Coaching Club American Oaks a “Must” For Elite Sophomore Fillies
By Margaret Ransom
Sunday’s Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga has just about become a “must” race for sophomore fillies from across the country and this year’s renewal is no exception. Kentucky Oaks (GI) winner Abel Tasman from the West Coast is the runner to beat and six rivals will try to defeat the daughter of Quality Road for the first time since Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert took over her training duties in the spring.
The race, named for a sporting club in the late 19th century centered on harness driving, or “coaches,” was created in 1917 by August Belmont to mimic the Epsom Oaks in England. Though contested at Aqueduct downstate until 1967, it has now become the biggest race for the division at the elite Saratoga summer meeting since moving from Belmont Park in 2010. Over the years it’s been contested at varying distances, including 27 years at 1 1/2 miles during various years, but it’s been held at today’s nine-furlong distance since 2010.
The weather in Saratoga Springs Saturday is expected to be warm and dry and cloudy throughout the day. Highs will reach the lower 80s and it will be humid, as is expected in the summer in upstate New York.
Through the years, the Coaching Club American Oaks has become synonymous with champions and exceptional pedigrees and Breeders’ Cup winners. In 1920, thoroughbred racing enthusiast William R. Coe’s Cleopatra captured top honors en route to earning the divisional championship title and, in the years that followed, 32 other fillies would win the race before taking home the crown as the nation’s top 3-year-old filly, including Top Flight, Black Helen, Vagrancy, Twilight Tear, Next Move, Real Delight, Bowl of Flowers, Lamb Chop, Shuvee, Chris Evert, Ruffian, Davona Dale, Bold ’n Determined, Mom’s Command, Open Mind, Sky Beauty, Ajina, Banshee Breeze, Ashado and Princess of Sylmar, just to name a few. Also, no fewer than 11 future Hall of Famers boast the Coaching Club American Oaks as part of their resumes. Last year, Fox Hill Farm’s Songbird took home top honors on her way to a second Eclipse Award.
China Horse Club and Clearsky Farm’s Abel Tasman, who won the Kentucky Oaks (GI) and Acorn Stakes (GI) in her last two, ships to upstate New York in search of a first win in the event for her trainer. The bay filly, who has posted three very impressive works since her last win on June 10, has done nothing but improve with each start this year, both in actual performance and numbers-wise, and overall she’s proven to be very consistent, carrying her Grade 1-winning juvenile form over to this year.
Abel Tasman has a win at this nine-furlong distance and though she’s not likely going to get the hot early pace she’d prefer to run at, she does have some tactical ability to lay closer and having regular jockey Mike Smith aboard will only help. She’ll be predictably short-priced, but she’s in top form and earned the role of favorite here.
Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider’s Elate enters this race off a nice 5 ½-length romp in a stakes at Delaware Park. The Bill Mott-trained daughter of Medaglia d’Oro, who was Grade 3-placed and headed to the Kentucky Oaks before being eased in the Ashland Stakes (GI) at Keeneland (she was fine) and, instead, went to optional claiming company and non-graded stakes before jumping back in with the sharks of her division here.
Elate has been training at Saratoga for the better part of a month and while she’s never tried the distance, she’s certainly bred for it. Her figures are decent, she’s got jockey Jose Ortiz aboard from the rail and it won’t be a shock if she’s on the lead in the early going and all-out in the lane to hold off the late challengers.
Gulfstream Park Oaks (GII) winner Salty is back to take on Abel Tasman once again after finishing behind her in the last two, including a second-place finish in the Acorn on Belmont Stakes (GI) Day. She had a rough go in the Kentucky Oaks, getting bumped around pretty good and steadying at least twice, so it’s easy to toss that race out as a lemon, and she could really benefit from a clean trip today. She’s got a pedigree for this distance and is in good hands with trainer Mark Casse and returning jockey Joel Rosario. Her numbers are decent and she is bred for this distance, so it’s not hard to imagine that if someone manages to upset to the favorite, it would be Salty from her outermost post.
After a failed turf experiment, Daddys Lil Darling is back on the dirt where she probably belongs. The Kenny McPeek-trained daughter of Scat Daddy, who was second in both the Ashland and Kentucky Oaks, is a Grade 2 winner and has proven she can run with the best of her division. Her best makes her logical to hit the board, with an upset not out of the realm of possibility.
Berned makes her second start for trainer Graham Motion and her first since a fifth-place finish in the Delaware Oaks (GIII). The well-bred daughter of Bernardini has a second from one start here at Saratoga and has figures to show that, with her best, she figures for a good piece of the purse from just off the pace.
Summer Luck is multiple graded stakes-placed, but has a hard time making the winner’s circle. The Mark Casse trainee will benefit from having Hall of Famer Javier Castellano aboard, but she seems in a bit deep here to expect a win.
Corporate Queen seems a bit overmatched in Grade 1 company.