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Essex Handicap: Last Samurai Looks for More When He Faces Nine Other Older Males

Written by: Brian Zipse
Updated March 16, 2023
15 min read

Essex Handicap Odds and Post Position

Check out our predictions and odds for the Essex Handicap at Oaklawn Park!










R Santana Jr

S Asmussen





M Garcia

W Mott





D Cabrera

M Villafranco





F Arrieta

M Puhich





F Prat

K McPeek





N Juarez

C Hartman





F Geroux

B Cox





R Bejarano

B Cox





I Castillo

M Maker





C Torres

D W Lukas

*Odds provided by author Brian Zipse.

Essex Handicap Predictions and Best Bets

Here are my plays ($60 in total)

$10 Exacta - Last Samurai over Tawny Port, Silver Prospector, Forza Di Oro and Rated R Superstar = $40 

$5 Exacta - Tawny Port, Silver Prospector, Forza Di Oro and Rated R Superstar over Last Samurai = $20 

If you're playing only to win, go with my top pick Last Samurai (7/2).    



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Essex Handicap Predictions

Fresh off a nice win over the track in the Grade 3 Razorback, Last Samurai looks for more when he faces nine other older males in Saturday’s $500,000 Essex Handicap at Oaklawn Park. 

A millionaire son of Malibu Moon, many of the 5-year-old’s best races of late have come over the Hot Springs oval for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

His biggest career victory came eleven months ago when he rolled home an impressive winner in the $1 million Oaklawn Handicap.

Chief among his challengers in this Grade 3 affair include the dangerous pair from trainer Brad Cox, Tawny Port, and Forza Di Oro.

Although he only finished fifth in his seasonal debut, Tawny Port ran numerous good races last season, including a pair of Grade 3 wins in the Lexington Stakes and Ohio Derby.

Also a graded stakes winner, Forza Di Oro comes off a pair of third-place finishes at Fair Grounds. Last out he was beaten only a half-length in the Grade 3 Louisiana.

Another with strong credentials entered in the 1 1/16-mile Essex is the Kenny McPeek-trained Classic Causeway, who will be making his first start of the year. 

A graded stakes winner on both turf and dirt, his biggest wins include the Grade 1 Belmont Derby and the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby.

Essex Handicap Predictions and Race Analysis

Last Samurai

Despite not always throwing in his best, this veteran from the barn of D. Wayne Lukas has run enough good races in the last few years to believe that he very much fits with this group. Even better, he really seems to like Oaklawn Park. 

In his last four starts at the Hot Springs oval, he has run well each time, with two wins and two near misses. His win in last year’s Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap was the best performance of his career, and last month’s Grade 3 Razorback was not far behind. 

Given his ability to rally, good recent form, and fondness for the track, I like him best in a pretty wide-open affair. He is the top pick.

Tawny Port

One of the more underrated sophomores in the country last year, this son of Pioneerof the Nile strung together five nice performances in graded stakes in a row, before ending the season on a sour note in the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby. 

Brought back five months later in the Grade 3 Mineshaft at Fair Grounds last time, he never really fired and finished in the middle of the pack. 

The fact that one of the top trainers in the country, Brad Cox, is bringing him right back off the effort gives me confidence that he will improve this time. With a good pace in front of him to set up his rally, he looks like the biggest threat to my top pick.

Forza Di Oro

The second from the Cox barn, this 6-year-old son of Speightstown looked to be developing into a very good horse at various stages of his career but has had a hard time staying healthy enough to string multiple races together. 

The favorite in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup two seasons ago, he has not found the winner’s circle since the prep for that. 

Still, his two races recently have flashed the promise that he has always had, and he must be respected. In fact, his narrow loss last time in New Orleans in the Grade 3 Louisiana could be enough to put him in the picture here. He is a contender.



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Classic Causeway

The only horse in the field with three graded stakes victories last year, this will be the son of Giant Causeway’s first start in nearly five months. 

Good on both turf and dirt, it is interesting that his connections have brought him back in a $500,000 dirt race for his first start of the year, after making his final five starts of 2022 on the grass. I guess it should not be too surprising, though, given his past success on the dirt. 

Not only has he found a solid field for his return, but he has also found a race with plenty of early pace. He is a threat, but I would like him better if he had a race under his belt.

Silver Prospector

This son of Declaration of War is a multiple graded stakes winner, including the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park. That victory came three years ago, though, and his record has been a little spotty ever since. 

On his day, he can compete with these, but you just don’t always know when you will get his best. He does come in off a nice win over the track. 

A repeat of that allowance score in the mud would give him a shot here. While there are plenty of mixed signals with him, I do believe he is worth including in the exotics.

Necker Island

An experienced son of Hard Spun, this 6-year-old will be stretching out for the Essex, after running primarily in sprints of late. 

Trained by Chris Hartman, he has won seven times in his career but has only won twice in his last twelve starts. One of those wins came at Oaklawn Park 13 months ago in allowance company. 

The winner of nearly $900,000 can never be completely counted out, but this looks like a tough spot for his first two-turn race in a while. He also could add to a congested early pace on Saturday. I am looking elsewhere for my top picks.


This son of Ghostzapper is the least experienced horse in the field with only eight-lifetime starts. Now trained by Bill Mott, he made his first start in ten months and was a good second behind the graded stakes winner Charge It last month at Gulfstream Park. 

Saturday will be his stakes debut as he tries to build upon the solid return race. He looks like a horse, who, if healthy, could make some noise this year. 

Like many in the field, he has some speed. I am looking more to the late runners in this spot, but it would not surprise me if he takes another step forward here.

Call Me Fast

Another one with early speed, this son of Dialed In comes into the Essex off two consecutive allowance victories at Oaklawn Park. 

A bit of a late bloomer, he has never been better than he is right now for trainer Michael Pulhich. Having said that, this will clearly be his toughest test to date. 

While the wins over the track give his supporters hope on Saturday, my feeling is that with the step up in class, and the early pace pressure, he is going to have a very hard time keeping his winning streak intact.

Rated R Superstar

At 10 years old, you have to wonder when this war horse will finally slow down. With a third and a fourth in two starts this year, it’s hard to say it will be anytime soon. 

While neither performance was really strong, there’s enough there to believe that he can come running in another stakes race as he has done so many times before. 

After finishing well behind Last Samurai last time, his odds will be attractive, and often that is when he is at his most dangerous. With plenty of early speed to set the table, I believe the earner of over $1.8 million is a horse to include in the exotics.

Keystone Field

Another veteran, this 8-year-old looked to be going pretty well for trainer Mike Maker with two solid performances over the track against allowance company. 

When tested for class last time, though, in the Razorback, he threw in the towel early and finished way back. 

He’s certainly a horse who knows how to win, but unfortunately, nothing in his past performances suggests he is ready to beat a field like this. I prefer others.



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How to Watch the Essex Handicap

Essex Handicap Race Information

  • What: Essex Handicap (Grade 3)

  • Location: Oaklawn Park

  • Time: Saturday, March 18 -- 5:54 pm Eastern time

  • How to Watch: FanDuel TV

  • Purse: $500,000

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Image for Brian Zipse


Brian Zipse

288 Articles

Taken to the races at a very young age, Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Professionally, his work has been published on several leading industry sites. Brian served as the Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, where he still writes a regular column and hosts the popular weekly webcast HorseCenter.

Email: [email protected]

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