Greater Good and Rockport Harbor, who provided the most exciting finish of the 2005 Oaklawn meet in the Rebel Stakes (gr. III), square off again at the Arkansas track Saturday in the $100,000 Essex Handicap (gr. III).
Eight were entered in the 1 1/16-mile feature, the first distance offering for the older handicap division of the meeting.
Fox Hill Farm's Rockport Harbor led almost every jump of the 2005 Rebel for 3-year-olds until caught in the final two strides by Lewis Lakin's Greater Good in a breath-taking finish. Up the track on that day was eventual 3-year-old Eclipse champion Afleet Alex, winner of the Preakness and Belmont Stakes (both gr. I).
With the retirement of Afleet Alex, Greater Good and Rockport Harbor have returned to renew that rivalry. But Bob and Cathy Zollars' Real Dandy comes into the Essex as winner of the Zia Park Derby in his last start in December and carries high weight of 118 pounds.
Among the major Triple Crown candidates at this point last year, both Rockport Harbor and Greater Good will come into the race off losing form.
Greater Good has not finished on the board since the Rebel win, including a fifth-place finish in the Arkansas Derby and a 13th in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I). Trainer Bob Holthus has had the 4-year-old son of Intidab
working sharply for his return and has regular pilot John McKee set to handle the riding chores.
Rockport Harbor, who had the unenviable role of following the brilliant Smarty Jones as trainer John Servis' "Derby horse," struggled throughout last year trying to overcome a serious foot injury suffered in the last race of his 2-year-old campaign. The fast son of Unbridled's Song
has trained exceptionally well for Servis in getting ready for the Essex, and he could be the favorite even though he hasn't won a race since the 2004 Remsen Stakes (gr. II) -- the race in which he injured himself. Stewart Elliott will ride on Saturday.
For Real Dandy, a Steve Asmussen trainee, the Essex offers a chance to step to the fore at Oaklawn after finishing fourth, behind Afleet Alex, Flower Alley, and Andromeda's Hero in the 2005 Arkansas Derby (gr. II). He added a victory in the West Virginia Derby later in the season and took his career earnings to $819,935 with the Zia Park win. $100,000 Essex Handicap (gr. III, Race 9, 5:02 p.m.), 4 & up, 1 1/16 miles
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Matched (KY), 113, Terry Thompson
2. Cougar Cat (PA), 113, Robby Albarado
3. Jonesboro (KY), 113, Calvin Borel
4. Real Dandy (KY), 118, Luis Quinonez
5. Rockport Harbor (KY), 115, Stewart Elliott
6. Silver Axe (KY), 115, James Graham
7. Greater Good (KY), 116, John McKee
8. Thunder Mission (KY), 113, Corey Lanerie