Decked Out flew home late and caught front-running Sassy Little Lila by the slimmest of margins in the $300,000 American Oaks (gr. IT) Dec. 31 at Santa Anita Park, and patience paid off in more ways than one.
The big score came by a nose for the 3-year-old Street Boss filly after three prior starts also came in grade I company, and likely as a result of her connections' decision to freshen her after a 12th in the Oct. 1 Rodeo Drive Stakes (gr. IT) off her runner-up finish in August to Harmonize by a head in the Del Mar Oaks Presented by The Jockey Club (gr. IT). From what he saw in the mornings, trainer Keith Desormeaux was once again confident in his charge headed into the fray.
“She was training awesome coming into today," Desormeaux said. "I think a key decision was not run her at Del Mar. We skipped a race in hopes of getting her fresh and that may have been the winning decision.”
The result was a one-two punch at the conclusion of a remarkable year for Sol Kumin, whose Head of Plains Partners owns Decked Out with Big Chief Racing and Gene Voss. Kumin also owns Sassy Little Lila in partnership through Sheep Pond Partners, with Michael Ryan. Horses owned by Kumin and partners in 2016 won nine grade I races, with 31 stakes wins overall.
On a rare rainy day in Southern California, Decked Out claimed her score on turf rated "good." The American Oaks was cut back to 1 1/8 miles from its original 1 1/4-mile distance to prevent runners from having to charge down the Santa Anita hillside turf course and cross the dirt main track, but the rain was no bother for Decked Out, who back in February picked up her first graded victory with a win in the Providencia Stakes (gr. IIIT) over yielding ground.
'I'm sure the handicappers were paying attention. When she won the Providencia it was soft ground," Desormeaux said. "We don't get that too often here in Southern California. I'm glad it's raining today."
Decked Out was nowhere near the front early, running 10th under jockey Kent Desormeaux as Sassy Little Lila showed the way through fractions of :22.68 and :47.03. The leader went three-quarters in 1:10.70 and held her advantage headed home through a 1:35.08 mile, while Decked Out still had five horses to catch after a big move around the final turn.
"She looked tired, she looked like she was starting to labor, and I'm surpirsed she continued on," Keith Desormeaux remarked.
But Kent Desormeaux kept his mount to the task, and Decked Out responded with a final-strides surge that was just enough, completing the distance in 1:47.86.
"It was doubtful from the quarter pole," the jockey said. "I wasn't getting there fast enough. ... The end result was close, because she's knocked on the door all year. She's been on the south end, and today she got on the north side."
"She showed her heart. I had no idea who won the photo at first," the winner's trainer added.
Decked Out began her career with seven starts on dirt, and showed early talent sprinting with placings in the Astoria and Schuylerville Stakes (gr. III). She tailed off toward the end of her 2-year-old season, however, and transitioned to turf in February with a third in Santa Anita's Sweet Life Stakes. Two starts later she picked up her first graded score in the April 9 Providencia. Aside from her debut maiden score on the Santa Anita dirt back in May of 2015, that was her lone victory until Saturday. In her other grade I attempt, she ran ninth in the Belmont Oaks Invitational (gr. IT).
Off at odds of 9-2, Decked Out returned $11, $6, and $4.20. Sweet Little Lila, 4-1, paid $5.80 and $4. Lady Valeur finished third by half-length and brought $7.20 to show. Completing the order of finish were Dreamarcher, Barleysugar, Cheekaboo, Stays in Vegas, How Unusual, Queen Blossom, Sheeza Milky Way, Dynamic Mizzes K, and Mokat. Mrs. Norris was scratched.
“You can’t ever get enough of these (grade I races)," Keith Desormeaux said. "I have to compliment the team. (Grade I races) are always what we’re after, and her broodmare value just skyrocketed, so it’s very gratifying."
Haymarket Farm bred Decked Out in Kentucky out of the stakes-winning Ontario-bred You and I mare Once Around. Now a winner of $480,859 with a 3-2-3 record from 16 starts, she was consigned by Select Sales as a weanling to the 2013 Keeneland November breeding stock sale, where Darwin Krenz signed the ticket for $45,000. Voss bought her from Trackside Farm's consignment to the 2014 Keeneland September yearling sale for $75,000. Once Around is also the dam of stakes winner Morrow Cove. Decked Out is her first grade I winner; she produced a filly by The Factor in 2016.