Spotsgone steals away with the Essex.

Spotsgone steals away with the Essex.

Sunny Taylor / Coady Photography

Spotsgone Gets it Done in Essex

Robert Yagos' 5-year-old wires nine-horse field at Oaklawn Feb. 9.

While the focus of many racing fans was on Fair Grounds on the 3-year-old efforts of hopeful contenders for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), 5-year-old Spotsgone quietly stole the $150,000 Essex Handicap at Oaklawn Park.

First at the start under Joe Johnson, the William Fires trainee took an easy lead and set his own comfortable fractions of :23.27 and :47.18 for the first quarter and half-mile of the 1 1/16-mile dirt event. Beta Capo was second under Luis Quinonez but quickly conceded that spot to Randy Morse trainee Jonesboro, who pressed through three-quarters in 1:12.08. Those three headed for the turn with Gouldings Green a few lengths off the front in fourth as they went 1:37.21 for the mile.

“He broke alertly, but I did have to use him a little around the first turn,” Johnson said. “We were sitting outside, and I didn’t want to stay out there too long or be forced to stay out from the rail. He settled in right away once we were clear, and I really didn’t ask to him do anything until we hit the quarter pole. Then I just wanted him to get going through the stretch run.”

Spotsgone rolled into the stretch by daylight, holding sway in the final strides to win by one length in a final time of 1:43.72. Jonesboro held on to second, while Gouldings Green passed Beta Capo to get third.

“We knew that, if the winner got to an uncontested lead and was permitted to set his own fractions, it would be hard to run him down late,” said Morse. “What we had feared did happen, but our horse still ran a big race.”

The win is the second consecutive victory for Spotsgone, a bay horse by Bright Launch bred in Kentucky by Hurstland Farm. Out of the Mr. Leader mare Double’s Lass, he came off a Jan 20 one-mile allowance win at Oaklawn and now has an 8-5-1 record from 31 career starts, having amassed earnings of $450,989 for owner Robert Yagos. Fires said the seasoned runner would likely next point to the March 15 Razorback Breeders’ Cup Handicap (gr. III) at Oaklawn.

“This horse has continued to get better,” the trainer said. “Little things that used to bother him no longer do. He’s been in good form all year.”

Spotsgone returned $17.40, $6.20, and $4 to win. Jonesboro and jockey Jamie Theriot paid $4 and $2.80 to place, while Gouldings Green brought $3.20 to show under Eusebio Razo Jr. Prom Shoes, Moyer’s Pond, Richland Creek, Got the Last Laugh, and Finance Minister completed the order of finish.