A field of five sophomore fillies was entered to go 1 1/8 miles in the $300,000 Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) on Sunday at Saratoga, and the field includes four of the top five finishers from the May 4 Kentucky Oaks (G1).
MONOMOY GIRL prevailed that day at Churchill Downs by a half-length over Wonder Gadot, who is currently following a Canadian campaign that includes victory in the Queen’s Plate against the boys last out. Wonder Gadot is the only one out of the Kentucky Oaks top five who is not making an appearance in the CCA Oaks. That leaves Monomoy Girl to square off against MIDNIGHT BISOU, ESKIMO KISSES and CHOCOLATE MARTINI yet again.
Monomoy Girl has suffered just one loss in her career, with that coming by a neck in the Golden Rod Stakes (G2) last year as a juvenile. It would prove to be her final start in 2017, and the chestnut daughter of Tapizar has gone four-for-four thus far as a sophomore, all against stakes rivals. The Brad Cox trainee followed a seasonal debut win in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes (G2) with a 5 1/2-length romp in the Ashland Stakes (G1) before taking the Kentucky Oaks as the 5-2 second choice.
Monomoy Girl continued her winning ways last out in the Acorn Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park while reverting to a mile, but she stretches back out in this spot with regular rider Florent Geroux in the irons.
“She’s been over on the main track and handled it really well and stood in the gate (Thursday) morning, so I’m super pleased with how she looks and how she’s handled things so far,” Cox said. “She’s a laid back filly, she doesn’t get too worked up.
“She maintains her weight, her look, her coat, she’s so consistent with her works each week. She lets you know she’s ready. She’s on her game and hopefully she brings her ‘A’ game. That should be good enough.
“A lot of fillies she ran against in the Oaks have come back to win huge races, so it’s a good three-year-old filly crop that’s very strong,” Cox added. “She’s one of the top in the class and at the end of the year we’ll see if we can win an Eclipse (Award), that’s our goal.”
Midnight Bisou was the 2-1 favorite in the Kentucky Oaks and reputed herself well to take third. After being squeezed back at the start, the dark bay miss ran near the rear of the field on the backstretch while well off the rail. She angled even farther out on the final bend, going widest of all, was bumped entering the lane and powered home to grab third by a half-length over Eskimo Kisses.
The Midnight Lute filly entered the Run for the Lilies off easy wins in the Santa Anita Oaks (G1), Santa Ysabel Stakes (G3) and Santa Ynez Stakes (G2) for trainer Bill Spawr. Following the Kentucky Oaks, she was transferred to Steve Asmussen, for whom she captured the Mother Goose Stakes (G2) most recently on June 30 at Belmont Park by six lengths.
Regular jockey Mike Smith has the call as Midnight Bisou attempts to turn the tables on Monomoy Girl.
Eskimo Kisses is no slouch and should make her presence felt on Sunday at the Graveyard of Champions. The Kenny McPeek charge took four attempts to break her maiden, finally doing so by a neck at Oaklawn Park on February 1, then proceeded to romp by 11 lengths three weeks later when facing winners at that same venue for the first time. She just missed by a head in the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) to Chocolate Martini and then filled the second spot while well-beaten by Monomoy Girl in the Ashland Stakes.
In the Kentucky Oaks, Eskimo Kisses was squeezed between rivals just like Midnight Bisou and found herself in the rear of the 14-strong field after breaking from the 13 post. The To Honor and Serve filly had only one horse beat rounding the first turn, but saved all the ground she could under Corey Lanerie down on the rail. That allowed her to move up a bit on the backstretch before flying up the inside circling the final bend until forced to stop behind another rival.
Eskimo Kisses re-rallied in the lane, angling off the rail for the first time before heading back to the inside. She easily outran her 15-1 odds to be fourth as Midnight Bisou collared her well out in the center of the track. The chestnut lass receives the services of Javier Castellano in the irons on Sunday as she makes her first start since the Kentucky Oaks in this spot.
Chocolate Martini was no match for the Kentucky Oaks top four, finishing 5 1/2 lengths behind Eskimo Kisses. Like that rival, she saved ground on the inside and actually proved to be the one who stopped Eskimo Kisses on the final turn. Chocolate Martini had clear sailing to overtake the leaders, but tired in the lane.
Trainer Tom Amoss, who saddled the Broken Vow filly to a 13-1 upset of the Fair Grounds Oaks, shipped her cross-country to Santa Anita Park for the Summertime Oaks (G2), where she ran third most recently on June 16. In what is proving to be a case of musical jockeys, Irad Ortiz Jr. has the call on Chocolate Martini for the first time as she breaks from the rail post in the CCA Oaks.
The Mark Casse-trained GIO GAME is the final entrant in this contest, and enters after having finished third behind Monomoy Girl in the Acorn last out at 24-1. The bay daughter of Gio Ponti broke her maiden at Keeneland last year by nine lengths, finished ninth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) and entered the Acorn off a head score against allowance/optional claiming rivals at Churchill Downs one race after the Kentucky Oaks.
“I was hoping they would be three horses in so we can hit the board,” Casse said with a laugh. “She’s doing great, but it’s a tough, tough race. I think she’ll like it here in Saratoga.
“If you look, her numbers and getting better and better, but this is going to be a tough one. She usually likes to be fairly close, so I don’t think she’ll be too far back.”
Julien Leparoux has been aboard for all but one of Gio Game’s eight career starts, with that one coming in the Breeders’ Cup, and will be holding the reins on Sunday.