Toll Taker Can Collect in Monmouth BC Oaks

(from Monmouth report)
Toll Taker can lose her "inconsistent" tag when the 3-year-old filly heads to the post in Sunday's $200,000 Monmouth Park Breeders' Cup Oaks (gr. III).

"Her record looks inconsistent," trainer Tim Hills said, "but that's because things happen to her in races that really affect her. If the race unfolds right Sunday, she will be tough to beat."

Toll Taker, who will be ridden by Aaron Gryder, is a leading contender in the field of seven entered in the Oaks.

The 3-year-old filly by Bernstein has had an eventful 13-race career. In her first five races last year, things went mostly to plan. The Illinois-bred broke her maiden and won an allowance race in four starts at Monmouth, and then shipped to Belmont Park to win the Astarita Stakes (gr. III).

The trouble began when Hills shipped the Sea Gull Associates runner to Chicago for the Showtime Debutante at Hawthorne last November. Toll Taker stumbled coming out of the gate and unseated rider Carlos H. Marquez Jr., marking a disappointing end to what had been a promising year.

This year didn't start any better. Toll Taker came out in the Old Hat Stakes (gr. III) at Gulfstream Park in February. She slammed into the side of the gate at the break and was effectively eliminated.

Hills stretched her out to two turns in the Suncoast Stakes at Tampa Bay on Feb. 26, and Toll Taker used her good speed to gain a nearly two-length victory. However, in the subsequent Florida Oaks, she drew the extreme outside post and was wide on both turns. Toll Taker ran down the rest of the field in the stretch, but could not threaten the winner, R Lady Joy.

She came north for the Comely Stakes (gr. II) at Aqueduct in April, and it was there one of her distinct prejudices came to the surface.

"She doesn't like getting dirt in her face," Hills said. "Mig (jockey Rich Migliore) tried to take her back and rate her, and she hated it. And she also got into a traffic jam that took her out if it."

Toll Taker finished last of eight. She returns to Monmouth looking for new worlds to conquer.

"I always had the Oaks in mind for her," the trainer said, "but I really wanted to try her on the turf. She trained on the grass and looked like she had the right kind of stride for it."

Hills entered Toll Taker in the Boiling Springs here for her turf debut, but the race came off the grass and lost its grade. Toll Taker ran one of her best races to score by a neck over Pleasant Lyrics.

Hills shipped Toll Taker to Delaware for the Rhudy Memorial for her turf debut on July 2. She put in an even effort over the firm course, finishing third.

"She didn't quicken like good turf horses do," Hills said, "so then I started getting her ready for the Oaks."

Toll Taker's prep came in the Serena's Song on July 24. She used her speed to stalk the leaders, gained the front in midstretch, and then got run down by Golden Locket, who will be trainer Vicki Oliver's Oaks starter.

$200,000 Monmouth Breeders' Cup Oaks (gr. III), 3-year-old fillies, 1 1/16 miles
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Culinary (KY), 122, Robby Albarado
2. Merrill Gold (FL), 116, Jose Lezcano
3. Toll Taker (IL), 119, Aaron Gryder
4. Bayou Breeze (KY), 116, Michael Luzzi
5. Flying Glitter (KY), 116, Elvis Trujillo
6. Shebelongstoyou (KY), 116, Stewart Elliott
7. Golden Locket (KY), 116, Chris DeCarlo