Durango, while Simple Surprise hung on for third and was a neck back.
“She ran good. She’s now won on both surfaces (dirt and turf). She’s a nice filly and she showed up on the dirt today, which was a little unknown fact,” said trainer Brad Cox, who won the Instant Racing for the first time and said that the filly is nominated for the Eight Belles at Churchill Downs or she could instead start next in the Miss Preakness Stakes.
Cash Back returned $6.60, $3.60 Andy $2.60 and doubled her earnings to $180,105 with the $90,000 winner’s share of the purse.
She’s a Bootsy Too, Just Wicked and Grantastica completed the order of finish. Seeking Angels was scratched.
$750,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) Quotes
Trainer Jimmy Jerkens, Effinex (via phone) – “That was really nice. I am very pleased with what he did today. He stayed closer to the pace than he’s used to doing. He really likes that track, and he likes it fast like that. He grabbed it right away, which I was happy to see because I thought he was going to end up losing too much ground coming out of the gate. Mike (Smith) let him run a little more to cross over and that was a good job on his part.
“We don’t know what’s next. We want to get him home (to New York) and get him back to the barn. We want to savor this one a little bit before think about that. It’s a long year and there are a lot of races for me.”
Kent Sweezey, assistant trainer to Jimmy Jerkens (victorious Effinex): “Jimmy spoke to Mike this morning on the phone and said, ‘If you need to ride him out of there to get position, do so.’ He did it perfectly. The horse broke well – they all broke well, really. And Mike rode him a little bit to get him position; he didn’t go too wide on the turn. (Asked) the horse about the half-mile pole, and after that it looked like he had a lot more horse than everybody else did.”
(Top three all came out of Santa Anita Handicap) “On paper, I wasn’t sure how strong it was going to be (SAH), but it turned out to be a really strong race. We’ll go home, regroup and see where we go from here. We’ll probably stay home for the next one.”
Dr. Russell Cohen DVM, breeder and who manages Effinex, which runs in his mother’s name: “He did what good horses do: Just dug in. The horse has the DNA and the heart of a champion, and I’m proud of him.
“(Melatonin) hung in there tough. He’s a good horse, a real competitor. Effinex is really game. He’s running to his pedigree. What we do is to some degree limited. The horse is just plain talented. Jimmy Jerkens has done a fabulous job with the horse, all the connections. I take very little credit for it. I have a great braintrust of people surrounding me, taking advice from a lot of really smart people. The horse is who he is: a good horse.”
Note: Effinex was housed in D. Wayne Lukas’ barn, and the Hall of Fame trainer came up to Cohen and gave him a big bear hug. Also in that barn was Apple Blossom winner Forever Unbridled, trained by former Lukas assistant Dallas Stewart.
Said Cohen: “Wayne said, ‘You better win this race. We’ve got to keep the barn hot. Maybe it was the Lukas factor and being under his shedrow. I’m a big fan of D. Wayne.”
Winning rider Mike Smith – “He was a different horse today. He just wasn’t happy in California because of the hives. He battled with Melatonin down the backside and just kicked it into another gear.”
Jockey Joe Talamo, second on Melatonin – “We had a great trip, the winner was to the outside of me the whole way. My horse tried hard and gave a great effort. I was very proud of his race. He ran a great race in defeat.”
Trainer David Hofmans, second with Melatonin – “Had a great trip. Effinex didn’t let us get an easy enough lead. He pressured us the whole time. It was kind of a reversal of what happened in California. We got an easier lead, able to relax a little more. He was a better horse today. He may be a better horse anyway.”
Jockey Martin Garcia, third on Point Piper – “I had a really good trip. I stayed on the rail for most of the trip and turning for home we moved around horses and got a good kick. He was running but the other horses in front where much the best today. My horse ran one of his best races today and I’m proud of him for that.”
Dan Ward, assistant trainer to Jerry Hollendorfer (third-place Point Piper): “He ran very well. The same two horses finished in front of him last time, and he ran a very good race. I’m very proud of him.”