Who Will Win the Coaching Club American Oaks?

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

Races with just five starters are typically the type that get racing fans stirred up and excited, but from a sporting perspective it will be hard for any race this weekend to top Sunday's $300,000 Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I) at Saratoga in terms of high-level intrigue and competition.

The nine-furlong race for three-year-old fillies might have a small field, but three of the five starters are graded stakes winners and the other two have placed at the Grade 1 level, so the quality of the competitors is unquestionable. That said, two fillies—Monomoy Girl and Midnight Bisou—do stand above the others on paper and figure to turn the Coaching Club American Oaks into an exciting match race worthy of its status as the feature race on opening weekend at Saratoga.

Monomoy Girl is expected to be favored in the wagering, and deservedly so. The daughter of Tapizar has compiled a near-perfect 7-for-8 record that includes five graded stakes victories, and this year alone she's 4-for-4 and has been challenged only once. After winning the Rachel Alexandra Stakes (gr. II) with a last-to-first rally and the Ashland Stakes (gr. I) in gate-to-wire fashion, Monomoy Girl stamped herself as the leading three-year-old filly in training with a hard-fought win in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), in which she tracked the pace before out-dueling future Queen's Plate Stakes winner Wonder Gadot by a half-length in an exciting battle down the homestretch.

Five weeks later, Monomoy Girl came right back and parlayed a similar trip into an easy two-length score in the Acorn Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont, running her final quarter-mile in about :23 3/5 to defeat future Indiana Oaks (gr. III) winner Talk Veuve to Me by two lengths.

I have no knocks against Monomoy Girl, who is a rising star and a neck away from being unbeaten in eight starts. She can flat-out run and has trained well since the Acorn Stakes, suggesting that she'll have every chance to win a fourth straight Grade 1 race on Sunday.

Yet despite Monomoy Girl's obvious talent, I'm going to take a shot against her with Midnight Bisou, simply because I think Midnight Bisou might ultimately be the faster filly. Like Monomoy Girl, Midnight Bisou has been remarkably consistent while competing against top company, and she kicked off 2018 by recording three straight graded stakes wins at Santa Anita. Arguably her most impressive effort came in the 8.5-furlong Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I), in which she settled at the back of the pack before unleashing a powerful, sweeping bid to draw off and win by 3 ½ length.

Midnight Bisou subsequently started as the slight favorite in the Kentucky Oaks, and while her trip wasn't exactly an unmitigated disaster... it wasn't too far off of being one either. At the start, Midnight Bisou broke well but was quickly bumped from both sides and squeezed back off the pace, a poor setup over a track that was favoring speed throughout the day.

Worse yet, Midnight Bisou was forced to rally extremely wide turning for home, and by the time she straightened out for the run down the homestretch, Monomoy Girl and Wonder Gadot were long gone. But to Midnight Bisou's credit, she stayed on gamely to finish third, beaten just 4 ¼ lengths while covering more ground than the top two finishers.

About two months later, Midnight Bisou returned to action in the 8.5-furlong Mother Goose Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont Park, and with the benefit of a good trip, she absolutely crushed the field. Showing more speed than usual, Midnight Bisou settled in second place through fractions of :23.79, :46.87, and 1:10.87, then seized command with a terrific burst of speed turning for home, blazing the fourth quarter-mile in :23.79 seconds to pull away under the lightest of hand rides and win by six lengths in the quick time of 1:41.02 seconds.

If you are of the opinion, as I am, that Midnight Bisou's trip in the Kentucky Oaks cost her any chance at challenging for victory, then it's not hard to make a case that she can challenge Monomoy Girl in their rematch. For good measure, she'll be ridden by the Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who has won the last two editions of the Coaching Club American Oaks aboard Abel Tasman and Songbird.

For third place, Eskimo Kisses would be the logical choice off her runner-up effort in the Ashland Stakes and respectable fourth-place effort in the Kentucky Oaks, but Gio Game—third in the Acorn Stakes behind Monomoy Girl and Talk Veuve to Me—strikes me as an improving filly with the potential to step up her game a notch on Sunday. Two starts back, she beat the next-out winner She's a Julie in an 8.5-furlong allowance race at Churchill Downs, and last year she showed enough promise to warrant a run in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I).

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Coaching Club American Oaks?


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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.

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