Michael Langford’s Jonesboro was gunned right to the lead by Calvin Borel from his outside post, and was never challenged as he raced to a 5 3/4-length victory in the $100,000 Essex Handicap (gr. III) before a crowd of 16,602 on Saturday at Oaklawn Park.
Red Raymond, after being knocked sideways going to the first turn, rallied to finish second under Luis Quinonez in the 1 1/16-mile contest, 2 1/2 lengths before More Than Regal and Timothy Doocy.
The victory was especially timely for Jonesboro, a 5-year-old son of Sefapiano trained by Randy Morse, because he is the only stakes winner of the 15 foals produced by his dam, Mom's Command, who was euthanized last weekend at age 25 at a New Hampshire farm.
Mom’s Command was the champion 3-year-old filly of 1985.
This was the second stakes victory for Jonesboro, who was named by Langford for his home town in eastern Arkansas. The chestnut won the 2005 running of the Northern Spur Breeders’ Cup, also at Oaklawn Park.
Jonesboro, who telegraphed his fitness with a five-furlong bullet work in :59 4/5 between races on Jan. 28, opened three lengths on the field going to the first turn. Working through easy fractions of :23 2/5, :47 1/5 and 1:12 2/5, he shook off tepid challenges from Joey Carson and Commander Buck down the backstretch, and with Borel looking back several times through the lane for non-existent opposition, was hand-ridden to the wire.
The victory was the sixth in 16 starts for Jonesboro, and the $60,000 first prize boosted his bankroll to $277,885. He was clocked in 1:44 1/5, three seconds faster than Rockport Harbor’s winning time in the ’06 Essex, and he returned $10.80 $5 and $3.40.
The exacta with Red Raymond ($4.80, $3.40) paid $61, and with More Than Regal ($4.20) in third, the trifecta came back $201.90 for $1.
Jonesboro was the second of three winners for Borel.
Rotary, Thunder Mission, Commander Buck, Absent Friend, Mr. Pursuit and Joey Carson completed the order.
Mr. Pursuit, the 7-2 favorite, was carried out on the first turn and ran a dull race.