Favored Skippylongstocking gave trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. his breakthrough victory in Saturday’s $1.25 million G2-Oaklawn Handicap for older horses at 1 1/8 miles.

Skippylongstocking marked the seventeenth career Oaklawn starter for Joseph, who also collected his third consecutive training title recently for the Gulfstream Park championship meet and his fifth leading Florida trainer honor at the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association Gala on April 15.  Joseph started his first horse at Oaklawn in 2019, with his previous best finish at third. The horse’s sparkling two-length victory came a week after stablemates Sara’s Shaman ran eighth in an allowance race and Honor D Lady finished ninth in the $1.25 million Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap. Another Joseph trainee, Cool Memory, finished sixth in Saturday’s second race at Oaklawn, a starter-allowance route. 

“They didn’t run too good last week, last Saturday,” Joseph said in a telephone interview moments after the Oaklawn Handicap.

“We shipped two up and they didn’t run good. We put these two on the van the day after. I was like, ‘Oh geez!’ But just different circumstances. He ran well. You’ve got to take the ups and downs and keep moving forward,” he said.

Joseph called the Oaklawn Handicap, with a field of seven graded stakes winners, the best performance on Skippylongstocking’s 23-race resume.

A forward factor from the start under Jose Ortiz, Skippylongstocking tracked stablemate County Final for three-quarters of a mile before gliding to the lead on the outside passing the five-sixteenths pole. Skippylongstocking was three lengths clear in midstretch and was never threatened approaching the wire. 

Under a top weight of 122 pounds, Skippylongstocking ran a mile and an eighth over a fast track in a meet-best 1:49, a time that generated a 114 Equibase speed rating. First Mission (Essex Handicap) and Muth (Arkansas Derby) own the top Equibase speed ratings at the meet  at 115. Those races were also at a mile and an eighth. 

Skippylongstocking was exiting a 2 ½-length victory in the $100,000 Grade 3 Challenger Stakes on March 9 at Tampa Bay Downs. The five-year-old son of Exaggerator has now won consecutive races for the first time in his career.

Joseph said the timing and record purse made a road trip to Hot Springs an attractive option.

“Obviously, it’s huge purse,” Joseph said. “He’s by Exaggerator. He’s not by a fashionable, well-bred stud, so his value, probably, as far as earning things on the track, he’s going to earn it the hard way. Definitely ($1.25 million), you don’t get that opportunity very often. Thankful to come to Oaklawn. Thankful to win such a race. Just proud of the horse and the whole team.”

Skippylongstocking increased his career earnings to $2,291,685 following his eighth victory and sixth in stakes company. Owner Daniel Alonso purchased Skippylongstocking for $37,000 at the 2021 OBS Spring Sale of 2-year-olds in training.

As part of the Maryland Jockey Club’s ‘Win Today, See You in May Series,’ the victory earned the horse automatic entry into the $250,000 Grade 3 Pimlico Special on May 17. While next-race plans are pending, Joseph is already eyeing another seven-figure race, the $1 million Grade 2 Charles Town Classic on Aug. 23. Skippylongstocking was a five-length winner of the 2023 classic. 

“We’re going to try to get back to the Charles Town Classic and try to see if he can repeat there,” Joseph said. “But nothing was really picked out after this race. This race was going to lead us where to go. We’ll sit down and talk it over and come up with a plan.”

Tammy A Gantt contributed to this story.

Return to the April 25 issue of Wire to Wire