Front-running Racing Bran, thanks to a heady ride from Chris Emigh, ran away from odds-on choice Win Willy and the rest of the field in the $100,000 Essex Handicap at Oaklawn Park Feb. 6 (VIDEO).
Sent off at 11-1, the 5-year-old Racing Bran scored the first stakes victory of his career for owner William Stiritz and trainer Scott Becker.
Stiritz, who bred the son of Awesome Again in Illinois, claimed Racing Bran with Becker from Dolphus C. Morrison and trainer Lon Wiggins for $30,000 at Hawthorne Dec. 3. That came six weeks after the bay gelding was claimed from them by Wiggins for the same price.
Breaking alertly in the Essex, Racing Bran got clear soon after the start. He had opened a two-length lead after a quarter-mile for Emigh, who slowed things to a crawl while posting fractions of :24.18, :49.11, and 1:14.34 over a track labeled good for the 1 1/16-mile test. Racing Bran maintained a comfortable advantage before shaking off a tepid bid from Crook's Bodgit late on the final turn.
Racing Bran spurted to a four-length advantage in the lane and held sway through the drive to win by 4 1/4 lengths under steady urging from Emigh. The final time was 1:46.13.
Win Willy, 56-1 winner of the Rebel Stakes (gr. II) as a 3-year-old last year, showed no early foot and was not much of a factor. Racing in seventh into the final turn for M.C. Berry, Win Willy angled out for the stretch run and was fully extended to get the place spot by a neck over Prom Shoes and Corey Nakatani. Prom Shoes won the Essex in 2009.
Second choice Jonesboro finished fourth.
Out of the I Can't Believe mare Believe Big Bran, Racing Bran won for the ninth time in 22 starts while boosting his bankroll to $239,819. He has won his past three races and five of his past six.
Racing Bran, who has triumphed in three of six starts at Oaklawn, was coming off a 3 1/2-length tally in a one-mile optional claiming event at the Arkansas track Jan. 24.
Sent off as the co-fifth choice in the eight-horse field, Racing Bran carried 117 pounds and paid $24.60, $7 and $4.40 while leading off a $53.80 exacta with the 4-5 favorite Win Willy ($3, $2.20). Prom Shoes was $5.20 to show.