HOT SPRINGS -- The 73rd running of the Oaklawn Handicap lacked a heavy favorite, a big name from last season's Triple Crown series or a star from the Breeders' Cup.
What it did have was a neck-and-neck finish.
Quip, the runner-up one year ago in the Arkansas Derby, won in his second trip to Oaklawn Park, holding off the late charge of Lone Sailor to win the Grade II race over a racing surface that started the day listed as sloppy and ended even sloppier after an afternoon of rain.
Quip, ridden by Jose Ortiz, finished 1⅛ miles in 1:50.21, but he had plenty of company.
The 4-year-old colt by Distorted Humor finished a neck ahead of Lone Sailor, who finished a neck ahead of third-place horse Pioneer Spirit.
It was another neck back to 35-1 long-shot Remembering Rita, who finished one neck ahead of Giant Expectations, the second betting choice who finished fifth.
Good thing horses have long necks, or it might have been impossible for the photo-finish camera to determine the top five.
To hear Ortiz tell it, Quip might as well have the neck of a giraffe because nobody was going to pass him after he took over the lead from Pioneer Spirit and Remembering Rita in midstretch.
Lone Sailor was coming, Ortiz said, but not fast enough.
"He switches leads, boom, he gave me another kick," said Ortiz, who has ridden Quip in both of his starts this year. "He would never let that other horse by him."
Ortiz's biggest problem arrived as the horses headed into the far turn, from the half-mile pole to the quarter pole, when Joel Rosario and Giant Expectations tried to keep Ortiz's mount pinned inside.
"He broke clean and put me into a good position going into the first turn," Ortiz said. "But I had to fight with Rosario a little bit for my position. He was coming to take it. I had to fight him, fight him from taking it.
"The main thing was keeping him in the clear, that's what I did."
Winning trainer Rodolphe Brisset said he could have used some reassurance as the horses ran down the backstretch with Quip running fourth, 3½ lengths behind Pioneer Spirit and 2½ lengths back of Remembering Rita.
"We were expecting to be close," Brisset said. "He looked like on the backside, the horse was not really taking us anywhere, but he was keeping position."
And that's all Ortiz wanted, to keep the horse in the clear, which was no easy task with Rosario and Giant Expectations tracking him every step of the way.
Lone Sailor, one of three deep closers in the race, was seventh for 6 furlongs, but he was only 7 lengths behind as the leaders posted moderate fractions of 23.65, 47.65 and 1:11.99.
The race heated up in the fourth quarter, with four horses hitting the mile mark in 1:37.46 separated by three noses and neck.
Quip had the lead at that point, with the pace-setters still battling to the inside and Giant Expectations to the outside.
Lone Sailor remained 2 lengths back, but he was coming and trainer Tom Amoss said he had a good feeling.
"I got my excitement's worth," Amoss said.
Trainer Steve Asmussen had plenty of excitement on the under card, winning four races -- including the Count Fleet Handicap with Mitole -- but Asmussen's entrants were no factor in the Oaklawn Handicap.
Race favorite Tenfold never got involved early and ended up seventh, beaten nearly 8 lengths.
Stablemate Lookin At Lee, the 2017 Kentucky Derby runner-up, came in eighth, nearly 10 lengths back.
Quip, the third choice in the betting, paid $13 to win. Lone Sailor paid $8.20 to place and $6.20 to show as the 8-1 fifth choice.
Pioneer Spirit, at 10-1, paid $7.80 and made trainer Brad Cox a happy man as he led every step of the way until the final eighth and still got beat less than a half length.
Quip earned $450,00 with his fourth victory in eight career starts and is just short of being a millionaire with $942,500.
Is Quip going to be a star in the older horse division? Cox said he's not ready to dismiss any of the horses that ran Saturday.
"How do you know?" he said. "These horses could go on to be big names. It was a solid group of horses, a great purse, a great race. We were happy to be a part of it."
Sports on 04/14/2019
Print Headline: Quip's neck longest in tight pack