The venerable 8-year-old horse Best of the Rest provided a fitting ending to the second annual Florida Million Saturday at Calder Race Course with a gritty victory in the $200,000 Carl G. Rose Classic for the second straight year.
In what could be the final race of his tremendous career, the son of Skip Trial won for owner Bea Oxenberg, whose husband Bernard just passed away on Oct. 31 at age 83.
Ridden by jockey Eibar Coa for trainer Edward Plesa Jr., Best of the Rest, the 9-10 favorite in the field of five, stalked the pace set by Tour of the Cat and Abad Cabassa, Jr.
Best of the Rest seized the lead turning for home in the 1 1/8 miles race and held on tenaciously, winning by 1 ¼ lengths over Tour of the Cat. The Judge Sez Who, coming off a lengthy layoff and ridden by Jerry Bailey, finished third, 2 3/4 lengths behind the winner.
"He's been around for a long time," said Coa. "You can see by his form that he tries hard every time. Today, I really thought I was on the best horse the whole way but I was a little concerned about Tour of the Cat. He's a horse that tries hard and never quits and last time he beat my horse by going to an easy lead. Today I decided to ride different and put some pressure on him from the beginning. That's the way the race worked out. Today, the best horse won."
Best of the Rest covered the distance in 1:46 2/5 and paid $3.80, $2.40 and $2.10 for the victory. Tour of the Cat returned $3 and $2.10, while The Judge Sez Who's show was $2.10.
The gray won his 16th race in 31 starts while earning $120,000 to push his career total to $1,387,796.
Speaking of Bernie Oxenberg, Plesa said, "If you meet someone like him once in your life, you're fortunate. He was a role model. He took victory and defeat equally well. This race was one of the last things we talked about, and very possibly was (Best of the Rest's) last start. I think Bea (Oxenberg) will want to retire him sound.
"He showed again today how much heart he has. With his longevity and soundness now, after all the problems he has overcome in his career, I would think he will be very attractive to breeders."
He is scheduled for stud duty in the spring at Mike Sherman's Farnsworth Farm in Ocala.