With the remnants of Hurricane Harvey pushing through the Northeast Sept. 3, Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen's Vertical Oak drew off to a 5 1/4-length victory in a very sloppy edition of the $250,000 Prioress Stakes (G2) at Saratoga Race Course.
The day after Gun Runner romped in the Woodward Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1), Asmussen added another graded victory to his list of Saratoga wins with Kirk and Judy Robison's Vertical Oak, who went off as the fifth choice at 9-2.
Student Body took the early lead and set fractions of :22.21 and :45.24 through the first half-mile. Vertical Oak, with Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez aboard, pressed the pace early, engaged the leader on equal terms after a half-mile and drew off at the top of the stretch.
"Perfect trip," Velazquez said. "Steve told me she loves the slop and to let her do her thing. I came out running to make sure I got the position I wanted. Once I got the horse to the outside, I gave her a little chance to run around the turn and when I asked her down the lane, she was running nice."
The win was Velazquez's seventh victory in two days.
Vertical Oak paid $11.40, $5.70, and $3.20 across the board. Nonna Mela returned $4.70 and $3.40, while the post-time favorite, Dawn the Destroyer, paid $2.50 for third.
Bred by Millennium Farms in Kentucky, Vertical Oak is out of the multiple stakes-winning mare Vertical Vision (Pollard's Vision ). Vertical Oak was consigned to the 2015 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky fall yearling sale by the breeder, where the Robison's purchased her for $20,000.
The Prioress is Vertical Oak's second graded victory. She took Pimlico Race Course's Adena Springs Miss Preakness Stakes (G3) by 3 3/4 lengths May 19. One start prior to that score, she won the Goldfinch Stakes by 7 3/4 lengths over a sloppy, sealed Prairie Meadows main track. Both races were at the Prioress distance.
"When she won her stakes race at Prairie Meadows, (on) a very sloppy racetrack similar to today, it was visually impressive, but you weren't sure who she beat," Asmussen said. "Without a doubt, she relishes the slop. This confirms that."
Vertical Oak placed fifth in the seven-furlong Longines Test Stakes (G1) Aug. 5 at Saratoga Race Course in her most recent effort.
"This race suited us better than the Test, and we took a bit of a shot in the Test," he added. "She's a very seasoned filly. She broke her maiden here last year. She likes it here at Saratoga. The Test being the race that it is, I thought she deserved a chance. She ran valiantly in there and battled between fillies and tired a bit late. Backing up to three-quarters today helped her.
"We got off track at Belmont and I do think that caused her (to be) not as sharp away from the gates in the next couple of races, but I do think we're back to who she should be. Today was perfect and most likely a try against older mares at three-quarters is what we'll (do) next."
The filly now has a record of 5-2-1 from 12 starts and earnings of $444,200.