06/17/2017 8:43PM

Oak Brook leads all the way in Black Tie Affair

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Oak Brook paid $34.20 in winning the Black Tie Affair at Arlington on Saturday.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – Oak Brook filled a pace void in the $52,850 Black Tie Affair Handicap and led from start to finish posting a 16-1 upset in the 1 1/16-mile grass race for Illinois-breds at Arlington Park.

Cammack’s game rail rally fell three-quarters of a length short of the winner, with Super Soldier another three-quarters back in third, and 4-5 favorite The Pizza Man fourth, beaten two lengths by Oak Brook in the first start of his 8-year-old season.

Oak Brook, a 5-year-old homebred gelding owned by the Virginia H. Tarra Trust, is by Giant’s Causeway and out of the Crafty Prospector mare Crafty Oak. That makes him a full brother to Giant Oak, one of the best Illinois-breds of the last decade or so, and in the Black Tie Affair Oak Brook beat a field that included another excellent Illinois-bred in The Pizza Man, a multiple Grade 1 winner of more than $2 million.

In a strange coincidence, Oak Brook and The Pizza Man randomly hooked up in a five-furlong dirt workout May 30 at Churchill Downs: Oak Brook clocked 1:00.40, The Pizza Man was 1:00.20.

“It was a tough race, but he’s been breezing super,” winning trainer Brian Williamson said. “We were going into the race in good shape.”

Oak Brook hadn’t won since March 2016, and his start April 15 at Oaklawn Park was his first since August. Oak Brook’s last grass race before the Black Tie Affair had come in April 2016, when he finished a close fifth in a tough Keeneland allowance race.

Because of his spotty form, Oak Brook raced under 117 pounds Saturday, 11 fewer than The Pizza Man, and jockey Santo Sanjur pressed his pace advantage from the start. Breaking on top, Oak Brook set slow splits on a very wet course, going 25.44, 51.47, and 1:16.74 while maintaining a clear lead.

“I saved a lot of horse the first part,” Sanjur said. “They said if somebody goes to fight with you stay behind, but no one came to fight with me. At the three-eighths I asked him a little bit and I know I had horse.”

Super Soldier crept up on the outside of Oak Brook, but the real threat came from the fence, where Cammack was making his run, but Oak Brook stayed on resolutely to annex his first stakes race. Winning for the fourth time in 19 starts, he ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:47.87 and paid $34.20 to win.

The Pizza Man, meanwhile, was racing for the first time since November. Even in lesser company, 1 1/16 miles falls well short of his best trip, and the Black Tie Affair was actually a challenging spot regardless of The Pizza Man’s short price.

“First time I ever rode him, and he’s got a lot of heart,” jockey Jose Valdivia Jr. said. “Pick your poison: 128 [pounds], the heavy ground, too short a distance. I could tell at the half-mile pole. I’m asking him and he’s really struggling.”

Oak Brook had gone through his own struggles, finishing no better than fifth in his last four starts. Saturday was his day.

Lovely Loyree comes back a winner in Spellman

Trainer Michele Boyce worried Lovely Loyree wasn’t fit enough to win the $53,299 Mike Spellman Memorial Handicap on Saturday at Arlington.

The 6-year-old mare was making her first start since July. Boyce said she toyed with shipping Lovely Loyree to Tampa Bay Downs this spring to ready the mare for a summer campaign, but didn’t. When she met up with Lovely Loyree at Hawthorne, she found a horse carrying more weight than she might have hoped.

“She’s a good doer,” Boyce said.

Indeed, Lovely Loyree carried plenty of condition onto a rain-soaked Arlington turf course for the Spellman, but she was more than ready to win. Racing on the lead under Jose Valdivia Jr., Lovely Loyree kicked away from the pace-pressers on the far turn and had plenty left to hold off late-running America Mon Amie, winning by 2 1/4 lengths.
“I spanked her one time left-handed, and she just took off,” Valdivia said. “Hats off to Michele Boyce having this horse ready after almost a year. I was just a good passenger.”

America Mon Amie finished well and beat favored Prado’s Sweet Ride for second by 2 1/4 lengths. Prado’s Sweet Ride took up an apparently perfect spot racing in the pocket but had no answer when the winner went for home.

Lovely Loyree appeared to set a slow pace, but heavy rain fell at Arlington mid-card Saturday and the turf course probably was even softer than its official designation, yielding. Off splits of 26.39, 52.81, and 1:18.48, Lovely Loyree ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:49.13. She paid $5 as the second choice.

Owned by a partnership, Lovely Loyree is a daughter of Cactus Ridge and Lil Cora Tee, by Lil E. Tee. After her comeback win Saturday, Lovely Loyree’s record stands at an excellent 7-4-5 from 18 starts.