Updated on 09/17/2011 9:57AM

Track boss rooting for Crafty Shaw

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Crafty Shaw can give Oaklawn Park president Charles Cella his first stakes win at this track if he successfully defends his title in the Grade 3, $100,000 Essex Handicap on Saturday.

The 1 1/16-mile race is one of two local preps for the Grade 2, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap on April 5, and it drew a field of 10 older horses, including Colorful Tour, who is chasing his fourth straight win; Premeditation, who has won his last two dirt starts; and Ask the Lord, third last out in the $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup at Sam Houston Race Park.

Crafty Shaw, highweighted at 120 pounds, comes into the Essex on the heels of a 1 1/4-length win in a $60,000 optional claimer at Oaklawn on Feb. 8. The race was his first since he finished second by a head to Lido Palace in the Grade 2, $400,000 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs on Nov. 29.

"He needed the last race," said Pete Vestal, who trains Crafty Shaw, a winner of 10 of 21 starts and $521,455. "He got a little tired. Now he's tighter, fitter, and ready to run a strong race, I feel."

Cella purchased Crafty Shaw last May, and for his new owner, the horse has won the Grade 3, $100,000 Fall Championship at Turfway Park and the $100,000 Schaefer at Hoosier Park, which came one start before his brave effort at 42-1 in the Clark.

"That was the best race he'd ever run," Vestal said. "It's a shame the horse nailed him right at the wire. It's a heartbreaking kind of loss, but the main thing is Crafty Shaw thinks he won the race because he came back and passed Lido Palace after the wire. So even though it didn't pay off monetarily, he's still in the right frame of mind.

"He thinks he's on a win streak, and that's important for a horse."

Vestal hopes Crafty Shaw, who has natural speed, will get a stalking trip in the Essex, which he won by 4 3/4 lengths last year when owned by Lucky Seven Stable. Vestal has given the mount to James Lopez.

Luis Quinonez will be aboard Colorful Tour, who has won his last three races, two at the distance of the Essex. In his most recent start, Colorful Tour won an optional claiming race at Oaklawn Feb. 1 over Forty Nine Deeds and Zee Oh Six, who were both set to run in the seventh race on Saturday at Oaklawn.

Colorful Tour is weighted at 116. He is owned, trained and was bred by Noel Hickey.

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