Trainer Brad Cox has long known Monomoy Girl is a good one—not just good, actually, but one of those rare types with something extra that separates talent when the rubber hits the road.
She can control a race with her devastating speed, but she has also found herself dead last in the early going and still ended up well in front when it counted. That's the thing with truly superior individuals, they make themselves immune to circumstances that could otherwise been seen as detrimental.
Should Monomoy Girl cement herself as the leader of her division at the conclusion of the Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) at Churchill Downs May 4, she'll have done so by proving the aforementioned point. With her connections stoically watching the pill pull April 30, the daughter of Tapizar landed the far outside post of the 14-horse field entered for the 1 1/8-mile Oaks, but was still installed as the 2-1 morning-line favorite to take the signature test for 3-year-old fillies.
"Well, it is what it is," Cox said of the post position. "We'll come up with a game plan and run the play. That's horse racing. She's obviously a good filly and good horses overcome things. We'll have to overcome the 14 hole and have the speed and everything to the inside of us. We'll see if she can adjust."
There hasn't been much that has thrown Monomoy Girl off in her six career starts. Owned by Michael Dubb, Monomoy Stables, The Elkstone Group, and Bethlehem Stables, the chestnut filly has one blemish on her record—when she was beaten a neck by Road to Victory in the Nov. 25 Golden Rod Stakes (G2) at Churchill—but has otherwise proven too much for her classmates to handle.
Her career began, interestingly enough, with a pair of victories on the turf, including her maiden outing when she rallied from well back going a mile at Indiana Grand Race Course Sept. 5. And when she made her seasonal bow Feb. 17 in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes (G2) at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, she showed exactly why she came into her 3-year-old year with the weight of expectations heavy on her shoulders.
After breaking flat-footed under jockey Florent Geroux, Monomoy Girl's best weapon was taken away from her as she ended up at the back of the seven-horse field. When Geroux tipped her out just past the half-mile mark, she swept past rivals and right into the conversation as a potential Oaks favorite when she hit the wire 2 1/2 lengths in front.
"I thought we learned as much about her in that race as we have in any of her races," said Cox, who will also saddle Sassy Sienna and Kelly's Humor in the Oaks field. "She broke from the outside that day—granted, it wasn't 14 horses—but she did break from the outside. She did break a little slow and she had to adjust to the pace. (The 14 hole) is not really where you want to be, but she's a good filly, and she's ready to run."
Monomoy Girl heads into the Oaks off a gate-to-wire, 5 1/2-length triumph in the April 7 Central Bank Ashland Stakes (G1) at Keeneland and has touted her energy level in her strong gallops since.
"I have to keep a stop watch on her even when she's galloping," Cox said. "She's aggressive, she likes to train. But she responds to what the rider wants, and she's just a smart filly."
Expected to vie for betting favoritism along with Monomoy Girl is the Santa Anita Oaks (G1) winner Midnight Bisou, who will break from post 10 in the Kentucky Oaks and was deemed the 5-2 second choice on the morning line.
Her trainer Bill Spawr is known for his conservative nature with his horses, so the fact he has gone against his own grain in handling Midnight Bisou is a strong endorsement of her talent. After coming home as the runner-up in her Oct. 27 debut at Santa Anita Park, Spawr did the decidedly un-Spawr thing of running the daughter of Midnight Lute back in a listed stakes, where she was second to eventual grade 1 winner Dream Tree in the Nov. 18 Desi Arnaz Stakes.
Midnight Bisou hasn't been bested since, sweeping all three of the major Oaks prep races at Santa Anita this season. Prior to her 3 1/2 length win in the Santa Anita Oaks where she rallied from eighth, the dark bay filly prevailed in the Jan. 7 Santa Ynez Stakes (G2) and March 3 Santa Ysabel Stakes (G3).
"Bill is beyond confident in this filly," said Jeff Bloom of Bloom Racing Stable, which co-owns Midnight Bisou along with Allen Racing. "He's been saying that for a long time, and Bill, if you know him, is not a hype kind of guy at all. So each time she's come out of her race, he's been that much more confident and that much more willing to brag about her.
"We're very excited about it, and she seems to be getting better, which makes it that much more exciting."
Where Monomoy Girl has been the established star for the Cox barn, stablemate Sassy Sienna has jumped up recently and validated the high regard she carried last season. The daughter of Midshipman captured the April 13 Fantasy Stakes (G3) by a nose over fellow Oaks entrant and graded stakes winner, Wonder Gadot, to earn her place in Friday's field.
"We liked her a lot last year, and we thought she would show up in the (grade 1 Darley) Alcibiades (where she finished fourth)," Cox said. "She had a wide trip and still ended fourth. To say I'm surprised that she's here—no I'm not. She's a tough filly; she's basically run every 30 days. She's solid."
Wonder Gadot hasn't won in four starts since taking the Dec. 2 Demoiselle Stakes (G2) to close out her juvenile season but has been knocking on the door of another breakout effort. The Mark Casse-trained daughter of Medaglia d'Oro was third in both the Rachel Alexandra and TwinSpires.com Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) and will break from post 5 in the Kentucky Oaks field with Hall of Famer John Velazquez set to have the mount.
Adding a slice of foreign intrigue into this year's running is the presence of Sheikh Rashid Bin Humaid Al Nuaimi's Rayya. Most recently second to Kentucky Derby hopeful Mendelssohn in the March 31 UAE Derby Sponsored By Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group (G2), Rayya now is in the barn of three-time Oaks winning trainer Bob Baffert.
Baffert, who got his third win in the filly classic last year with Abel Tasman, will be attempting to become the first trainer since D. Wayne Lukas (1989-90) to win the race in consecutive years.
Drayden Van Dyke has the mount on Rayya, listed at 15-1 on the morning line, and will break from post 7.
Churchill Downs, Friday, May 04, 2018, Race 11
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1Sassy Sienna (KY) Gary L. Stevens 121 Brad H. Cox 15/1 2 2Coach Rocks (KY) Luis Saez 121 Dale L. Romans 12/1 3 3Classy Act (KY) Brian Joseph Hernandez, Jr. 121 W. Bret Calhoun 15/1 4 4Chocolate Martini (KY) Javier Castellano 121 Thomas M. Amoss 12/1 5 5Wonder Gadot (ON) John R. Velazquez 121 Mark E. Casse 20/1 6 6Kelly's Humor (KY) Irad Ortiz, Jr. 121 Brad H. Cox 30/1 7 7Rayya (KY) Drayden Van Dyke 121 Bob Baffert 12/1 8 8Heavenhasmynikki (OH) Calvin H. Borel 121 Anthony T. Quartarolo 50/1 9 9Take Charge Paula (KY) Jose L. Ortiz 121 Kiaran P. McLaughlin 15/1 10 10Midnight Bisou (KY) Mike E. Smith 121 William Spawr 5/2 11 11My Miss Lilly (KY) Joe Bravo 121 Mark A. Hennig 10/1 12 12Patrona Margarita (TX) Ricardo Santana, Jr. 121 W. Bret Calhoun 30/1 13 13Eskimo Kisses (KY) Corey J. Lanerie 121 Kenneth G. McPeek 15/1 14 14Monomoy Girl (KY) Florent Geroux 121 Brad H. Cox 2/1
Churchill Downs, Friday, May 04, 2018, Race 11