Saratoga is known for showdowns like the one that we will all witness this Sunday in the Grade 1, $300,000 Coaching Club American Oaks. The two big entries, Monomoy Girl and Midnight Bisou, have scared away the competition, as a very short field of five has been entered for this race. But does that really matter? In 2016, Songbrid squared off with Carina Mia in a showdown that was the highlight of the meet that year until Arrogate showed up for the Grade 1 Travers Stakes. Last year, Abel Tasman and the fast-improving Elate went toe-to-toe in a stretch battle that went to the Bob Baffert trainee, despite a lengthy inquiry.
This year, the stage is set for another “match race” of sorts when the three-time Grade 1 winner Monomoy Girl squares off with Midnight Bisou, whose only loss of the year came to Monomoy in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks. Monomoy Girl comes to Saratoga as the undisputed top 3-year-old filly after wins in the Ashland, Kentucky Oaks, and Acorn Stakes. Can she follow in the footsteps of Abel Tasman and Songbird and solidify the Eclipse Award with a win at this historic venue? For trainer Brad Cox, the ride has been something special, and he is eager to keep it going. Regular rider Florent Geroux will be aboard once again.
Midnight Bisou comes into the race hot and will once again be a major challenge to the likely favorite. In the Kentucky Oaks, a rough trip gave her no chance to catch the top two horses in that race, but she still fought on to finish third. Her last start in the Grade 2 Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont Park may have been her most impressive start, and it was also her first race with her new trainer, Steve Asmussen. She was able to sit closer to the pace in that spot and simply dominated her rivals down the lane to win under wraps. Mike Smith ships in from California to retain the mount once again.
The full field from the rail out: Chocolate Martini, Midnight Bisou, Eskimo Kisses, Monomoy Girl, and Gio Game.
#2 Midnight Bisou – After a third-place finish in the Kentucky Oaks, her owners moved her to the Asmussen barn in order to target an east coast campaign for the second half of the year, and so far, that move seems to have paid off. Of course, this will be a true test, but she got off to a great start in the Mother Goose. Earlier this year, she was known for dropping to the back of the pack and making one late closing move, but in the Mother Goose, she sat much closer to the lead and still had that devastating late closing kick. A repeat of that effort will make her extra dangerous in this spot, especially considering Smith never even asked her to run in that last race. Monomoy Girl looks to be the lone speed in the race, but if Midnight Bisou sits close, then she should be hard to hold off down the stretch.
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#4 Monomoy Girl – It has has been nothing short of an amazing run this year for this Cox trainee that has rattled off four straight impressive wins. In fact, she has only one loss on her resume, which came as a 2-year-old when she was defeated by a nose to Road to Victory in the Grade 2 Golden Rod Stakes at Churchill Downs. This race seems to be devoid of early speed, which should lead to Monomoy Girl being alone on the front end. She is not the type that has to go to the front, but her natural tactical speed should find her in front right out of the gate. Her past races indicate a steady progression from race to race, and another solid start here will make her very tough to catch on the front end.
#5 Gio Game – This Mark Casse-trained filly seems to be improving with each start and is entered in a race where she can once again have a shot to hit the board. Last time out, she was third in the Grade 1 Acorn Stakes, and that race should set her up for a nice effort in this spot. She has scratched out of a couple races lately, which indicates to me that this race has been the true target for her connections all along. It is not likely that she wins here, but she is an interesting underneath candidate.
#3 Eskimo Kisses – This very consistent filly always drops to the back of the pack and makes one late move. There will be a race down the road where the conditions will set up well for that type of style, but this is not one of those races. With a short field and a serious lack of speed, it is hard to imagine Monomoy Girl running fast on the front end. That will leave Eskimo Kisses trying to close late into a very slow pace. She will be in the mix for the third place spot, but that is her ceiling here.
NONE – This looks to be a two-horse race, no matter how you look at it. Monomoy Girl and Midnight Bisou will likely put on quite the show for us. It is hard to see anyone being able to turn the table on them.
#1 Chocolate Martini – She is the lone toss in this race after a failed attempt against lessor competition last time out in the Grade 2 Summertime Oaks at Santa Anita. Plus, the pace should not set up in her favor today with the field being so small. She could still get up for third if everything went right, but she is not likely to ever get close to the top two horses.
MIDNIGHT BISOU will look to turn the tables on MONOMOY GIRL after she got the best of her in the Kentucky Oaks. Both of these horses will put on a show for us today. Midnight Bisou showed she could sit close to the pace in her last race, and with those same tactics today she will be hard to hold off down the lane. However, how can you fault Monomoy Girl, who has won three straight Grade 1 races? She has been brilliant. GIO GAME is coming into this race with improving form, and could round out the trifecta at a decent price. ESKIMO KISSES will drop to the back and try to make one run, however, the pace will likely not set up in her favor.