Moon Catcher, a stakes winner at Delaware Park in her last start, came right back to go gate-to-wire in the $505,600 Delaware Oaks (gr. II) (VIDEO) Saturday, desperately holding off the surging Winning Point by a head at the wire.
The same two 3-year-old fillies ran one-two in the 1 1/16-mile Susan's Girl Breeders' Cup in their last start June 16 at Delaware. Trainer Tim Ritchey added blinkers to Moon Catcher for that effort. Saturday's win, with blinkers again at odds of 9-1, was the first for the bay daughter of Malibu Moon in a graded stakes and her fifth in eight tries overall.
The Todd Pletcher trainee Cotton Blossom, the 6-5 favorite in the field of seven following her late-running win in the one-turn Acorn (gr. I) at a mile at Belmont Park in her last start, finished a distant third under John Velazquez after stalking the pace on the outside into the stretch.
Moon Catcher caught a break when Tough Tiz's Sis, the Hollywood Breeder's Cup Oaks (gr. II) winner expected to ensure a hot pace, was scratched beforehand by trainer Bob Baffert. But she still didn't have it easy.
Ridden by Carlos Marquez Jr., Moon Catcher broke best from the outside in the 1 1/16-mile test when Bear Now stumbled a bit coming away. Moon Catcher clicked off a sensible opening quarter of :23 2/5 but opened up a two-length advantage over Bear Now, who gradually cut into that lead as they posted a half-mile in :47 3/5 and six furlongs in 1:11.
Bear Now tired soon after that, but Cotton Blossom on the outside and Winning Point, ridden by Ramon Dominguez at the rail, were poised for the drive. Moon Catcher led by nearly two lengths mid-stretch.
Only Winning Point, switching off the rail when finally gaining room, went on with it, closing the gap with each stride and arriving at the wire just after the hard-driven Moon Catcher.
"The speed had been holding all day, and Tim told me to get to the lead and try to slow the pace as best I could," Marquez said. "I tried to keep the pace slow a little longer, but the other horses started to kick in. She likes to loaf a little on the front, but I kept after her and she responded just fine."
It was 6 3/4 lengths back to the well beaten Cotton Blossom.
Cotton Blossom was just not herself, according to jockey John Velazquez.
“She just did not have it today,” said Velazquez. “She ran okay, but she was not herself today.”
The winning time was 1:42 1/5, four-fifths of a second off the track record.
Bear Now, second choice High Heels, Greenstreet, and Dawn After Dawn followed.
Moon Catcher earned $305,000 for Chuck Zacney's CJZ Racing Stable and trainer Ritchey, boosting her career total to $501, 600. Moon Catcher, bred in Maryland by Albert and Randy Cohen and A. Ferris Allen III, is out of the Smarten mare Smartster and sold for $75,000 as a Keeneland September yearling in 2005.
Sent off as the fifth choice, she paid $20.60, $9.20, and $3.80.
Winning Point, never worse than second in seven lifetime starts for trainer Edmond Guadet, returned $5.20 and $2.60.
Dogwood Stable's Cotton Blossom was $2.10 to show.