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Aaron previews the 2022 Coaching Club American (CCA) Oaks Stakes (G1) at Saratoga, then gives his top picks and longshots. Secret Oath and Nest – the one-two finishers from the 2022 Kentucky Oaks (G1) – are set for an epic rematch at The Spa, but is there an upset looming? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
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The track press release:
Secret Oath and Nest, the top-two finishers from the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks on May 6 at Churchill Downs, will square off once more in Saturday’s Grade 1, $500,000 Coaching Club American Oaks for 3-year-old fillies going nine furlongs at Saratoga Race Course.
This year’s running marks only the third time in the past 25 years where the first and second place finishers of the Kentucky Oaks have met again in the CCA Oaks. In the 2017 renewal, Abel Tasman built off her Kentucky Oaks conquest with a head score over Elate, while Oaks runner-up Daddys Lil Darling ran a non-threatening fifth. The 1998 Kentucky Oaks exacta was reversed in that year’s CCA Oaks when Banshee Breeze turned the tables on Keeper Hill en route to Eclipse Award honors at year end.
A total of 14 fillies have swept the Kentucky Oaks-CCA Oaks double, including Hall of Famers Princess Doreen , Dark Mirage , Davona Dale , Bold ‘n’ Determined  and Ashado . Briland Farm’s Secret Oath will attempt to add her name to elite company for legendary Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who secured the 1989 Kentucky Oaks-CCA Oaks double with Hall of Famer Open Mind.
Secret Oath, a daughter of Arrogate, has won 3-of-5 starts this season, capturing Oaklawn Park’s Martha Washington and Grade 3 Honeybee in addition to the Kentucky Oaks. Her only two losses this year took place against males when a game third in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby on April 15, two starts before running fourth in the Grade 1 Preakness on May 21 at Pimlico.
Secret Oath checked heavily inside the opening sixteenth in the Preakness and lost ground while racing last-of-9 and four-wide down the backstretch. She made up ground around the far turn in good position, but flattened out in the final furlong to finish 6 1/4 lengths in arrears of Early Voting.
“The trip never came up. A filly like that running against the colts, you need a good trip,” Lukas said. “You can’t get into all that trouble and be that far back and still overcome it. She needed a trip like she got in the Kentucky Oaks. I really believed she was the best horse, but you can’t mail it in. You have to prove it every time.”
In the Kentucky Oaks, Secret Oath was eighth down the backstretch under Luis Saez and began making up ground approaching the far turn from the four-to-five path. Secret Oath built on her one-length advantage at the stretch call to best the late-running Nest by two lengths.
The win gave Lukas his fifth Kentucky Oaks coup, putting him on even terms with the late Hall of Famer Woody Stephens, and first since 1990 winner Seaside Attraction.
“That’s the picture-perfect run you want. Good ride. Good tempo. Everything about it was perfect and we’re looking for that same trip again,” Lukas said. “She’s training so forwardly; Luis knows her and it’ll be a smaller field. I think the trip shouldn’t be a factor.”
Secret Oath, a Kentucky homebred, is out of the dual stakes winner and multiple graded stakes placed Quiet American mare Absinthe Minded, who also was trained by Lukas.
“She was a solid, solid race mare. I’m not surprised that she produced this one because she was so solid and sound,” Lukas said. “She went out there and tried every time, maybe was just a nickel’s worth short of being a Grade 1 winner, but evidently the cross with Arrogate works.”
Saez, the 2021 leading rider at the Spa, will pilot Secret Oath from post 5.
Repole Stable, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Gainesway Stable’s Nest also arrives at the CCA Oaks off an effort against colts in an American Classic when second to stablemate Mo Donegal in the 12-furlong Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on June 11.
By Curlin, who sired CCA Oaks winners Curalina  and Paris Lights , Nest has a perfect in-the-money record of 4-2-1 through seven lifetime starts while having never been beaten more than three lengths. Following a three-race juvenile campaign which was capped by a victory in the Grade 2 Demoiselle on December 4 at Aqueduct, Nest commenced her sophomore season with a six-length romp in Tampa Bay Downs’ Suncoast on February 12 before an 8 1/4-length victory in the Grade 1 Ashland on April 8 at Keeneland.
Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher, who seeks a record-extending eighth CCA Oaks win, said he likes what he has seen out of Nest heading into Saturday’s engagement. She breezed over the Saratoga main track on July 16, logging a five-furlong move in 1:01.44.
“I thought she got over the track really well and seemed to take to it,” said Pletcher. “It’s not been an issue for her. She’s kind of one that doesn’t need a certain type of surface and I’m not surprised that she’s settled in well here.”
Pletcher had considered waiting for the Grade 1 Alabama on August 20 at Saratoga, but said Nest bounced out of the Belmont in fine fettle.
“You always want to just hope they come out of a race like that in good order. She was so well designed for the mile and a half that the race really didn’t take much out of her,” Pletcher said. “Pretty much everything that she’s done since the Belmont has told us that she’s ready to run back now as opposed to waiting another month.”
Pletcher worked as an assistant under Lukas before going out on his own in 1997.
“I have tremendous respect for Wayne. I’ve always said that I think he’s the greatest horse trainer of all time and I’m very happy for him that he’s having a great year,” Pletcher said. “That being said, we’re out there to compete and we’re rooting for Nest first, but if she can’t win then I’d be happy for Wayne if he does, but we certainly want to give it our best shot.”
Nest will break from post 3 under Irad Ortiz, Jr., who has piloted the filly to all four of her victories.
Joining Secret Oath and Nest is fellow Kentucky Oaks alumna Nostalgic, who will search for her first Grade 1 win for Hall of Famer Bill Mott. By Medaglia d’Oro, who sired 2016 CCA Oaks winner Songbird, Nostalgic enters off a troubled tenth in the Kentucky Oaks four weeks following a rail-riding victory in the Grade 3 Gazelle at Aqueduct. She made a triumphant career debut over the Belmont main track going 1 1/16 miles to win by 7 3/4 lengths before finishing fourth behind Nest in the Grade 2 Demoiselle at Aqueduct.
Junior Alvarado will pilot Nostalgic from post 4.
Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen will saddle Society, who is unbeaten in three lifetime starts for owner/breeder Peter E. Blum Thoroughbreds. The daughter of Gun Runner was a 27-1 upset winner of her career debut in October at Keeneland for trainer Wayne Mackey before switching to Asmussen’s barn.
She bested stakes-placed Ontheonesandtwos by 1 3/4-lengths on May 6 over a sloppy and sealed Churchill Downs main track in a 6 1/2-furlong optional-claimer before capturing the 1 1/16-mile Monomoy Girl to pass her first two-turn test six weeks later at the Louisville oval.
Asmussen said he was impressed by the stretch-out effort from Society.
“I think we have improvement from that race and we’ll see it, but obviously we need huge improvement,” Asmussen said. “She was a little too keen down the backside coming off two one-turn races, but she’s a very intelligent filly and I think that with the two-turn race she has leveled off and stretched out in her training and we’ll see a little smoother run from her this time.”
“She’s a very talented filly that is jumping off into the deep end against the Oaks winner and a filly that was kind of a tough-luck second in the Belmont,” Asmussen added. “These are two fillies that ran in Triple Crown races, but Society is very impressive and very fast and she deserves this chance.”
Tyler Gaffalione will seek his second CCA Oaks victory, when guiding Society from post 2.
Rounding out the field is Butterbean, who exits a victory in the Grade 3 Iowa Oaks on July 9 at Prairie Meadows for trainer Kenny McPeek. The Magdalena Racing and William Klimashousky-owned Klimt filly has won her last three starts, dating back to a sixth-out maiden score going 1 1/16 miles on May 27 at Churchill Downs ahead of a 5 3/4-length win in the Panthers two weeks later at Prairie Meadows.
Julien Leparoux will ride Butterbean from post 1.
Over 40 fillies have used the CCA Oaks as a steppingstone to Champion 3-Year-Old Filly honors, including three of the last six winners in Songbird , Abel Tasman , and Monomoy Girl .
The CCA Oaks is slated as Race 5 on Saturday’s 11-race card, which also features the Grade 3, $200,000 Caress in Race 10. First post is 1:05 p.m. Eastern.
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