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In just the past three years, we have been fortunate to witness memorable performances by some of the best fillies of our generation at Saratoga in the $500,000 Coaching Club America Oaks (G1).
Last year, the Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Monomoy Girl triumphed in gate-to-wire fashion over four other runners, including top filly Midnight Bisou, who she turned her away at the top of the stretch. Monomoy Girl went on to win the Breeder’s Cup Distaff and garnish herself an Eclipse Award as the 3-year-old filly of the year.
In 2017, another eventual Eclipse Award Champion won when Abel Tasman made a bold early move and pinned Elate to the rail in the final strides to win an absolute thriller. That field had seven fillies.
The summer of Songbird in 2016 had Saratoga buzzing, and the undefeated champion didn’t disappoint in her Coaching Club effort against a field of five. The fast filly Carina Mia went nose-to-nose with her on the turn and into the stretch, but Songbird dug down and repelled her foe on her way to another Grade 1 win and the 3-year-old filly championship.
The Coaching Club has helped crown three straight 3-year-old filly champs, so will the trend continue in 2019? Will another short field enter this Saturday at The Spa?
The answers to the two questions above are “Maybe” and “Yes.” Most of the top fillies in the crop are pointing to the Test Stakes (G1) here on August 3, leaving only a handful of top contenders for this year’s edition.
The expected small field and the lack of depth is somewhat disappointing, since the new schedule changes elongated this year’s Saratoga meet. The Coaching Club was traditionally run on the first Sunday of the meet in the last few years, but it now gets top billing as a coveted Saturday feature in Week 2 of the meet. This move still allows for four weeks’ spacing to the Alabama Stakes (G1), the meet’s premiere event for 3-year-old fillies that will be contested at 1 1/4 miles on August 17.
Even though a short field is expected, a few top fillies will still feature in the Coaching Club (including one that can take over leading the division with a win), so let’s run down the probables, then take a look at the 3-year old filly picture as a whole with a look toward the Test, in this week’s Saratoga Skinny.
When it comes to Saratoga, three-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown has his hometown track on lockdown as he goes for a third training title at the meet. He has yet to win the Coaching Club in his career, but he will have a chance this Saturday when he saddles Guarana.
Guarana emerged as possibly the best filly in the crop with her impressive Acorn Stakes (G1) win on the Belmont Stakes undercard. Going the one-turn mile, Guarana broke well and settled behind a hot pace set by the Kentucky Oaks winner Serengeti Empress (who will skip the Coaching Club to run in the Test). Coming for home, Guarana split horses, blew right past Serengeti Empress, and never looked back while drawing off by 6 lengths. Guarana now owns the stakes record for her Acorn win, stopping the clock in 1:33.58 for the mile and earning a 99 Beyer speed figure.
Brown recently said of Guarana’s Acorn, “It was an outstanding performance. She’s trained well since and she’s on target for the Coaching Club.”
Even though she ran one of the most impressive races of the year, there are questions that Guarana will need to answer on Saturday. This will only be her third career start and is thus giving up experience to her foes. More importantly, this will be her first race around two turns, so she will have to navigate the stretch-out to 1 1/8 miles. The Three Chimneys Farm homebred filly was sired by the 2004 Breeder’s Cup Classic winner Ghostzapper, and her mare was sired by Distorted Humor, who has been very successful with distance horses as a damsire. All of this is to say that distance limitations shouldn’t be an issue for her pedigree-wise, but you never know until she tries it.
One filly who has won at this distance recently is Point of Honor, who navigated 9 furlongs on her way to a late-charging score in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (G2) at Pimlico in mid-May. Trainer George Weaver bypassed the one-turn stakes at Belmont (i.e. the Acorn and the Mother Goose) with an eye always on the Coaching Club. Weaver recently told the Daily Racing Form, “We’ve kind of had this race in mind since the Black-Eyed Susan. We really like a two-turn configuration for her. Two turns is really her strength. We’ve been looking forward to the Oaks for a long time.”
Point of Honor was one of the first fillies to arrive in Saratoga and has had five straight works over the Oklahoma Training track since mid-June. The Curlin filly had won her first two career starts before finishing a disappointing fourth in the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) at the end of March.
The winner of the Gulfstream Park Oaks, Champagne Anyone, is also scheduled to line up in the Saratoga starting gate this Saturday. Champagne Anyone was close to the early pace before winning by a 1/2-length over the eventual Mother Goose Stakes (G2) winner Dunbar Road. Champagne Anyone next ran in the Kentucky Oaks, but she was far back in 12th out of 14 runners early. She showed good late kick and passed a bunch of tiring fillies to get up for fourth, though she did lose by 7 1/2 lengths. Trainer Ian Wilkes decided after the Oaks to give her some time off to get ready for a summer/fall campaign.
Others expected for the Coaching Club:
Guarana is the one to beat in the Coaching Club and will most likely be bet down to odds-on favoritism. It may be tough to take that price and it may be tough to play against her, so trying to hook her up with some longshots in multi-race plays may be the only way to make money on the Saturday feature.
In the bigger picture of the 3-year-old filly division, if Guarana wins on Saturday, then her back-to-back Grade 1 wins will vault her to the top of the class, even above Serengeti Empress.
Serengeti Empress will get her chance to retort in the 7-furlong Test in early August, but that field is shaping up to be spicier than a cayenne pepper. It will likely include:
All of this will lead up to the Alabama near the end of the meet, and it’s possible that we see some of these Coaching Club fillies (like Point of Honor) show up there to challenge for the daunting 1 1/4-mile gauntlet. The aforementioned Dunbar Road may train up to the Alabama, and Brown may send Guarana straight to the Cotillion Stakes (G1) at Parx in September in order to keep them separated. The recent Indiana Oaks (G3) winner Street Band may also show up in the Alabama for trainer Larry Jones, who has had past Saratoga success. The 3-year-old filly division picture is muddy right now, but it will hopefully be much clearer after the Saratoga meet.
Saratoga is getting into second gear and both the Racing Dudes and The Magic Mike Show podcast are already hot with big scores from the first weekend, so follow them on Twitter @racing_dudes, @somobomb18, and @curtiskalleward, and be sure to follow me for full Saratoga coverage @SaratogaSlim!
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