It's hard to tell for sure, but in the final sixteenth of the $300,000 American Oaks (G1T), it certainly appeared as if Normandy Farm's Daddys Lil Darling saw her only competition coming up on the outside.
Earlier in the stretch she went past favored New Money Honey, but didn't exactly blow by. But when Madam Dancealot uncoiled a furious rally from last on the far outside, Daddys Lil Darling dug in and held for a relatively comfortable half-length victory under jockey Mike Smith at Santa Anita Park.
In a stalking position early—third behind frontrunner Coachwhip and New Money Honey as fractions went in :24.38, :46.68, and 1:12.83 through six furlongs—Smith guided Daddys Little Darling to the outside entering the stretch. New Money Honey, who took over the lead in the second turn, still had a head advantage with a furlong to run, but it was fleeting.
"I didn't want to have to wait for room," Smith said. "(New Money Honey) spread in the turn a little, but I knew (jockey Javier Castellano) was going to drop back in. And I was able to really get a good momentum going at that point, which I needed, because Corey (Nakatani) was coming on my outside."
Nakatani, aboard Madam Dancealot, was indeed coming fast. Last early in the nine-horse field and last late in the final turn, the San Clemente Handicap (G2T) winner began to eat up ground on the outside in the lane and motored to the wire, but could not get past the eventual winner, who finished off the 1 1/4 miles on firm turf in 2:00.11
"She ran a tremendous race," Nakatani said of the Richard Baltas trainee. "She likes to run from off the pace and we didn't want to change her style today. I was hoping we could catch the winner, but we couldn't quite get there. ... Maybe we could've tried to sit a little closer, but we didn't want to change anything, because she's been finishing so well in all of her races."
Kathy's Song, another Baltas-trained filly at 18-1, closed from sixth to finish third, a half-length in front of New Money Honey. Beau Recall, Pantsonfire, Coachwhip, Bernina Star, and Desert Duchess completed the order of finish.
It was the first grade 1 win for the Ken McPeek-trained daughter of Scat Daddy and her first graded win on grass. Her last graded win came in the 2016 Pocahontas Stakes (G2) on the Churchill Downs dirt, but she placed in six graded events after that (including four grade 1 races).
"We've been a bit of a bridesmaid all year. ... She was second in the (grade 1 Longines) Kentucky Oaks, second in the (grade 1) Ashland, but it was one of those things," McPeek said. "What are you going to do but keep trying? ... It was a bit frustrating, because she was always competitive, but didn't have things go her way ... but she's a special filly and you just have to keep trying with those kinds."
Bred in Kentucky, out of the Houston mare Miss Hot Salsa, Daddys Lil Darling now has a 4-5-1 record from 15 starts with more than $1.1 million in earnings.
"I was feeling excitement and pure panic at the end, there," said Nancy Polk of Normandy Farm. "Madam Dancealot was closing and I thought, 'Oh, no.' But she hung on and she did very well. We've been working for this grade 1 for a while, so it's wonderful to have it under our belt."