Don C. McNeill's homebred Mr Ross earned his second graded stakes win on the year Saturday when the Donnie Von Hemel trainee upset favored Graeme Hall in the $125,000 Razorback Handicap (gr. III) at Oaklawn Park. Under a well-timed ride from jockey Donald Pettinger, Mr Ross rallied down the center of the track to catch Graeme Hall -- the winner of last year's Arkansas Derby -- with a furlong to run in the 1 1/16 mile race.
Mr Ross settled back in fourth as Kombat Kat raced the opening quarter-mile in a fast :22.83 with Graeme Hall two lengths back in second. Graeme Hall rushed up to challenge the leader on the backstretch, racing within a head of Kombat Kat after a :46.23 half-mile. Those two battled for the next quarter-mile with Graeme Hall wresting a short lead from Kombat Kat with 2 1/2 furlongs to run. Graeme Hall edged clear of Kombat Kat in upper stretch but had nothing left to resist the late run of Mr. Ross, who stopped the timer in 1:42.60.
Graeme Hall maintained second-place, finishing 2 3/4 lengths behind the winner and a half-length clear of third-place Maysville Slew. Kombat Kat, Kiss of Lion, Remington Rock, Gatewood, Dust On the Bottle, and Connected completed the order of finish.
"This was his (Graeme Hall's) first time around two turns since the Jim Dandy (in August), and he handled things well," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "He is getting better with each race and we came here for the Oaklawn Handicap. He should improve more between now and then."
After beginning his 2001 campaign with a third-place finish in February's Crabapple Stakes, Mr Ross (Slewacide--Dusty Donna, by Dust Commander) won the Essex Handicap (gr. III) 20 days later. The 6-year-old Oklahoma-bred gelding has now won multiple stakes races in each of his four racing seasons. The Razorback victory adds $75,000 to his career earnings, which now total over $600,000. In all, Mr Ross has won 13 of 33 career starts.
"He is 6 years old and has never trained better, coming up to this race," Von Hemel said. "The Oaklawn Handicap? It depends on who ships in here for it. I am not taking him to it and getting him buried."
Mr Ross returned $12.20, $3.80, and $3.40. Graeme Hall paid $2.80 and $2.60. Maysville Slew was worth $4.60 to show. The winning exacta combination paid $33.40. (Chart, Equibase