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The Ever-Changing Distance of the CCA Oaks

Saturday's 95th running of the Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I) will be contested at 9 furlongs for the second consecutive year. It might be hard to believe, but 8 years and 3 furlongs ago this was the premier staying race for 3-year-old fillies. Over its history, the race's fluctuation in distance—often due to a change on the calendar or to the venue—borders on the comical.

A race searching for a distance identity?

Tracks have also changed frequently, and the Coaching Club has been run at Belmont, Aqueduct, and Saratoga. Just a few years ago the race was held at Belmont, where the 12-furlong distance made the race a filly counterpart to the Belmont Stakes (gr. I). Now it's on opening weekend at Saratoga, where track configuration prevents a 12-furlong dirt race (the start would leave no run-up to the first of three turns). Saratoga could run it at 10 furlongs, but the Alabama already fills that role. Reverted to 9 furlongs, the distance now matches the Mother Goose and Gazelle as other New York grade I's for 3-year-old fillies.

Interestingly, 9 furlongs is actually the race's original trip. The inaugural 1917 running (worth a whopping $3,000) was carded at 1 1/8 miles at Belmont, but the race was lengthened by a furlong in each of the next two years.

1917 chart from the Coaching Club's first running

This year's renewal is a strong one. The field consists of five graded stakes winners, including Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) winner Plum Pretty, Mother Goose (gr. I) winner Buster's Ready, and Acorn (gr. I) winner It's Tricky. The morning line favorite is Royal Delta, who took the Black-Eyed Susan (gr. II), and Kentucky Oaks favorite Joyful Victory rounds out the field. That's an impressive line-up at any distance, but to me the race seems a few furlongs short. What are your thoughts?


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