It was all going according to plan, just the way trainer Brad Cox had hoped, just the way jockey Florent Geroux could have scripted, despite the ample opportunities for everything to derail.
She popped out of the gate for the $1 million Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) on her toes, and in a handful of strides Monomoy Girl was in about as auspicious a spot as you could ask, given her starting spot from post 14. After angling in just behind the early pacesetter going into the first turn, she stayed in her typically forwardly placed position down the Churchill Downs backstretch until, finally, her impatience took over approaching the final turn and she decided she had enough of this stalking routine.
Even when she found herself in a stretch battle eerily similar to the circumstances that resulted in her lone loss, the daughter of Tapizar refused to deviate from the script laid out by her connections in November. Every waking moment the last several months has been designed to culminate with her draped in the sweet smell of victory and lilies on May 4—and not a determined rival, not a post-race claim of foul, not even her own wandering focus was going to keep the headstrong filly from holding up her end of the bargain.
"It was unbelievable. It worked out just the way we planned," trainer Brad Cox said in the moments after his emotions had spilled over onto his hometown track. "It's a dream come true. We put this plan together in November, and it just worked out."
After working out a stellar trip under the heady handling of Geroux, Monomoy Girl unleashed a combination of brilliance and guts to capture the nation's premier race for 3-year-old fillies when she fought off graded stakes winner Wonder Gadot in the stretch and survived a subsequent objection to capture the 1 1/8-mile Kentucky Oaks by half a length.
The emotion that came forth from the normally business-like Cox in the aftermath of Monomoy Girl's sixth win from seven career starts had been building ever since the chestnut filly agent Liz Crow picked out for $100,000 at the 2016 Keeneland September yearling sale entered his barn last season.
Owned by Michael Dubb, Sol Kumin's Monomoy Stables, The Elkstone Group and Bethlehem Stables, Monomoy Girl has danced every dance asked of her, winning on turf her first two outings before making an eye-catching transition to the dirt in October's Rags to Riches Stakes. The only time she had been beaten, ironically enough, came over the Churchill Downs strip in November when Wonder Gadot's stablemate, Road to Victory, got the better of her by a neck following a thrilling stretch battle in the Golden Rod Stakes (G2).
It was shortly after that defeat that Cox started crafting the best way to make sure Monomoy Girl's next visit to the Louisville track had the desired ending. The third race back is often considered the best in a horse's form cycle, so two prep races were planned for his charge this spring.
She hit her marks on cue, winning in the Feb. 17 Rachel Alexandra Stakes (G2) after breaking flat-footed and ending up last early on, then taking the April 7 Central Bank Ashland Stakes (G1) by 5 1/2 lengths in her usual gate-to-wire fashion. It was all going as expected heading into the first Friday in May, and even an unfortunate post position draw couldn't shake her team's faith that the stars were going to align.
"Everybody was saying, 'You got the 14 post. You got the 14 post.' But they were discounting the experience of the team here and the understanding of the track, knowing the track," said co-owner Dubb, who had come to the Oaks twice before with Grace Hall (third in 2012) and Condo Commando (ninth in 2015). "This was the first time I was really confident. There were no nerves. I knew we had one of the greatest, if not at the moment, the greatest Kentucky trainer in Brad Cox. We had a great Kentucky rider. The horse was here. The horse had a race over the track."
Geroux's aptitude in a big race is well established, a point driven home by his handling of reigning Horse of the Year Gun Runner . With all his main rivals including grade 1 winner and 2-1 favorite Midnight Bisou to his inside, Geroux played it perfectly out of the far outside post in the Oaks when he was able to get Monomoy Girl three wide just off pacesetter Take Charge Paula around the first turn and through an opening quarter mile in :23.48.
Monomoy Girl kept shadowing Take Charge Paula three deep with Sassy Sienna inside past the half-mile mark in :47.70 over a track rated fast. As Take Charge Paula sharply backed out of things with about three furlongs to go, Monomoy Girl pulled Geroux out to a 1 1/2-length advantage before being joined by Wonder Gadot mounting a rally from fourth on the outside.
"When I hit the quarter pole, her ears were flopping back and forth and she tried putting the brakes on me until she saw Wonder Gadot," Geroux said. "When the other filly got head-to-head, I gave her a few slaps to keep her interested, but she can be quirky. You can get after her too much, and she stops."
When Geroux started getting into his mount in the final sixteenth, Monomoy Girl and Wonder Gadot brushed together about three times. Jockey John Velazquez, aboard the Mark Casse-trained Wonder Gadot, said the last bit of contact knocked his filly off balance and off her correct lead, but the stewards deemed no change to the order of finish.
"It was enough to get my horse off balance, and then he put his head in front of my horse," Velazquez said. "It looked like I was going to win it. I was there."
"The filly that won ran very game," Casse added. "There was contact, and it made our filly switch her leads. I think it was going to be really close. But I think the stewards made the right call. To take a horse down in this type of race, I think it has to be pretty significant. As much I would have liked to have won, I understand the ruling."
After crossing the wire in a final time of 1:49.13, Geroux said he wasn't too concerned the objection would result in him losing his first Oaks triumph.
"I hit her maybe once or twice, and she slightly came out," Geroux said. "But since Johnny was very close to me, we never were out of control. So I was very confident."
Midnight Bisou, who got squeezed at the start and was 11th at one point down the backside, ran on under Mike Smith to get up for third, with Eskimo Kisses fourth and Chocolate Martini rounding out the top five in the 14-horse field.
"I don't know if the bad start cost me the race, but it cost me enough," Smith said. "We will never know."
Bred in Kentucky by FPF and Highfield Ranch out of the Henny Hughes mare Drumette, Monomoy Girl improved her earnings to $1,120,750.
Even with the reality of just his second career grade 1 win and first Oaks victory still sinking in, Cox said his mind was already coming up with the next plan for Monomoy Girl to attack. A start in the June 9 Acorn Stakes (G1) would likely be her next major target, with the goal to end her campaign with Eclipse Award accolades.
"Obviously, right now the goal is to accomplish enough with her to make her a champion 3-year-old," Cox said.
As she proved Friday, Monomoy Girl is nothing if not adept at making the best-laid plans come to fruition.