Trainer Graham Motion sends out African Violet in the Monmouth Breeders' Cup Oaks.

Trainer Graham Motion sends out African Violet in the Monmouth Breeders' Cup Oaks.

Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer

African Violet Looking to Break Through

When last seen, J. Mack Robinson’s homebred African Violet was dueling in the stretch with Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) winner Proud Spell in the July 12 Delaware Oaks (gr. II). Although coming up three-quarters of a length short that day, the daughter of Lemon Drop Kid  proved she can run with the best 3-year-old fillies in the nation.

On Aug. 9, African Violet will have another shot at a graded stakes, as she takes on six rivals in the $150,000 Monmouth Breeders’ Cup Oaks (gr. III), a 1 1/16-mile test on the main track. In order to make it to the winner’s circle, however, African Violet must take down a pair of fillies who already have graded stakes triumphs on their resumes--Acoma and Maren’s Meadow. There is also Populist and Open Skies to deal with, both of them with good, early speed.

In the Delaware Oaks, which was African Violet’s first graded stakes test since finishing seventh in the April 5 Ashland (gr. I) at Keeneland, the chestnut filly pressed the pace, took a short lead at the top of the lane, and fought Proud Spell along the rail until falling just short at the wire. It was an effort that pleased trainer Graham Motion.

“It was hard to tell if Proud Spell regressed that day since she was coming back so quickly, but I still feel good about how she ran,” Motion said. “Other than the bad race on the Polytrack at Keeneland, it’s pretty hard to fault what she’s done. She was probably a little unlucky in the Delaware Oaks prep (runner-up in June 14 Susan’s Girl) and she seems to be doing very well.

“She’s a very adaptable filly. She’s got some speed, but can also lay off it if we need her to. I feel good about where she is right now.”

Bred in Kentucky and out of the Cherokee Run mare Run Ameadowstar, African Violet has produced a 3-2-0 record from seven starts. Her lone blacktype win came May 12 in the Polly’s Jet Stakes at Delaware Park. Eddie Castro will ride for the first time and break from post five.

Helen Pitts and Helen Alexander’s homebred Acoma is a slight question mark coming into the race, based on her performance in the July 19 Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I) at Belmont Park when she finished fourth, beaten nearly 19 lengths. Trainer David Carroll is hoping the Empire Maker  filly can put that effort behind her and return to the form she showed when winning the May 31 Dogwood Stakes (gr. III) at Churchill Downs.

“Well, we put her in against two of the best fillies in the nation--Music Note and Little Belle. In hindsight, she absolutely was not ready for either of those,” Carroll said. “But since then, she has trained more aggressively and has acted like her old self. This is a tough race and we have a lot of respect for the fillies in here, but she’s a nice one in her own right. If she runs her race, she should be right there.”

Acoma, who had her final work at Saratoga Aug. 4, is 3-0-1 from five starts. Also with a new rider, she will get Elvis Trujillo.

River Ridge Ranch’s Maren’s Meadow has been off the board in consecutive starts since taking the March 22 Bourbonette Oaks (gr. III) on the Turfway Park Polytrack. The daughter of Meadowlake finished 23 lengths back in the Black-Eyed Susan (gr. II) and was fourth in the Delaware Oaks after weakening late. The Larry Jones trainee had a bullet work Aug. 4 at Delaware, blistering five furlongs in :59.80. Terry Thompson gets the mount.

Populist, winner of the June 28 St. Georges Stakes at Delaware, and locally-based Open Skies, who went gate-to-wire in the restricted Spruce Fir Handicap, should provide early speed. Interestingly, Open Skies will be entering off only seven days rest. She finished runner-up in the Staybridge Suites Stakes on the Monmouth Park turf Aug. 2.

$150,000 Monmouth Oaks (gr. III, Race 9, 4:47 p.m.), Three-Year-old Fillies, 1 1/16 Miles
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Whirlie Bertie (KY), 118, Calvin H. Borel
2. Populist (KY), 118, Travis L. Dunkelberger
3. Open Skies (NJ), 118, Jose Lezcano
4. Acoma (KY), 122, Elvis Trujillo
5. African Violet (KY), 118, Eddie Castro
6. Philly Gal (KY), 118, Joe Bravo
7. Maren's Meadow (ON), 122, Terry J. Thompson