Unbeaten Melhor Ainda takes the favorite's role for trainer Bobby Frankel into Sunday's $750,000 American Oaks (gr. IT) for 3-year-old fillies at Hollywood Park.
Frankel seeks his second victory in the four-year-old event. Megahertz won 2002's inaugural American Oaks by disqualification.
Kentucky-bred Melhor Ainda, virtually untested after four victories by a combined 17 3/4-lengths that include three stakes competitions, was established as the 2-1 favorite among 13 international invitees to the 1 1/4-mile turf event that highlights California's richest day of stakes racing in 2005.
Melhor Ainda's principal threats in the star-studded cast appear to be Japanese standout Cesario, recent winner of the Japanese Oaks (Jpn-I) in Tokyo at odds of 1-2, and Irish-bred Three Degrees, recent winner of Hollywood Park's Honeymoon Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT). Cesario is the 5-2 second choice with Three Degrees listed third at 7-2.
The American Oaks is the centerpiece of an eleven-race program that includes five graded stakes worth $1,850,000. Three of them are grade I races. Hollywood Park will guarantee minimums on seven exotic wagering pools including $1 million in the Pick Six.
Grade I stakes in addition to the American Oaks (eighth race) include the $350,000 Triple Bend Breeders' Cup Handicap (ninth race) and $300,000 Vanity Handicap (third race). Other graded races are the $250,000 American Handicap (gr. IIT, sixth race) and $200,000 Royal Heroine (gr. IIIT, tenth race). Each stake race is an invitational.
John Velazquez, the nation's leading jockey who won his first Eclipse Award last year, will fly in from New York to be aboard TNT Stud's Melhor Ainda. The bay daughter of Pulpit
, purchased for $125,000 as a yearling at the Keeneland September Sale, has earned $213,576 from her four victorious starts. With Velazquez at the controls, she most recently won Belmont Park's Sands Point Stakes (gr. IIIT) as the 2-5 favorite while running 1 1/8 miles in 1:47 2/5 under a hand ride.
Cesario, a striking black granddaughter of 1989 Kentucky Derby champion Sunday Silence, will attempt to top the performance of Japan's first American Oaks representative, Dance in the Mood, last year. A daughter of Sunday Silence, Dance in the Mood earned 7-5 favoritism in the 2004 American Oaks. After she lost by one length to outsider Ticker Tape, jockey Yutaka Take was criticized for an ill-timed ride.
Jockey Yuichi Fukunaga has ridden Cesario to perfection four times including her victories in the Japanese Oaks and Flower Cup (Jpn-III). Her only setback in five races transpired with another jockey aboard when second, losing by a head, in the Japanese One Thousand Guineas (Jpn-I). The filly owned by U Carrot Farm has earned $2,128,568 in her five starts.
Seven-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey Jerry Bailey will be on hand to ride Three Degrees for trainer Paddy Gallagher. Bailey takes over for Gary Stevens, who guided the gray filly to her one-length victory in the Honeymoon. It was the third win in four United States starts for Three Degrees, whose only loss was by a nose. She began her career in England. Bloodstock agent Richard Duggan purchased the filly for a U.S. partnership following a third and a second in her two English starts.
The Honeymoon has proven to be a solid step toward the American Oaks. Megahertz parlayed her 2002 win into a victory via Dublino's disqualification for stretch interference in that year's Oaks. Ticker Tape, fourth as the 11-10 favorite in the 2004 Honeymoon, rebounded to take the third Oaks at odds of 12-1. $750,000 American Oaks (gr. IT), 3-year-old fillies, 1 1/4 miles (turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, M/L Odds
1. Memorette, Kent Desormeaux, 30-1
2. Hallowed Dream, Patrick Valenzuela, 30-1
3. Thatswhatimean, David Flores, 30-1
4. Isla Cozzene, Corey Nakatani, 30-1
5. Melhor Ainda, John Velazquez, 2-1
6. Luas Line, Rene Douglas, 12-1
7. Silver Cup, Gary Stevens, 8-1
8. Silk and Scarlet, Victor Espinoza, 20-1
9. Sweet Firebird, Alex Solis, 20-1
10. Louvain, Tyler Baze, 20-1
11. Three Degrees, Jerry Bailey, 7-2
12. Singhalese, Garrett Gomez, 30-1
13. Cesario, Yuichi Fukunaga, 5-2Each carries 121 pounds.