Two-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox is skilled at keeping his front-row charges apart from each other – a skill he abandoned for Saturday’s Grade 3 Essex Handicap at Oaklawn Park.

Plainsman (left) held off Thomas Shelby to win February’s Grade 3 Razorback Handicap by a neck. With Thomas Shelby back again, Plainsman is the 2/1 morning line favorite to win Saturday’s Grade 3 Essex Handicap at Oaklawn Park. (Image: Coady Photography)

Cox sends out a pair of millionaire multiple Grade 3 winners: Plainsman and Warrior’s Charge, for the 1 1/16-mile Essex. That’s one of two Grade 3 races on Oaklawn’s 10-race Saturday card. The Essex and the Whitmore, which is for older sprinters, are not only the two marquee Oaklawn races, but the top races in the country.

Both Cox charges come into the Essex with Arkansas connections. Plainsman, the 2/1 morning line favorite, comes from John Ed Anthony’s Shortleaf Stables. Anthony is the winningest trainer in Oaklawn history. Warrior’s Charge, the 7/2 co-second favorite, is co-owned by Marshall Gramm’s Ten Strike Racing and Arkansas native Clay Sanders. Gramm is an economics professor at Rhodes College in Memphis and is a well-known owner and horseplayer who teaches a class in racetrack probability.

Can stablemates go 1-2 in the Essex?

“Both horses deserve the opportunity,” Cox told Oaklawn’s Robert Yates. “They’re both doing good. They both won the Razorback, so that’s kind of cool. Now, we need one of them to step up and win the Essex and be 1-2. We’ll see. They’re both doing really well.”

Plainsman won his Grade 3 Razorback Handicap last month. That $360,000 score by a neck entered him in the millionaire’s club with $1,203,207 in earnings. The 7-year-old son of Flatter is 9-6-5 in 28 career starts. At Oaklawn, he’s 4-for-10 with $674,200 in earnings.

Warrior’s Charge won his Razorback in 2020. He’s coming in off a 9 ¾-length dissection of a January allowance that featured stakes-placers Sonneman and Mo Mosa in the field. The 6-year-old son of Munnings is 6-4-4 in 21 races, with $1,116,890 in earnings. He’s 3-for-10 at Oaklawn with $521,992 in earnings.

Cox charges face each other for the first time

And even with the Oaklawn ties and running style of both routers, this is the first time they’ve faced each other in their careers. Both are expected to retire after this year and begin their stallion careers.

Others to watch in the Essex are Razorback runner-up Thomas Shelby (7/2), Popular Kid (6/1) and veteran gelding and stakes winner Rated R Superstar (8/1).