In late 2001, Hollywood Park racing secretary Martin Panza presented track management with a new idea for a unique race to attract international horses and worldwide attention on a competitive level with some of the biggest races around the world, targeting a division that might be in need of some love. So with all that in mind in mid-2002, the American Oaks (GI) — a 10-furlong turf event for 3-year-old fillies — was born.
The Bobby Frankel-trained Megahertz won the inaugural American Oaks (after the disqualification of a rival) over a full and highly competitive field and set the tone for the race for years to come as an important stop for sophomore fillies. Some of the more notable names to have visited the American Oaks winner’s circle over the past 14 years include champion Wait a While, Japanese import Cesario, and other fan favorites Panty Raid, Pure Clan, Emollient and Spanish Queen.
Now in its third year at Santa Anita Park after moving from the now-closed Hollywood Park, the American Oaks is worth $300,000, down from the $400,000 a year ago and significantly lower than the high $750,000 pot from years past, but, regardless, 13 of the best fillies from around the country will line up and face the starter.
The usually beautiful Southern California weather will be out of town on Saturday and the normally sunny skies will give way to showers, and heavy ones at that. It’s supposed to rain at Santa Anita from mid-day and all the way through and beyond post time for the Oaks, which has been carded as the day’s eighth and is expected to leave the gate at 4:00 p.m. PT. Expect a squishy turf come post time.
Jungle Racing et al’s Stays in Vegas is the early favorite off her narrow defeat in the Matriarch Stakes (GIT) at Del Mar last month and, though she hasn’t won since May, she’s been consistent. She owns a record of thee wins and four thirds in eight career turf starts, has top trainer Jerry Hollendorfer managing her career and will have top jock Flavien Prat aboard. She drew a decent post position of two, which is advantageous since the race will break midway down the famous downhill. She’s a lukewarm morning line favorite so watching the tote will be important. Her best makes her dangerous for a win.
Irish-bred Queen Blossom makes her American debut for owners Team Valor International and Barber, and trainer Graham Motion. The daughter of Jeremy broke her maiden in a Group 3 at The Curragh in May and subsequently struggled in two starts after before being shipped to Motion’s Fair Hill base. After a brief break, she returned to full training in early November and has been at Santa Anita since mid-December, training well in the mornings. She’s bred for the longer distances and, judging by her past performances in Europe, may be one to relish the predicted off going. There may be some value in her come post time.
Mokat was also given a break after her last start, a decent fifth-place finish behind some nice fillies in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (GIT) at Keeneland. The J K Racing Stable-owned daughter of Uncle Mo has a decent turf record (6-2-1-1) and is already a graded winner on grass, having won the San Clemente Stakes (GIIT) at Del Mar this past summer. Trainer Richard Baltas has been having a good year and has always been confident in this filly, so if she handles the off going and gets a decent enough pace to close at in front of her, she looms largely for a bigger chunk of the pot and especially a trip to the winner’s circle.
Sassy Little Lila ships in from New York for trainer Brad Cox and the lightly raced daughter of Artie Schiller looks like a tough runner in here. She’s only raced on the turf (5-2-2-0) and won her lone start at the distance. She’s also reached the winner’s circle on an off turf when she captured a Belmont Park allowance race over a course labeled “good” in late October. She likes to be on or near the lead, so expect her to get there under regular rider Luis Saez and be all-out to hold off the charge from the field behind her.
Voss, Big Chief Racing and Head of Plains Partners’ Decked Out took a three-month break after a dismal and uncharacteristic showing in the Rodeo Drive Stakes (GIT) over this course. Now back training well for Keith Desormeaux, she tackles Grade I company again and her best appears to make her a good candidate to hit the board.
Lady Valeur won a synthetic stakes at Golden Gate earlier this month and has been productive in grassy stakes, including a second to Mokat in the San Clemente. She will carry top jockey Rafael Bejarano from the rail for owners Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and will be up behind the engine from the break, so all she may need to do is hold off any challenge from behind to reach the wire in front.
How Unusual looks for her second win in a row after taking an allowance race at Santa Anita back in early October. The daughter of the legendary and recently pensioned stallion Unusual Heat likes the turf (12-3-1-1) and has been training well for the past three months. This is a big step up in class for her, but her numbers say she could get up for a share from her preferred early position way off the pace.
Cheekaboo also loves the turf (9-2-3-1) and won the nine-furlong Honeymoon Handicap (GIIT) over this course in May, but hasn’t shown much since. She’ll need her best effort from off the pace, but if she delivers it puts her in the hunt for a larger share of the purse.
Dream Archer won a grassy non-graded stakes at Santa Rosa in late July, but this is a much tougher spot. Softer company may be her best option to gain a win.
Mrs. Norris is certainly bred well, but she’s been largely competing in optional claiming races with mixed success. This is a class test for sure and while the breeding shows it, her talent will need to as well.
Sheeza Milky Way returns off a six-month layoff and finds an ambitious spot to do so. She probably needs a race, but buyer beware. Trainer Pete Eurton sent Bettys Bambino to win the San Simeon Stakes (GIIIT) last week off a longer layoff.
Dynamic Mizzes K is a productive allowance filly and enters off a nice win last out, but really faces a tough challenge in this Grade I test.
Barleysugar has been productive in allowance and non-graded stakes since shipping to America mid-summer, but seems in a bit over her head.