Freshened Oscar Nominated catches Nessy to win McKnight

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. -- An 11-week vacation proved just what the doctor ordered for Oscar Nominated, who bounced back from a disappointing performance in his 2017 finale with a game half-length triumph over Nessy and a well-matched field of long-winded turf specialists in Saturday's $200,000 W. L. McKnight Handicap at Gulfstream Park.

Oscar Nominated finished a non-threatening eighth in the Red Smith Handicap at Aqueduct on Nov. 11 to close out a 4-year-old campaign during which he was Grade 1-placed twice while banking $640,000 for trainer Mike Maker and owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey.

With Jose Ortiz aboard, Oscar Nominated raced several lengths off a relatively slow pace set by Infinite Wisdom through the opening mile of the 12-furlong McKnight. Oscar Nominated advanced three wide around the final bend, overtook the tiring leader upon settling into the stretch, edged clear, then gamely withstood bids from several rivals through the final sixteenth.

Nessy lagged near the rear of the field, came widest rallying into the stretch and finished best of all to be second, a nose in front of Bullards Alley. The favored Gold Shield was another neck farther back in fourth after racing very wide throughout.

Oscar Nominated, a 5-year-old son of Kitten's Joy, paid $9.40, the Grade 3 victory increasing his career earnings to more than $1.4 million. His final time of 2:30.08 seconds over the firm course was 2.20 seconds slower than Texting covered the same distance earlier in the card to win the Grade 3 La Prevoyante for fillies and mares.

"He had a long hard year, so the little freshening did him a lot of good, it looks like he's put on 200 pounds since his last start," Maker said.

"I was concerned about the slow early pace, but Jose always looked like he had a lot of horse and he was always in great position. When he's on his game he's a tough horse."

Maker said the Grade 2 Pan American, also at 1 1/2 miles, could be up next for Oscar Nominated on the March 31 Florida Derby undercard.