The Doneraile Court filly, out of the multiple grade I winning stakes mare Kostroma, needed some strong urging in deep stretch to get the job done for jockey Corey Nakatani, who won his fifth Santa Anita Oaks. It was Ariege's third U.S. start for trainer Bobby Frankel and owners IEAH Stables and Pegasus Holding Group. She had raced exclusively on turf previously.
Ariege and the grade I winner Golden Doc A lagged at the back of the nine-horse field of 3-year-old fillies and both launched their bids on the far turn while racing wide. Ariege raced just to the inside of Golden Doc A, the 3-2 favorite, and got first run while rounding the bend five-wide. She had clear running as they set down for the drive. She gradually wore down Final Fling, who had a dream trip at the rail for Joe Talamo and took over after pacesetter Lovely Isle went wide leaving the turn.
Regaining her momentum after losing some ground, Ariege gained a narrow advantage mid-stretch but was under a big challenge from Golden Doc A and Rafael Bejarano on her outside. She held sway with strong left-handed urging from Nakatani to maintain a straight course while she tried to lug in late. Final Fling held on for third, 3 3/4 lengths behind Ariege. The winning time for the 1 1/8-mile event on the synthetic main track was 1:42.73.
Lovely Isle, also trained by Frankel, set a measured pace of :23.58, :47.89 and 1:14.69, but failed to last.
Nakatani previously won the Santa Anita Oaks with Lite Light (1991), Serena's Song (1995), Sharp Cat (1997) and Sweet Catomine (2006). Frankel won the race with You in 2002.
"It's not what I did, but what my horse did and Bobby giving me the opportunity," said Nakatani, who returned to action last week after missing six weeks due to a broken collarbone. "It touches my heart, after being off so long.
“Bobby said to be patient and that’s what I did," Nakatani added. "This is a pretty nice filly in the morning, and Bobby’s done a great job with her. It’s nice to be back.”
Bred in Kentucky by Calumet Farm, Ariege was a $75,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase in 2006.
Her dam, Kostroma, won three grade I races in Southern California in 1991-92 and earned more than $1.2 million. Ariege is the Irish-bred Kostroma's first graded winner from 11 foals.
She began her career at Killarney in Ireland last July, breaking her maiden at first asking in a one-mile event by seven furlongs. After two starts in group II company last summer, including a fourth-place finish in Curragh's Debutante Stakes in August, she was transferred to the U.S. The dark bay had two troubled starts on the Santa Anita lawn prior to her win here in the Oaks.
In the one-mile Blue Norther Dec. 30 Ariege was blocked and steadied in the stretch but rallied to finish third, 1 1/2 lengths behind Golden Doc A, the runner-up that day. In her next start, the La Habra (gr. IIIT) on the hillside turf course, she was defeated by a nose after pulling early. She was favored in both American starts.
“We wanted to try her on this (synthetic) track," Frankel said. "Grass horses are running good on it. She’s a nice filly.”
Ariege now owns a 2-1-1 record in six starts with earnings of $230,828. The victory was worth $180,000 to her connections, who will now consider the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I).
Sent off as the third choice, the winner paid $11.40, $4.60 and $3.20. Golden Doc A, who was looking for successive grade I wins after capturing the Las Virgenes by one over length over Lovely Isle Feb. 9, returned $2.80 and $2.20 and was part of a $2 exacta worth $29. Final Fling, who won the Santa Ysabel (gr. III) in her last start, was $3.40 to show.
“Our filly ran great," said Barry Abrams of the favorite. "It was the best race of her career. Any time you can go five-wide and come the last quarter like she did with those fractions, you have to be proud of her.”
A couple of outsiders, Divine Legacy and Seattle Smooth, ran fourth and fifth, respectively. They were followed by Briecat, Lovely Isle, Kazamira and Sunday Holiday.