Also expected to vie for favoritism in the Essex is Mike Langford's Jonesboro, second in the Louisiana Breeders' Cup at Fair Grounds. The 1 1/16-mile event is the first "hundred-grander" of the Oaklawn meet.
Mr. Pursuit, who races for former Oaklawn training champion Joe Petalino, enjoyed a standout year in 2006, logging five wins from 19 starts and earnings of $362,395. The bay son of General Royal won a pair of starts at Oaklawn early in the year and comes off a closing second, 3 1/2 lengths behind Student Council, in the Maxxim. The winner of the 2006 Oklahoma Derby has jockey Cliff Berry back for the Essex.
Jonesboro, a speedy sort, breezed an impressive five furlongs in :59 4/5 in front of the crowd at Oaklawn on Jan. 28. Jonesboro sports a career mark of five wins from 15 starts and earnings of $217,885. He won the 2005 Northern Spur Breeders' Cup at Oaklawn. He will tote 116 and Calvin Borel on Saturday.
Sure to get solid backing is Vinery Stable's More Than Regal, winner of the Prairie Meadows, Iowa and Zia Park derbies during his 2006 season. The Steve Asmussen trainee has amassed a career mark of five wins from 16 starts and earnings of $543,091.
What could end up being the values of the field are H and H Ranch's Absent Friend and Thomas Franks' Red Raymond.
Absent Friend ran a bang-up second in allowance company in his first race at Oaklawn since winning the 2005 Essex. The 7-year-old gray, now trained by Chris Hartman, has won six of his 32 starts and earned $294,906.
Red Raymond, third in the Southwest and second in the Rebel (gr. III) at Oaklawn last year, has trained forwardly and should have plenty of support. Handled by Oaklawn training standout Bob Holthus, the 4-year-old son of Deputy Commandercomes to the Essex off a strong second to the talented Well Said in a tough allowance race at Fair Grounds in December.
$100,000 Essex Handicap (gr. III, Race 9, 4:48 p.m.), 4 & Up, 1 1/16 Miles
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Go Now (KY), 114, John McKee
2. More Than Regal (KY), 116, Timothy T. Doocy
3. Red Raymond (KY), 113, Luis S. Quinonez
4. Thunder Mission (KY), 114, Eusebio Razo, Jr.
5. Joey Carson (PA), 113, Stewart Elliott
6. Sampson's Son (KY), 115, Willie Martinez
7. Mr. Pursuit (KY), 118, M. Clifton Berry
8. Absent Friend (KY), 114, Terry J. Thompson
9. Jonesboro (KY), 116, Calvin H. Borel
10. Commander Buck (KY), 114, Perry Compton
11. Rotary (KY), 114, Larry J. Sterling, Jr.