HOT SPRINGS -- The equine version of Ginobili is back and perhaps better than ever.
The consensus of the horseman with entrants in the $150,000 Fifth Season Stakes for horses four years old and up stated Ginobili -- the four-length winner over 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.35 -- was nearly unbeatable at Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort on Saturday.
Ginobili, a 6-year-old son of Munnings trained by Peter Miller and named for former pro basketball star Manu Ginobili, won with minimal effort, jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. said.
"Man, I'll tell you what, I think he only gave me 75 to 80% of what he had today," he said.
Nick Cosato of Slam Dunk Racing, part of Ginobili's ownership, said Santana's report pleased him.
"There's nothing wrong with leaving a little gas in the tank, right?" he said. "So if he has a little more gas, it will only help us down the line."
Under Martin Garcia, Runnin' Ray closed 11/2 lengths in the quarter-mile homestretch to finish second, a half length in front of third-place Rated R Superstar, the 10-year-old son of Kodiak Cowboy who closed fastest of all. Heart Rhythm finished fourth in the field of 10, 51/4 lengths behind the winner.
Dreamer's Disease, off at 51-1, led through the first quarter-mile as expected in 23.23. Ginobili cruised along in second, a length back as the 9-5 favorite.
Still in the lead, Dreamer's Disease covered the half-mile in 46.53, a length in front of Ginobili's seemingly effortless jog. Runnin' Ray was in fourth, five lengths back. Dreamer's Disease would finish last, 193/4 lengths behind Ginobili, who took the lead into the final turn and led through three-quarters of a mile in 1:11.08.
With a quarter-mile to go, Runnin' Ray was second, 51/2 lengths behind Ginobili.
"My horse is really, really a warrior," Garcia said. "He tries all the time. I know today was a tough race, but he always gives me a chance."
Danny Caldwell, Rated R Superstar's owner, said the race was set up as he hoped. Still, he said his entrant probably needed a longer stretch run to the 1-mile wire and an opponent other than Ginobili.
"Closers had a shot today," Caldwell said. "[Ginobili] got the jump on us. I don't think we would've caught him anyway, even going a mile and a 1/16th. We might've run second, but I don't think we would have caught Ginobili today."
Rated R Superstar won last season's Fifth Season. Two starts later, he won Oaklawn's Grade III Essex Handicap over 11/16 miles.
Santana declined credit for his ride on the winner.
"The only thing I can say, anybody could have won on that horse today, how he was training in the morning," he said. "He was training impressively, and I was excited to see him come back from a layoff."
Ginobili, a winner of a Grade II mile race two seasons back who finished second in the Grade I Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile at Del Mar in 2021, injured his left foreleg 11 months ago. He took 10 months off, and returned to finish second, a head behind the winner who ran 6-furlongs in 1:08.27 at Del Mar, a suburb of San Diego, on Nov. 20.
Cosato said his winner was indeed named for the retired Argentinian NBA star Manu Ginobili.
"I just loved the way Charles Barkley on TNT, every time Ginobili would play, would [shout], 'Ginobili!' " Cosato said.
"They'd go to a commercial break, and he's still screaming, 'Ginobili.' The thought was, if we ever got him down in the winner's circle, people would be going, 'Ginobili.' We were doing that today."
Robertino Diodoro trains Soy Tapatio, the 3-1 Fifth Season second choice who finished seventh, 91/4 lengths behind Ginobili.
"The horse who won the race today, he was the real deal," Diodoro said. "I think he made everyone look bad today, to be honest. He's an extremely nice horse."
Ginobili exits the Fifth Season with a career record of 4-3-1 and earnings of $564,950 in 17 starts.
"He did what he was asked today," Cosato said. "He's still lightly raced, so hopefully the best is ahead of him."