As a race that often features the best of its division, the Grade 1, $500,000 Coaching Club American Oaks has seen over three dozen of its winners go on to be crowned champion 3-year-old filly at the end of their campaigns.
On Saturday, Nest made a strong case for year-end honors in the 106th renewal of the prestigious test, turning the tables on Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Oath with a 12 1/4-length victory at Saratoga Race Course.
Repole Stable, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Michael House’s Nest entered off a runner-up effort to stablemate Mo Donegal when facing the boys in the Belmont Stakes, one start after finishing two lengths in arrears of Secret Oath in the Kentucky Oaks. The last time the Kentucky Oaks exacta was reversed in the CCA Oaks was in 1998, when Banshee Breeze defeated Keeper Hill.
Nest’s CCA Oaks win provided her Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher with his record-extending eighth victory in the historic nine-furlong event. Among his previous CCA Oaks victors are Hall of Famer Ashado, who won in 2004 when the race was contested at Belmont Park. His first CCA Oaks win took place in 2001 with Tweedside, when it was a 1 1/2-mile event.
“I guess I’ve been around long enough when this race used to be run at a mile and a half at Belmont. That would really have been in here [Nest’s] wheelhouse,” Pletcher said.
?? Coaching Club American Oaks (G1)
1800m, $500,000, for 3yo fillies
(3F Curlin – Marion Ravenwood, by AP Indy)
J: Irad Ortiz, Jr.
T: Todd A. Pletcher
O : Repole Stable, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Michael House
B :Ashview Farm & Colts Neck S. pic.twitter.com/KJs1WXTupO
— ????????????????????? (@WorldRacing1) July 23, 2022
The expected shape of the race was altered when both Butterbean and Society, an expected pace presence, stumbled at the break. Nest broke sharply from post 3 under Irad Ortiz, Jr. with Secret Oath and Nostalgic, 10th in the Kentucky Oaks, keeping close company to her outside heading into the first turn.
A headstrong Society found a seam along the inside and was insistent to join the top flight to mark the opening quarter-mile in 24.10 seconds over the fast main track as less than one length separated the top-four runners with Butterbean trailing.
Nest put a head in front through a half-mile in 47.46 as a wavering Society dropped back to third in tandem with Nostalgic. But while those two threw in the towel, Secret Oath appeared to be ready for a fight and found herself on even terms with her familiar foe around the far turn as they logged a sharp three-quarters in 1:11.05.
Entering the stretch, Luis Saez was all out and asking for more out of Secret Oath, while Ortiz, Jr. appeared comfortable aboard Nest. With Next opening up by 4 1/2 lengths at the stretch call, Ortiz, Jr. took a peek back past the furlong marker and had his filly all wrapped up by the sixteenth pole as she strolled home well in hand, stopping the clock in 1:51.04.
Secret Oath finished another three lengths ahead of Nostalgic with Society and Butterbean completing the order of finish.
Nest, who returned $3.90 as the favorite, banked $275,000 in victory which enhanced her already millionaire status to $1,405,550. She has never finished out of the money in eight lifetime starts, three of which are graded stakes wins.
The victory was a second CCA Oaks win for Ortiz, Jr., whose first Grade 1 victory came in this race’s 2012 edition aboard Questing.
“It’s a great feeling and she’s a great filly,” Ortiz, Jr. said. “I’ve been on her and obviously we wanted to win this race, the whole team did, and it worked out well when I realized she’s already home. I just took care of her for the next race.”
Prior to Nest’s previous two starts in the Kentucky Oaks and Belmont Stakes, she was an easy open-lengths winner of the Grade 1 Ashland on April 8 at Keeneland.
Pletcher said the biggest difference maker on Saturday was Nest’s ability to be in the clear when ready to make her move.
“She’s shown up every race of her life,” Pletcher said. “The last two trips, she was sort of bottled up in both the Oaks and the Belmont, and she had no place to go. She could have advanced sooner than she did, but she still closed well. That was one of the things we were working on today.”
Pletcher noted the dynamics of the race were altered by the bad break from the two horses to Nest’s inside.
“It’s funny how you spend a lot of time analyzing a game plan and then, as they say, everything can change at the break – which it did today,” Pletcher said. “The main thing is we wanted to establish some position, get away smoothly and get to the first turn in a forward position. We were able to do that even though everyone wasn’t positioned exactly where we thought they would be. It turned out to ultimately have those four fillies bunch up together and she was able to fend off the challenge from Secret Oath and keep going.”
Secret Oath’s Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, a two-time CCA Oaks winner, was gracious in defeat.
“The winner ran a super, super race. She won fair and square. We hung a little bit,” Lukas said. “We needed, I think, to have been a little tighter on this track. Coming in here and shipping from out of state is tough – it always has been, and I’ve been here 50 years. It’s always been a place where you do a little better if you have an out about it. But the good news is we’ll have another shot.”
With Nest and Secret Oath now having one victory over the other in two starts, there is a possibility for round three as Pletcher and Lukas both said they would consider bringing their fillies back for the Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama on August 20 at 10 furlongs at the Spa.
“We’ve run a lot of horses in the Belmont over the years, but we’ve never had one come out any better than she did,” Pletcher said. “She had great energy and she gained weight since that race. She gave us every indication she was ready to run back. Originally, we thought we should wait for the Alabama, but she was just doing too good to bypass this race.”
“Yes, I think they’ll team up again. She [Nest] will have the edge, but maybe we’ll get better,” Lukas said.
Live racing resumes on Saturday at Saratoga with a 10-race card, featuring the Grade 2, $200,000 Shuvee in Race 5. First post is 1:05 pm Eastern.