In the fight game, it's good to have someone you trust in the corner—or, in this case, the saddle. Jockey Florent Geroux asked for more from the daughter of Tapizar than ever before, and she responded to each request early and late in the 1 1/8-mile test to prevail by a half-length over the game Wonder Gadot.
Geroux and Monomoy Girl had already delivered the spectacular—her superior athleticism allowed Geroux to cruise around the Keeneland main oval in her previous start. When he made the slightest of moves to keep her focused that day, Monomoy Girl increased her advantage by three lengths in a few graceful strides and turned the stretch run of the Central Bank Ashland Stakes (G1) into a celebration for her connections.
But the Kentucky Oaks was a fight beginning from the outside post. Geroux kept his focus and Monomoy Girl broke well, gradually angled inside, and found herself three wide in the first turn. Monomoy Girl continued three wide early in the second turn when she again launched that powerful move. It came a bit earlier than in previous races, but it allowed her to move closer to the rail through the turn.
There was no stretch-long celebration this time as Wonder Gadot and jockey John Velazquez powered up to Monomoy Girl's throat latch on the outside. Geroux was forced to go to the whip. Monomoy Girl drifted out a few times and brushed her rival, but each time Geroux regained her focus and straightened her to emerge victorious.
During the post-race press conference, the rider couldn't keep his eyes off the replay of the race. He watched his filly react with complete trust and ferocious determination.
As talented as she is, Monomoy Girl has developed a habit of losing focus, and Geroux has worked to better understand her. He blames himself for her one loss, when Monomoy Girl took in the Churchill sights for too long and finished a neck behind Road to Victory in last year's Golden Rod Stakes (G2). But that relationship doesn't just happen. Geroux, who has been aboard for her past five starts, committed to Monomoy Girl well beyond race day.
Geroux knew what he had to do when a flight was canceled because of a rainstorm and he was stranded at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., with a scheduled work before the Feb. 17 Rachel Alexandra Stakes (G2) aboard Monomoy Girl at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots in New Orleans the next morning. Monomoy Girl's trainer, Brad Cox, also was stranded.
"We couldn't fly there. There was no flight," Geroux said. "There was nothing we could do. And we ended up driving seven straight hours, leaving at 7 at night."
With Geroux, Cox, and a friend sharing driving duties, they arrived at Fair Grounds at about 3 a.m.
"The filly breezed first thing in the morning," Geroux said. "We're just so dedicated to this filly and have made a lot of sacrifices."
Geroux—in large part because of his victory on 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner in this year's Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes (G1)—currently tops the earnings list for riders this season. The 31-year-old native of Argentan, France, has won four Breeders' Cup races.
Maybe Monomoy Girl would have won Saturday even if Geroux didn't make that all-night drive. But maybe he learned a bit more about the talented filly that morning. Maybe he built a bit more trust with the filly. Maybe that connection helped account for a half-length score.
"At the end, it's not like she's getting tired. She just loses focus. She can see every little detail there is on the track. I even know what she's looking at. She can see everything," Geroux said. "From there, I just tried to keep her riding as hard as I can and make sure I keep her straight. That's kind of my job."