This Weekend’s Stakes Previews: Monomoy Girl vs. Midnight Bisou Headline G1 CCA Oaks

(Monomoy Girl winning the KY Oaks over Wonder Gadot / Photo by Holly M. Smith)

Let’s take a look at this Saturday’s Stakes Schedule:

Saratoga Race Course:

G1 Coaching Club of America Oaks:

Three-time Grade 1 winner Monomoy Girl and recent Grade 2 Mother Goose winner Midnight Bisou, who ran first and third respectively in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, will vie for supremacy in the 3-year-old filly division as part of a field of five in the 102nd running of the Grade 1, $300,000 Coaching Club American Oaks over 1 1/8 miles on the main track on Sunday at Saratoga Race Course.

Carded as Race 9 with an approximate post time of 5:40 p.m., the Coaching Club American Oaks will be aired on NYRA’s flagship TV show Saratoga Live presented by Claiborne Farm will have live coverage as part of a show that airs nationally through FS2 and regionally on MSG+ from 4-6:30 p.m. ET.

Owned by Michael Dubb, Monomoy Stables, The Elkstone Group and Bethlehem Stables, Monomoy Girl is undefeated in her 3-year-old campaign, posting four straight wins against graded stakes company, including a half-length score in the Kentucky Oaks on May 4 at Churchill Downs.

In her last three starts, the Tapizar filly has earned Beyer Speed Figures of 95 or better, winning the Grade 1 Ashland on April 7 at Keeneland, the Kentucky Oaks at the Coaching Club American Oaks distance, and a two-length win in the Grade 1 Acorn on Belmont Stakes Day, June 9 at Belmont Park.

Monomoy Girl is 7-for-8 in her career with her only non-winning effort a second-place finish by a neck to Road to Victory in the Grade 2 Golden Rod to cap her juvenile year in November at Churchill.

After already posting wins at five different tracks – Indiana Grand Race Course, Churchill, Fair Grounds, Keeneland and Belmont – trainer Brad Cox said Monomoy Girl shipped in well to Saratoga since arriving Sunday morning.

“She’s been over on the main track and handled it really well and stood in the gate this morning, so I’m super pleased with how she looks and how she’s handled things so far,” Cox said. “She’s a laid back filly, she doesn’t get too worked up.”

Monomoy Girl has three wins and a second-place finish in four career starts longer than a mile.

“She maintains her weight, her look, her coat, she’s so consistent with her works each week. She lets you know she’s ready,” Cox said. “She’s on her game and hopefully she brings her ‘A’ game. That should be good enough.”

Sunday will pit Monomoy Girl against Midnight Bisou, who ran third behind Wonder Gadot and Monomoy Girl in the Kentucky Oaks. In that race, Monomoy Girl stayed off the early speed and took the lead into the second turn before steading for a two-length win.

“A lot of fillies she ran against in the Oaks have come back to win huge races, so it’s a good 3-year-old filly crop that’s very strong,” Cox said. “She’s one of the top in the class and at the end of the year we’ll see if we can win an Eclipse [Award], that’s our goal.”

Monomoy Girl drew post 4. Jockey Florent Geroux, who has been aboard for all six of her stakes starts, will have the return call.

Midnight Bisou is also coming off an impressive win at Belmont, capturing the Mother Goose by six lengths on June 30. Trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, Midnight Bisou earned a 94 Beyer in finishing well clear of Road to Victory, the only horse to beat Monomoy Girl.

Bloom Racing Stable and Madaket Stables’ Midnight Bisou has already been at Saratoga, putting in her final work before the Coaching Club American Oaks on Saturday, going four furlongs in 50.73 seconds on the Oklahoma training track.

“She’s training great, it’s a tough race, but we’re looking forward to it,” said Asmussen assistant Scott Blasi.

After starting her career with back-to-back second-place finishes as a 2-year-old, the daughter of Midnight Lute, who was trained by Bill Spawr, started her year by winning the Grade 2 Santa Ynez on January 7 and the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel on March 3, both at Santa Anita, before heading to the Kentucky Oaks.

Following her win against a four-horse field in the Mother Goose, Midnight Bisou will race for the first time at the Spa, exiting post 2 in tandem with Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith.

Eskimo Kisses will be facing Monomoy Girl for a third straight race. The Ken McPeek trainee ran second to her in the Ashland, finishing 5 ½-lengths behind on a fast main track. In the Kentucky Oaks, the To Honor and Serve filly rallied from 12-of-14 to finish fourth, just a half-length behind Midnight Bisou in her first start at 1 1/8 miles.

The Kentucky homebred will be seeking her first stakes win, breaking from post 3 with Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano.

John Oxley’s Gio Game will look to build on her strong performance in her stakes debut when she ran third in the Acorn last month on Belmont’s Big Sandy.

“I was hoping they would be three horses in so we can hit the board,” trainer Mark Casse said with a laugh. “She’s doing great, but it’s a tough, tough race. I think she’ll like it here in Saratoga.”

Since returning to the dirt in April, Gio Game finished second in an optional claimer at Keeneland and won against a similar class on May 4 at Churchill. She took a step up in class last month, finishing behind Talk Veuve to Me and Monomoy Girl.

“If you look, her numbers and getting better and better, but this is going to be a tough one,” Casse said. “She usually likes to be fairly close, so I don’t think she’ll be too far back.”

Jockey Julien Leparoux will look to ensure Gio Game stays near the pace in breaking from the outside post.

Chocolate Martini, the winner of the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks on March 24, shipped in from Kentucky earlier this month and put in a four-furlong breeze on Saratoga’s main track, going four furlongs in 48.03 seconds on Tuesday.

Trained by Tom Amoss, Chocolate Martini was fifth in the Kentucky Oaks and parlayed that performance into a third-place finish in the Grade 2 Summertime Oaks at Santa Anita on June 16.

Chocolate Martini will break from the rail with Irad Ortiz, Jr.

G1 Diana Stakes:

Two-time Eclipse Award winner Chad Brown will hold a strong hand on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course as he seeks his fourth training victory in the Grade 1, $500,000 Diana for fillies and mares on the grass with an accomplished trio of Sistercharlie, A Raving Beauty, and New Money Honey.

The 80th running of the 1 1/8-mile Diana, the first Grade 1 of American racing’s premier 40-day meet, will be joined on Saturday by the Grade 3, $150,000 Sanford for 2-year-olds. Both races will be televised live on a special, extended edition of Saratoga Live, presented by Claiborne Farm, airing on FS2, MSG+, FOX Sports Prime Ticket, Fox Sports San Diego and Altitude Sports from 4-7 p.m. ET. Local post time is 5:22 for the Sanford (Race 9) and 5:55 for the Diana (Race 10).

Peter M. Brant’s Sistercharlie will be cutting back in distance on the Mellon turf course following a close runner-up finish in the 1 ¼-mile Grade 2 New York on June 8 at Belmont Park. In that race, her third since arriving at Brown’s barn in 2017, the 4-year-old Irish-bred filly by Myboycharlie was bumped at the start and navigated through rivals with a late run to finish a head behind stablemate Fourstar Crook. In her seasonal debut, Sistercharlie came back from a nearly nine-month layoff to post a gutsy, 2 ¼-length victory in the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley on April 14 at Keeneland.

“She was able to shorten up all the way to a mile and a sixteenth in the Jenny Wiley and ran quite well last time [in the New York],” said Brown, who previously won the Diana with Zagora (2011), Dacita (2016), and Lady Eli (2017). “She just didn’t get a good trip, got away from the gate slow and ran into a little traffic at the rear of the field. She got a very late start to her run and just missed. I think she ran a really good race. All three of her races have been outstanding for us. Hopefully, she can get away from the gate a little better this time and get some position. There appears to be a little more pace in this race.”

Hall of Famer John Velazquez, who has been aboard for all three of Sistercharlie’s North American starts, has the return call. Installed as the 9-5 morning-line favorite, the pair will break from the rail.

A Raving Beauty is undefeated in two starts in North America for owners Michael Dubb, Madaket Stables and Bethlehem Stables, capped by a three-quarter-length score last time out in the Grade 1 Just a Game on Belmont Stakes Day. Group 1-placed in Italy before moving to the U.S. for a 2018 campaign, the 5-year-old German-bred Mastercraftsman mare won her continental unveiling in impressive fashion, tracking the early place before kicking clear in the stretch to win the Grade 3 Beaugay by three lengths on May 12.

A Raving Beauty, 2-1 on the morning line, will be ridden by Irad Ortiz, Jr. from post 6.

“She’s a little keen [early] but very manageable,” Brown said. “She should have a good early position in the race and Irad gets along with her really well. In both of her starts, despite the fact that she pulls a little, he’s gotten her to settle down early in her race and I think he’s gotten the best out of her. I don’t see the added distance [being] a problem.”

Rounding out the Brown triumvirate is e Five Racing’s New Money Honey, exiting a neck victory in an optional claiming race on June 21, her first start of the year. The Medaglia d’Oro filly won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf in 2016 and returned as a sophomore to win the Grade 3 Wonder Again and Grade 1 Belmont Oaks in 2017.

“You’d think as an older horse, she’d get faster and she’s training like she will,” said Brown. “She had a top-notch year last year and maybe she had a few too many races at the end of last year and she just wasn’t herself. We gave her a nice break and she came back good in that allowance race. She’s training very well.”

New Money Honey, 8-1, will break from post 3 with Hall of Famer Javier Castellano aboard.

Among those looking to upset the Brown train are Patricia L. Moseley’s homebred Proctor’s Ledge, who swept last summer’s 3-year-old turf stakes for fillies with wins in the Grade 3 Lake George and the Grade 2 Lake Placid at Saratoga. She earned her first victory since the Lake Placid two starts back with a half-length win in the Grade 2 Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day. Last time out, the 4-year-old daughter of Ghostzapper finished second in the Just a Game, running in midpack early and dug in down the stretch to get within a length of A Raving Beauty.

“Obviously, it’s a Grade 1, so it’s going to be a tough spot, but she looks like she fits in there,” said trainer Brendan Walsh. “She’s been able to run with those fillies all year. We’re happy with her and she’s doing great, so we’re very confident she can run her best race and hopefully, it’ll be good enough and we’ll get some luck and be thereabouts.

“The last race, the one-turn mile at Belmont, was a fast time and that probably took her off her feet a little bit more than normal early, but she loved Saratoga last year and a mile and an eighth won’t be any problem at all,” he continued. “She’s very easy to do whatever with. She’s pretty automatic to ride, she can adjust in any scenario. She loved it up there last year and it worked out well for her. Hopefully, she’ll like it as much this year. She’s doing great and we couldn’t be happier with her.”

Proctor’s Ledge, 4-1, will have the services of Jose Ortiz from post 2.

Graham Motion trainee Ultra Brat will try to replicate her most recent effort, a 10 ¼-length win in the Grade 3 Gallorette on May 19 at Pimlico Race Course. Owned and bred by Alex G. Campbell, the 5-year-old Uncle Mo mare won the Grade 3 Marshua’s River in her season opener and finished third in the Grade 3 Suwannee River in February before finishing a dull 10th in the Jenny Wiley.

“I’d like to think I’ve given her plenty of time since that race because it was a big effort and I wanted to give her enough time to get over it,” said Motion. “She’s done really well and I think she deserves another shot at a Grade 1. In the race at Keeneland, I didn’t think she had the best trip, to be honest. She was very wide and things just didn’t work out very well. I think when she did kind of make a move, she was very wide and lost all chance.

“I think if she can run to the form of her best races, she can certainly be competitive and get a piece of it,” he added. “She really hasn’t done much wrong at all. I think she’s better this year, and with that in mind, I think she deserves a shot in a race like this. I wasn’t planning originally to run her this weekend, but I felt like she was doing really well and it’s a good opportunity to take a shot in a Grade 1 with her on what should be a really nice turf course.”

At 8-1, Ultra Brat will be ridden by Joel Rosario from post 5.

Rounding out the field for the Diana are Hawksmoor, fifth in the Grade 1 Gamely on May 26 at Santa Anita Park, and War Canoe, a recent half-length winner of an optional claimer on June 29.

One race earlier, Starlight Racing’s Tremont runner-up Sombeyay leads a field of eight in the six-furlong Sanford. Trained by Todd Pletcher, the juvenile Into Mischief colt broke his maiden at first asking, drawing off by 6 ¼ lengths on April 27 at Gulfstream Park, before stepping up to stakes company.

In the Tremont, Sombeyay stumbled at the start but recovered well enough to finish three-quarters of a length behind Our Braintrust on June 8 at Belmont.

Castellano will ride Sombeyay, favored at 2-1, from the rail.

Also in the Sanford are fellow Pletcher trainee Lexitonian; speedy maiden winner Strike Silver for trainer Mark Casse; $400,000 2-year-old in training purchase Bano Solo; maiden winner Whiskey Echo, adding Lasix for the first time; Chase Greatness; and Knicks Go. Dream Maker will scratch from the Sanford and will be pointed to the Grade 2, $200,000 Saratoga Special presented by Coors Light on April 12, said Casse.

G3 Sanford Stakes

The 6-furlong Sanford Stakes, which will be contested over 6 furlongs for the 2-year-olds, will be the 9th race on the card and is slated to go to post at 5:40 p.m. ET.

The field of 8 is led by the horse that draws the rail, Somebeyay, who has been installed as the 2-1 ML favorite. But this contest, like most of those in the past, is certainly wide open with the addition of Lexitonian, and entry mate of the preferred pick; Strike Power, from the powerful barn of Mark Casse; and the impressive winner Bano Solo, who is conditioned by Steve Asmussen.

Somebeyay, a son of Into Mischief who cost $230,000 as a Keeneland September Yearling, is owned by Starlight Racing out of Louisville, KY and will be ridden by Hall of Famer Javier Castellano. He won his first start on April 27 at Gulfstream Park for Team Todd Pletcher, and then nearly took the Tremont Stakes at Belmont Park with a late rush, after stumbling at the start of that one. He recently trained up for this spot with a bullet work at The Spa on July 14.

His teammate, immediately to his outside, will have the other barn stalwart in the saddle, John Velazquez. He won his debut start at Belmont Park on June 27 by closing from well off the pace to get up and pull away at the wire. This one is a homebred for Calumet Farm, and is by the popular stallion Speightstown.

Casse, who has a barn chalk full of runners prepared for the Saratoga meet, has Strike Silver in this spot. He is coming off a gate-to-wire win at Churchill Downs on June 14. Beat a good one from his barn in Nitros in that one. He has been training lights out at Keeneland since that race, as well.

Del Mar Race Course:

G2 San Diego Handicap

Hronis Racing’s Accelerate, who has emerged as one of the top older Thoroughbreds in America this year, will pack highweight of 125 pounds versus nine rivals in the Grade II $200,000 San Diego Handicap Saturday at Del Mar.

Co-feature Saturday is the $200,000 San Clemente Stakes for three-year-old fillies at one mile on the grass.

In the sharpest form of his career, Accelerate will have regular rider Victor Espinoza aboard when he seeks to defend his title in the San Diego at a mile and one-sixteenth on the main track. He was an 8 ½ -length winner a year ago while packing 117, a race also notable for the fact 1-9 favored Arrogate finished a distant fourth in a stunning upset.

Accelerate, a five-year-old son of Lookin at Lucky trained by John Sadler, has won three of four starts in 2018, including two Grade I events, the Santa Anita Handicap and the Gold Cup at Santa Anita. In his only loss this season, he was second, beaten a neck, to City of Light in the Oaklawn Handicap. He also won the Grade II San Pasqual. After his victory in the ’17 San Diego, he was second to Collected in the $1 million TVG Pacific Classic.

Opposing Accelerate will be Catalina Cruiser, Drayden Van Dyke; Dr. Dorr, Joe Talamo; Sharp Samurai, Gary Stevens; Two Thirty Five, Franklin Ceballos; Curlin Rules, Tyler Baze; Prince of Arabia, Stewart Elliott; El Huerfano, Tyler Conner; Dabster, Flavien Prat, and Harlan Punch, Martin Pedroza.

Dr. Dorr was unplaced in the Suburban at Belmont Park July 7, but prior to that was second to Accelerate in the Gold Cup and won the Grade II Californian at Santa Anita. Sharp Samurai was Del Mar’s champion three-year-old last summer after winning the La Jolla Handicap and Del Mar Derby on turf. In from the East Coast is Harlan Punch, victorious in the Grade III Phil Iselin at Monmouth Park.

The San Clemente Stakes attracted 14 fillies – Rocking Ready, Ms Bad Behavior, Flammetta, Miss Sienna, Ahimsa, Dulce Ride, Streak of Luck, Animosity, West Palm Beach, War Heroine, Pursuing the Dream, Lexington Grace, Ms Pintour and Ollie’s Candy.

Post time for the first of ten races is 2 p.m.

G2 San Clemente Stakes

Ms Bad Behavior, one of three representatives from the stable of trainer Richard Baltas, was tabbed the 9-2 morning line favorite in Saturday’s Grade II $200,000 San Clemente Stakes.

A capacity field of 14 was entered for the mile turf test for 3-year-old fillies. In addition to Ms Bad Behavior, Baltas will saddle Flammetta (12-1), and Dulce Ride (20-1).

“Ms Bad Behavior is coming off a (three-month) layoff  and she should run well,” Baltas said.”Flammetta is getting better and better and she’s stretching out after (two wins) down the hill at Santa Anita. And Dulce Ride just broke her maiden so she’s short on seasoning, but I like her a lot.

“We have three nice fillies, so we’re in good position in that race.”

Ms Bad Behavior, a 3-year-old daughter of Blame, has two wins and two seconds in four 2018 starts and career earnings of $182,640. One win came in the $81,000 China Doll Stakes in March at Santa Anita.

The field from the rail: Rockin Ready (Joe Talamo, 8-1), Ms Bad Behavior (Kent Desormeaux, 9-2), Flammetta (Geovanni Franco, 12-1), Miss Sienna (Mike Smith, 5-1), Ahimsa (Evin Roman, 30-1), Dulce Ride (Rafael Bejarano, 20-1), Streak of Luck (Kyle Frey, 30-1), Animosity (Drayden Van Dyke, 6-1), West Palm Beach (Flavien Prat, 6-1), War Heroine (Tyler Baze, 6-1), Pursuing The Dream (Victor Espinoza, 20-1), Lexington Grace (Gary Stevens, 15-1), Ms Peintour (Stewart Elliott, 20-1) and Ollie’s Candy (Corey Nakatani, 6-1).

The horse broke well today,” Gaffalione said. “I had the horse inside, Dunph, going to the lead and then (Gun It) showed a little bit of speed. When I saw they were intent on going I just tried to get him back and got him to relax. He came back to me nicely and settled well down the backside. Got a little keen going into the far turn and wanted to move a little early. But I didn’t want to take too much away from him so I tried to sit as long as I could. He was waiting on horses down the lane but I kept him at task and there was plenty of horse there.”

“Mark (Casse, the trainer) and his team have done a great job,” Gaffalione said. “They’ve had a ton of confidence in this horse the whole way. It’s just an honor to be able to ride the horse. He’s just so professional, trains great and he’s a pleasure to be around.”

Tyler Gaffalione, Rode of War of Will to victory in the G2 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds

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