HOT SPRINGS -- Seniors combined to direct the final thoroughbred champion of Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort's 2021-22 season.
J & J Thoroughbred's Souixper Charger, a 6-year-old son of Portobello Road ridden by 55-year-old Luis Quinonez and trained by 69-year-old John Prather, won the fourth running of the $200,000 Arkansas Breeders' Championship for Arkansas-bred horses 3 years old and up in 1:37.48 over 1 1/16 mles before an estimated crowd of 18,000 at Oaklawn on Saturday.
The Arkansas Breeders' Championship was the final of 36 stakes races run during Oaklawn's 2021-22 season, which began on Dec. 3 and will conclude today.
"I told my owner, I thought this horse was really good and he's getting better," Prather said. "I thought it was a good spot. He kind of trusted me and it worked."
Prather said the Arkansas Breeders' Championship was the highlight of his career.
Souixper Charger, off at 6-1, finished three lengths in front of 3-1 favorite Bandit Point, ridden by Kelsi Harr for owner and trainer Robert Cline to a second-place finish. JRita Thoroughbreds' and Robert LaPenta's Man in the Can, ridden by Alex Canchari and trained by Ron Moquett, finished third, 4 1/2 lengths behind the winner and 1 3/4 lengths in front of fourth-place Twisted Dixie, owned by Val Yagos, ridden by Gabriel Saez and trained by Cline.
Fourteen horses started in the Arkansas Breeders' Championship 32 minutes after long-shot Rich Strike won the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.
More than a thousand fans packed into Oaklawn's track-level main hall and watched as Rich Strike, who started at 81-1, passed 4-1 favorite Epicenter shortly before the wire. Epicenter, who finished second, raced from the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, Oaklawn's 2021-22 training champion. Asmussen is North America's all-time leader in training wins but has yet to train a Derby winner.
"I can't believe it after Epicenter's effort," Asmussen said.
Rich Strike won the 148th Derby at the second-longest odds since the Derby began in 1875. Donerail won the 1913 Derby at 91-1.
In the Arkansas Breeders' Championship, heavy traffic troubled several, including the winner.
"It got a little rough the first part, the first turn, but after that, stayed good," Quinonez said. "He was able to rate just enough. On the backside, he got the lead and wasn't running off, so I just stayed quiet on him. Down the lane, I asked him and he responded."
Man in the Can broke first from the gate but was passed before the first turn by Dinner at Crumpies, who led through the opening quarter-mile in 23.73.
Beforehand, as the field worked through the turn, Dinner at Crumpies, ridden by Francisco Arrieta to an eventual ninth-place finish, drifted out and jolted Man in the Can.
"I was in a perfect spot, and he came over and knocked me sideways," Canchari said. "I just tried to go from there."
Man in the Can recovered quickly and was in fourth, two lengths behind the leader, Souixper Charger, at the half run in 47.43.
Jerry Caroom's Tempt Fate, the winner of the 2021 Arkansas Breeders' Championship, had the lead through three-quarters in 1:11.49 but ran virtually abreast of the winner and Dinner at Crumpies.
Souixper Charger briefly took control in the stretch but Bandit Point had momentum along the rail and seemed geared to win his first career stakes. However, Souixper Charger dug in and pulled away.
"Hat's off to Souixper Charger and congratulations to John Henry Prather," Cline said. "That horse, he's paid his dues. He's just like me. He's been around, and I barely caught him last time, and I couldn't catch him this time, so hat's off to them. I was proud of both of mine. They ran their race.
"I didn't know who to root for turning for home. I thought they both had a chance. I thought we had a shot to catch the winner, and that horse kept running. Again, congratulations to [Souixper Charger's] connections."
Bandit Point won his last start in a $107,000 1-mile-and-1/16th state-bred allowance at Oaklawn on April 10. Souixper Charger finished second, one length back.
Prather, who wore a sling in deference to recent surgery on his right shoulder, seemed unmoved by Souixper Charger's success.
"I'm happy just being in business," he said. "I'm happy just making it to work each day."