SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY – J. Kirk and Judy Robison’s Vertical Oak shined brightly through the falling rain, splashing home to victory in Sunday’s Grade 2, $250,000 Prioress.
Forwardly placed after breaking alertly from post 5 under jockey John Velazquez, Vertical Oak pressured early leader Student Body through early fractions of :22.21 and :45.24. Pressing the issue in the three path, Velazquez pushed Vertical Oak to the front just after completing the first 1/2 mile. When Velazquez set her down for the stretch drive, it was all over, as the Steve Asmussen-trained filly completed the 6-furlong sloppy-track event in 1:10.00, defeating her rivals by 5 1/4 lengths.
“Steve told me she loves the slop and to let her do her thing,” Velazquez said. “I came out running to make sure I got the position I wanted. Once I got the horse to the outside, I gave her a little chance to run around the turn, and when I asked her down the lane, she was running nice.”
Nonna Mela appeared to close the gap on Vertical Oak during the final stretch run but couldn’t sustain it once Velazquez had asked her for her best. She held on for second, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Dawn the Destroyer, who finished a neck ahead of Golden Mischief. Student Body, Downtown Mama, Royal Inheritance, and Yorkiepoo Princess completed the order of finish.
It was Vertical Oak’s second win over an off-track after she dominated the Goldfinch by 7 3/4 lengths on April 29 at Prairie Meadows and seemed to enjoy the class relief here. She previously finished fifth in the Grade 1 Test at Saratoga on August 5.
“When she won her stakes race at Prairie Meadows in a very sloppy racetrack similar to today, it was visually impressive, but you weren’t sure who she beat,” Asmussen said. “Without a doubt, she relishes the slop. This confirms that.
“This race suited us better than the Test, and we took a bit of a shot in the Test. She’s a very seasoned filly. She broke her maiden here last year. She likes it here at Saratoga. The Test being the race that it is, I thought she deserved a chance. She ran valiantly in there and battled between fillies and tired a bit late. Backing up to 3/4 (of a mile) today helped her for the distance. The cool mornings that we’ve had has kept her sharp.”
Vertical Oak paid $11.40 to win, $5.70 to place, and $3.20 to show. Nonna Mela paid $4.70 to place and $3.40 to show, while Dawn the Destroyer paid $2.50 to show.