The last opportunity to win a grade 1 against 3-year-old competition has attracted a talented group of invading fillies from the East to Santa Anita Park for the $300,000 American Oaks (G1T) Dec. 30, including a pair from the powerful barn of trainer Chad Brown.
Both Brown entrants for the 1 1/4-mile grass test—New Money Honey and Rymska—are formidable competitors based on their résumés, but enter the American Oaks at different stages in their sophomore campaigns.
New Money Honey, the only grade 1 winner in the field—she took the 2016 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1T) at Santa Anita and won the Belmont Oaks Invitational Stakes (G1T) in July—comes into the American Oaks fresh off a sixth-place finish last time out in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup S. presented by Lane's End (G1T) at Keeneland, and the layoff was by design.
"I didn't see a suitable race for (New Money Honey) that I liked for a prep for this race," Brown said of the daughter of Medaglia d'Oro , who races for e Five Racing Thoroughbreds. "Bringing her into the race fresh off a little layoff was a better approach than squeezing in a race. ... (But) this is her last race of the year after a lengthy campaign.
"She's been through a lot of training and a lot of breezes at a lot of tracks. But she's a big, strong horse who has handled it well. This race might be a real test for her, given how long and demanding her campaign has been. If she's able to win, it will be a real testament to her class and talent."
Rymska, on the other hand, appears to be a filly just coming into her own. The daughter of Le Havre, owned by Alain Jathiere, Sheep Pond Partners, Thomas Coleman, and Elayne Herrick, lost a large portion of her season because of a bout of tendonitis after her Feb. 4 victory in the Sweetest Chant Stakes (G3T) at Gulfstream Park, but came back to win the Commonwealth Oaks presented by the Virginia Equine Alliance and the Virginia HBPA (G3T) at Laurel Park in September and scored an impressive victory last time out in the Winter Memories Stakes at Aqueduct Racetrack Nov. 23.
"Rymska unfortunately missed the center of her season, after a really nice win in South Florida, with some mild tendonitis," Brown said. "We needed to back off with her, with an eye on the future. She missed some major engagements that we would have liked to run her in, like the Belmont Oaks and Queen Elizabeth—races we thought she would do well in.
"But that gave us a fresh horse in the fall and this became her big, grade 1 target after we were forced to miss some time."
Jordan Wycoff's Desert Duchess is also entering the American Oaks on a three-race win streak for trainer Mike Maker. The Hard Spun filly, who was a $35,000 claim from a May 21 race at Belmont Park, took a while to get going, but won her fourth start for Maker in a Saratoga Race Course starter allowance Sept. 1, then took a conditional allowance at Kentucky Downs Sept. 14, and earned her first stakes win in blowout fashion (3 3/4 lengths) last time out Nov. 4 in the Cellars Shiraz Stakes at Gulfstream Park West.
The final entrant from the eastern quartet shipping in is Normandy Farm's homebred Daddys Lil Darling, who has been runner-up in four grade 1 events in her 14-race career (three on dirt, one on turf), but has yet to break through at the top level for trainer Ken McPeek.
"She's run against some nice horses all year long. We haven't ducked anybody all year long. There have been no easy groups," McPeek said.
Just this year the Scat Daddy filly has banked nearly $600,000 in eight starts, which include placings in the Central Bank Ashland Stakes (G1), Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1), Queen Elizabeth II, and Mrs. Revere Stakes (G2T). Daddys Lil Darling's last win came in the Sept. 10 Dueling Grounds Oaks at Kentucky Downs, but even with all the near misses, the only negative McPeek brought up from 2017 was that she didn't get to run in the Investec Oaks (G1) at Epsom in June. She was scratched at Epsom after a burst of thunder and lightning spooked the filly, which caused her to unseat jockey Olivier Peslier and run free.
"The only regret I have of the year is that she didn't have the chance to show how good she against Enable in Europe," McPeek said of Daddys Lil Darling, who would break the million-dollar mark in lifetime earnings if she runs first or second in the American Oaks. "Other than that, we've got no complaints."
There would have been another East Coast presence in the field if not for travel issues, according to Mark Casse, who trains John Oxley's La Coronel, who won the Queen Elizabeth II last time out to earn her first grade 1 win.
Casse said, rather than shipping the Colonel John filly north to Kentucky to catch a plane there, he arranged for a freight flight to take La Coronel to Southern California around Christmas, but when that flight was cancelled, he lacked other options to get to Santa Anita.
Casse said La Coronel will now point to the March 10 Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes (G3T) at Tampa Bay Downs for her next race. The Endeavour was the same race Tepin used to launch her championship 5-year-old campaign in 2016.
"It's a shame, but I like to think everything happens for a reason," Casse said.
Heading the local contingent is a trio from the barn of trainer Richard Baltas, who has had success in 2017 training fillies to graded grass wins in Southern California. Of the four graded stakes Baltas has won this year, three have been with females in graded grass races—Goodyearforroses in the Santa Ana Stakes (G2T), Hillhouse High in the Royal Heroine Stakes (G2T), and Madam Dancealot in the San Clemente Handicap (G2T).
Madam Dancealot is the only filly still in training out of those graded winners (the others have been sold to be bred), and she may be the local with the best chance of taking the American Oaks. Last-out Miss America Stakes winner Kathy's Song and maiden winner Pantsonfire round out the Baltas-trained entries for the American Oaks.
"We've got three in there and we're taking a shot," Baltas said. "It's a grade 1. There's a lot to gain and not a lot to lose on our home turf."
Another filly entered in the American Oaks who has gone through her fair share of tough-luck finishes is the Simon Callaghan-trained Beau Recall. The Sir Prancealot filly finished second behind standout Sircat Sally in three consecutive stakes races early in the year, was just a nose behind Dream Dancing at the wire in the Del Mar Oaks Presented by The Jockey Club (G1T), and clipped heels in the Queen Elizabeth II before she finished fifth.
Santa Anita Park, Saturday, December 30, 2017, Race 7
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1Madam Dancealot (IRE) Corey S. Nakatani 122 Richard Baltas 6/1 2 2Kathy's Song (KY) Brice Blanc 120 Richard Baltas 20/1 3 3Bernina Star (KY) Kent J. Desormeaux 120 James M. Cassidy 30/1 4 4Daddys Lil Darling (KY) Mike E. Smith 120 Kenneth G. McPeek 3/1 5 5Pantsonfire (IRE) Rajiv Maragh 120 Richard Baltas 30/1 6 6Beau Recall (IRE) Joseph Talamo 120 Simon Callaghan 6/1 7 7Desert Duchess (KY) Drayden Van Dyke 120 Michael J. Maker 8/1 8 8Rymska (FR) Irad Ortiz, Jr. 122 Chad C. Brown 5/2 9 9New Money Honey (KY) Javier Castellano 124 Chad C. Brown 7/2 10 10Coachwhip (KY) Flavien Prat 120 Richard E. Mandella 20/1
Santa Anita Park, Saturday, December 30, 2017, Race 7