HOT SPRINGS -- As most of Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort's estimated crowd of 3,500 expected, The Mary Rose romped.
The Mary Rose, a 5-year-old daughter of Macho Uno owned by John Ed Anthony of Hot Springs, ridden by Manny Esquivel, and trained by John Ortiz, won the $150,000 1-mile Natural State Breeders' Stakes for fillies and mares 3 years old and up in 1:37.24 at Oaklawn.
The Mary Rose's win at 3-5 came by an ever-expanding 9 3/4 lengths after a brief threat appeared at the head of the stretch from Connie K.
"When I asked her, she was just there for me," Esquivel said. "[Ortiz], as always, did a great job with her."
Connie K held on to finish second, 2 1/4 lengths ahead of third-place Kaboom Baby. My Dams Atitude, off at 38-1, finished fourth, 12 3/4 lengths behind the winner in the field of 10.
Morse trains Connie K and said she and the favorite impressed him.
"We ran into a monster," Morse said. "They don't lose at this meet. Hat's off to her. She's a good mare. I'm tickled to death to finish second."
Ortiz, who trains Barber Road, an entrant in today's Kentucky Derby, said he hoped the first running of the Natural State Breeders' serves as a harbinger for the 148th Derby.
"It could be a cool little omen, I guess," Ortiz said. "You know, winning with The Mary Rose and [today] running for the roses. Hopefully, I'll be taking home the roses."
Less than half an hour after The Mary Rose won the Natural State Breeders', Secret Oath -- the brightest star of Oaklawn's 2021-22 season -- eternalized her greatness with a win in Churchill's Grade I Kentucky Oaks for 3-year-old fillies.
Secret Oath is the fifth filly trained by D. Wayne Lukas to win the Oaks. The total tied the Oaks' record. Secret Oath qualified for the Oaks with wins in Oaklawn's Martha Washington and Grade III Honeybee Stakes this season.
"When I saw her moving around the turn, I turned and hugged my wife and said, 'Here we go,' '' said Lukas, a member of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. "It feels great."
In the Natural State Breeders', The Mary Rose led from the start, a result of circumstance rather than design.
"She broke very sharply and clean," Esquivel said. "John told me that if someone really wants to lead, then let them go, but she broke perfectly."
"We were expecting a little more speed," Ortiz said. "I thought we'd be able to find a way to track it. When she took over the lead early, she just relaxed."
The Mary Rose led Connie K by a length and a half through the opening quarter-mile in 23.64 and the half in 47.84. At three quarters, passed in 1:12.13, Connie K had pulled within half a length. Esquivel said he noticed Connie K's late surge and that his filly responded as if it was an encroachment.
"As soon as The Mary Rose felt her, she just took me," Esquivel said. "The horse ran great. That's all you can ask for."
Ortiz credited The Mary Rose's intelligence and familiarity with the track. Each of her six career wins has come at Oaklawn.
"This filly is very smart," he said. "Obviously, I think she's a horse for the course. She's got all her wins here, and I'm glad she's a stakes winner. Honestly, thanks to Mr. John Ed Anthony and the Shortleaf team."
The win added to Anthony's record total of success as an Oaklawn owner. His horses took the racetrack's all-time lead in wins on Feb. 26. The total stands at 279 after the Natural State Breeders', which was the final Oaklawn start for his horses this season.
"We came in with a nice group of horses and we've won, certainly, some nice races," Anthony said. "The Arkansas program has been very kind to us, and I applaud that program under the leadership of Bill McDowell and his board. They have helped bring this Arkansas-bred industry to the forefront."