Oak Bluffs
Oak Bluffs took the Joey P Handicap at Monmouth last September. Photo By Nicole Dankanich/EQUI-PHOTO.

Veteran campaigner Oak Bluffs, a 10-year-old gelding making his 59th career start, came with a measured run from dead last to roll past five rivals in the stretch and earn his 21st career victory and the 900th for owner-trainer Mary Eppler as live racing returned Thursday to Laurel Park.

Under patient handling from 16-year-old apprentice Charlie Marquez, Oak Bluffs ($8) was unhurried in the early stages of the 5 ½-furlong sprint for claimers 3 and up over Laurel’s world-class turf course, trailing by 7 ½ lengths after the opening quarter-mile.

Oak Bluffs circled the far turn in the three path, was floated out five wide once straightened for home, ranged up on pacesetter Stroll Smokin inside the eighth pole and pulled clear to win by three-quarters of a length in 1:02.98 on Kelso layout labeled firm.

“It looked like he won pretty easily,” Eppler said. “You don’t see many horses win 21 times, but we’ve taken good care of him.”

Oak Bluffs debuted Aug. 18, 2013 at Monmouth Park and raced three times for breeder Patricia Generazio and trainer Bruce Alexander before making her first start for trainer Teresa Pompay in May 2014. Trainer Jamie Ness claimed him for his Jagger Inc. stable in February 2015 and Eppler spent $5,000 to halter him nine months later out of a show finish at Laurel Park.

Eppler lost Oak Bluffs for a $25,000 tag in March 2019 at Gulfstream Park, claiming him back that June for $20,000 out of a turf sprint win at Monmouth Park. Overall, the bay son of Defrere has a record of 21-9-6 with $721,846 in purse earnings.

“He’s been so much fun, and that’s why I claimed him back,” Eppler said. “I want to make sure he has a good home.”

Oak Bluffs is a three-time stakes winner – the 2015 My Frenchman and 2019 Joey P. Handicap at Monmouth, and the 2018 Pennsylvania Governor’s Cup at Penn National, the latter two for Eppler. Best known for her work with retired claimer-turned-multiple Grade 3-winning millionaire Page McKenney, Eppler won her first two races in 1980 with Maryland-bred Jet to Victory.

Eppler, a 66-year-old Baltimore native, became the first female to win a training title at Laurel Park with 24 victories during the 2016 fall meet. Holder of an accounting degree from Loyola College and a one-time actuary analyst in the medical insurance industry, she got her start breaking and hot walking horses at Sagamore Farm, later training 1996 Futurity (G1) winner Traitor for the late Alfred G. Vanderbilt.

“[The 900th win] couldn’t have come with a better horse. I’m very thankful,” Eppler said. “He’s wonderful. He’s so nice. Real easy to deal with, real easy to train, just like Page.”