Chad Brown has a contender on the Kentucky Oaks (G1) trail after Occult dominated Saturday’s $97,000 Busanda S. at Aqueduct. The 7-5 favorite aced her stakes and two-turn debut to take home 20 points, catapulting to second on the Oaks leaderboard, behind only Breeders’ Cup star Wonder Wheel.
Occult was coming off a convincing 4 1/4-length maiden score around Aqueduct’s one-turn mile. The step up to 1 1/8 miles in the Busanda figured to be within her scope, as a daughter of Into Mischief and an Empire Maker mare. One possible hesitation was that her dam, Magical Feeling, was actually a sprinter who scored her signature win in the 2012 Barbara Fritchie H. (G2).
The larger test, however, was class. Occult was squaring off against the placegetters from the Dec. 3 Demoiselle (G2) at this track and trip, Affirmative Lady and Gambling Girl. They weren’t beaten much by the highly-regarded Julia Shining, admittedly on a sloppy surface that she was fighting through rather than skipping over.
On a good surface Saturday, neither got close to Occult. That could be interpreted as a knock on the Demoiselle form, or perhaps to be fairer, a plus for Occult.
Under new pilot Dylan Davis, the Alpha Delta Stables runner worked out a perfect stalking trip. Occult was perched in a watching second as the longest shot on the board, the 21-1 Sweetest Princess, carved out splits of :23.88, :48.77, and 1:14.22. Affirmative Lady raced in third, but the 1.90-1 second choice had to be nudged along, and the better-traveling Gambling Girl joined her entering the far turn. By that point, the only other runner, Aniston, was a detached last.
Although Gambling Girl briefly appeared to be moving best as she advanced on the inside, Occult had more hidden up her sleeve. The favorite accosted Sweetest Princess at the top of the stretch and put the race away. Occult opened up by 3 3/4 lengths while clocking 1:54.78.
“She was on the bridle for me,” Davis said, “and was traveling for me down the backside and she was traveling well.
“She must’ve seen something into the turn, she started lugging in. I just pulled the left hand out and gave her a couple of flags and she went on her way again. She just needed some help and encouragement to get back to task and focus.”
Brown praised Davis for masterminding the right trip, and making a wise adjustment to their pre-race strategy.
“She had a beautiful trip,” her trainer said. “I thought we were maybe the lone speed in race, and I talked to Dylan this morning and thought we could come out of there and get the lead, but that other horse (Sweetest Princess) showed so much interest and was adamant up there on the lead.
“I thought Dylan used great judgment to just secure that second stalking spot out in the clear. From there, it seemed like she was always traveling well and she had the jump on the other two main competition in the race right behind her. I think that was really the key that she was able to – once we got by the pacemaker – run strong and steady and get there and win by a decent margin. I was really pleased with the filly’s effort and Dylan’s heads-up ride.”
Gambling Girl, who angled out for running room, stayed on as second-best to pick up an additional eight Oaks points. The New York-bred now has a total of 11.
Jockey Kendrick Carmouche suggested that blinkers might lift Gambling Girl.
“I think she still might be a little green and may need blinkers, but she ran awesome,” Carmouche said. “If she had some blinkers on her, she could have leveled off and taken me the last quarter and we could’ve seen a different result.”
Another 3 1/4 lengths back came Affirmative Lady, who barely nipped Sweetest Princess for third. Still a maiden, Affirmative Lady added six points to up her tally to 10 overall. Sweetest Princess received four points in fourth. The points for fifth went unclaimed since Aniston did not finish. According to the chart, she was eased and walked off.
Occult has bankrolled $107,450 from her 3-2-0-0 line, all at Aqueduct. The $625,000 Keeneland September yearling was fourth on debut Sept. 17, a six-furlong maiden that brought her on.
“After her first start, where she was a bit green and needed the race, she’s put two really nice races together,” Brown said. “When you have horses developing like this, all you can ask is that they do what you train them to do, and she’s certainly done that.”
The next Road to the Kentucky Oaks event at Aqueduct, the Mar. 4 Busher S., would entail reverting to a mile. One option would be to await the Apr. 8 Gazelle (G3) at this 1 1/8-mile distance.
“We’ll see,” Brown said. “I’ll see how she comes out of this and go from there. She’s a work in progress and I know it wasn’t a fast time racing like that, but to her credit, she’s got two wins in three starts and it was her first start around two turns and she handled it fine.
“The water’s going to get a lot deeper and she’s going to have to get faster, but I’m really proud of her. I don’t know that I would cut her back (in the Busher).”
Occult was bred in Kentucky by Peter E. Blum Thoroughbreds. Her dam, the aforementioned Magical Feeling, is also responsible for stakes scorers Exulting and Magical. This is the family of Grade 1-winning filly Dream Tree and millionaire Golden Ticket, who famously dead-heated for the victory in the 2012 Travers (G1).