It drew a short field, but the $250,000 TVG Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I) July 23 at Saratoga features five of the best 3-year-old fillies in the nation in a race that could go a long way in deciding divisional honors.
The 1 1/8-mile CCA Oaks is the headliner on the 11-race card at Saratoga, which opens its 40-race meet July 22. NBC will offer live coverage from 5-6 p.m. EDT. Post time for the feature is set for 5:45 p.m.
Shipping in from California for Bob Baffert is Peachtree Stable’s Plum Pretty, a 25-length winner of the March 27 Sunland Park Oaks and neck winner of the May 6 Kentucky Oaks. The Pennsylvania-bred daughter of Medaglia d'Oro enters off a runner-up finish in last month’s Hollywood Oaks (gr. II) on Cushion Track when she was beaten 1 1/2 lengths by Zazu as the odds-on choice.
Baffert has worked Plum Pretty twice since that last race, including a six-furlong bullet move July 17 when she was clocked in 1:12 at Hollywood. Martin Garcia will have the mount on the bay filly, who is 3-1-2 from six starts with earnings of $791,200. They will break from post 2.
“I think she likes the dirt better,” said Jim Barnes, assistant to Baffert. “In small fields, you have to ride them a little bit differently. You have to take it to them early. (In the Hollywood Oaks), we kind of sat and waited, and waited, and waited. She came out of that race all right, and here we are.”
Baffert opted for the Hollywood Oaks for Plum Pretty rather than shipping her to Belmont Park for the June 25 Mother Goose (gr. I). It was probably a wise choice, as Buster’s Ready romped by 4 1/4 lengths over favored Joyful Victory. Bred and owned by the late Edward P. Evans, Buster’s Ready dominated the 1 1/16-mile Mother Goose one start after giving Royal Delta a tough time in the May 20 Black-Eyed Susan (gr. II) at Pimlico. A subsequent foot bruise forced Royal Delta to miss the Mother Goose.
Buster’s Ready (7-2) captured her first stakes win in the Mother Goose after spending much of the winter racing in allowance company at Aqueduct. John Velazquez will keep the mount for Todd Pletcher. They won this race a year ago with Devil May Care.
“We’re hoping for continued improvement,” said Pletcher of the More Than Ready filly, who is 4-2-1 from nine starts. “This is a tougher race, but she’s in good form. It’s typical for the Evans-bred horses to develop a little bit as they get older and appreciate more distance. She’s a filly who has gradually improved and become more professional.”
Also coming off a grade I victory is Godolphin Stable’s It’s Tricky, a winner of four of five career starts. The Mineshaft filly enters off a sparkling 3 3/4-length score over odds-on favorite Turbulent Descent in the TVG Acorn (gr. I) at Belmont on June 11.
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who admits It’s Tricky (3-1) can be difficult to handle, elected to send the filly from Belmont to Saratoga a week before Saturday’s race to give her seven days to acclimate to her new surroundings.
“She’s still tricky, but she’s training well,” said McLaughlin. “She’s had the last couple of days up here after doing her last workout at Belmont (five furlongs in 1:01.88 on July 15). We’re galloping into the race.”
It’s Tricky’s lone defeat came in the Gulfstream Park Oaks (gr. II) when fourth. She won a pair of races on the Aqueduct inner track over the winter including an optional claimer in January when she trounced Buster’s Ready by 4 3/4 lengths. Eddie Castro will have the mount.
Listed as the 2-1 favorite, Palides Investment’s Royal Delta is 3-for-4 in her short career and has won her last two including the Black-Eyed Susan by 2 1/2 lengths for her first stakes win. The Empire Maker filly missed the Mother Goose but Bill Mott believes she will be fit enough after two strong works July 10 and July 18.
“I don’t think it will be that much of a disadvantage,” said Mott. “This distance wasn’t an issue last time, and I think being fresh could be an advantage not for this one, but maybe for the Alabama (gr. I on Aug. 20).”
Fox Hill Farm’s Joyful Victory has disappointed as the favorite in her last two, including the Kentucky Oaks when fourth. Earlier in the year she romped in the Honeybee (gr. II) and Fantasy (gr. II) at Oaklawn Park by a combined 15 3/4 lengths. Ramon Dominguez will ride the Larry Jones trainee.
$250,000 TVG CCA Oaks (gr. I, Race 10, 5:45 p.m.), 3-year-old Fillies, 1 1/8 Miles (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, Odds 1. Buster's Ready (VA), J R Velazquez, 121, T A Pletcher, 7-2
2. Plum Pretty (PA), M Garcia, 121, B Baffert, 3-1
3. Joyful Victory (ON), R A Dominguez, 121, J L Jones, 6-1
4. Royal Delta (KY), J Lezcano, 121, W I Mott, 2-1
5. It's Tricky (KY), E Castro, 121, K P McLaughlin, 3-1