The American Oaks

12/31/2016 Santa Anita Park-Race 8

American Oaks-$300,000 Grade I Post Time: 4:00 PM PST

1 & ¼ Miles on Turf for 3 Year-Old Fillies

Analysis by Michael Patricks

A baker’s dozen of entrants will compete in the 15th running of the American Oaks on Saturday and it’s an event that’s shaping up as quite contentious on paper.  The morning line favorite will be the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained and Jim Rome co-owned Stays in Vegas, who began her career in northern California as a two year-old taking down the Juan Gonzalez Memorial in her debut, and also the Wine Country Debutante right here in Santa Rosa in her second career start.  With 10 placings in 12 career efforts, Stays in Vegas is by far the hardest hitter in the lineup and comes into this off her first triple-digit Beyer speed figure last time out in the Matriarch at Del Mar.  Will Stays in Vegas finally nab the oh-so-elusive Grade 1 she has coveted, or will there be another filly to steal the headlines?  Let’s handicap it:

1-Lady Valeur (Ire) 15/1 ML – Got the much needed confidence boost last time in her first start in northern California, pulling away by a length and a half and taking down the Miss America from Golden Gate Fields in the process.  Though she looked good last time while getting some class relief, she’s struggled in her four graded-stakes races, having hit the board only one time in those contests.  She likes the Santa Anita sod and Bejarano knows her well, but her string of Mid-80’s Beyers will not be enough to close escrow and grab title.  Respect her workmanlike efforts but others entice much more at the Grade 1 level; can’t recommend.

2-Stays in Vegas 7/2 ML- As mentioned in my thesis statement atop the recap, the race centers around her and it’s certainly her best opportunity to take down her first Grade 1.  The 100 Beyer Speed Fig jumps right off the page and a repeat of her effort in the Matriarch would likely be good enough to take down the American.  Given the human connections in her corner, her price figures to be a bit short when the gates open and it’s worth noting that like several of these, she’s on trial at the distance and she has shown a tendency to get a bit late in her races.  She’s a logical fit and a must use in your vertical tickets, but as far as a win wager is concerned, she’s a bit of a perilous prospect in my mind given that she’s failed to land in the exacta in any of her last five races; she can win, but I’d need more value than I’ll be getting on Saturday to back her as a win wager.

3-Dreamarcher 30/1 ML- The carousel of riders continues atop this one’s back as she tries Grade 1 runners for the first time on Saturday.  She was 18 and 21 to 1 in each of her Grade 3 races while finishing 6th and 7th respectively in those contests and now she jumps into the deep end of the pool.  Her father, Archarcharch, won the Arkansas Derby at nine furlongs so she figures to move up with the added distance but at the same time appears to lack the quality needed to make a real impact inthis field.  She was last victorious in the Wine Country Derby this Summer in Santa Rosa while running in a five horse field.  None of the runners she faced in that event would be less than 50 to 1 if they were entered in this spot.  My view is that she’s an allowance filly who has the potential to win a small graded-stakes race if they go too fast in front of her and she gets the perfect trip to capitalize.  You may want to wait for the Luther Burbank Handicap this Summer at Santa Rosa instead of trying her in the Grade 1 American on Saturday; would be a surprise.

4-How Unusual 30/1 ML- First of two Unusual Heat daughters drawn side-by-side, How Unusual comes into this off a brief freshening, having been away from the races since October 2nd when she rallied through traffic to take down an allowance/optional claimer at 5/1.  It had been a long time between drinks for her as she had been mired in some fairly dull form before finally breaking through last time out.  Her previous two efforts against graded runners has led to her being fully dismantled and it’s difficult to foresee a different reality for her as they race to the wire in the American.  Coming off the win I suppose it makes sense to freshen her up and roll the dice, looking for some black type in a Grade 1.  I’d just be a much bigger fan of hers if she was spotted a touch more realistically than this placement.  The last time her connections got ambitious off the win she got pounded…expect it to be Groundhog Day yet again on Saturday.

5-Cheekaboo 8/1 ML- One of two entered for trainer Peter Eurton who has had a very solid 2016.  This one arrives off a string of mid pack efforts, and was third in her most recent effort at Keeneland in the Grade 3 Valley View.  The lifetime effort and number came at Santa Anita on the lawn when she upset the apple cart at 23/1 in the Grade 2 Honeymoon.  After putting herself on the map in that one, she’s slowly removed herself from most handicapper’s radar with some real lackluster form since her big score.  The layoff makes a lot of sense for her and her maiden breaker did come off the bench so perhaps that bodes well for her.  She picks up Mike Smith for this one and that will draw some eyeballs her way, but she needs to pick up her hooves to seriously threaten for top honors and I’m just not quite seeing it; other Unusual Heat Cal-bred will have to hustle.

6-Sassy Little Lila 9/2 ML- This sassy lass hits quite hard in here given her forward running style and her proven ability to get the nine furlongs on turf.  She was collared in deep stretch last time out in the Winter Memories which was her stakes debut and was very unfortunate to not get the job done.  Her regular rider sees fit to come out west to ride and that’s a very positive sign.  She’s the most lightly-raced entrant in the field so she has a license to jump up and improve by leaps and bounds with each start.  There is not a ton of speed signed on so it’s reasonable to expect her to be on the engine, cutting out the fractions.  If someone wants the early lead, she has proven that she has no problem stalking and finishing; versatile and improving filly figures prominent throughout but will have to turn on the jets for top honors—party crashing potential but have the feeling Stays in Vegas will be haunting her through the stretch, thereby softening her up.

7-Decked Out 4/1 ML- Noteworthy Grade 3 winner over a yielding turf course so give her a little extra juice should the rain fall in southern California this weekend.  Decked Out likes to sit back and make one big run and that style of running obviously means she’s reliant on pace to help set up her finishing kick.  Decked Out was very good in the Del Mar Oaks, missing by a head and running down Stays in Vegas in the process.  One would think the added furlong can only help her chances and hinder Stays in Vegas’ chances so it will be up to Kent Desormeaux to time his run to perfection.  It’s worth further noting that Desormeaux chooses to stay with his Brother Keith’s filly, and gets off three other horses in the race to ride Decked Out.  This filly ran credibly against older Grade 1 types last time but she’s only 1-for-6 over the Santa Anita turf course, so you need to get a square price if you’re going to run up to the window and bet her.  The 4/1 morning line feels a bit short to me, but I wouldn’t argue with you if you took a swing somewhere near the price of 6/1 or so.  She’s a contender but demand a square price.

8-Queen Blossom (Ire) 9/2 ML- Wild card in the field shows up off an eight month layoff for trainer Graham Motion and notable owner Team Valor.  Queen Blossom has worked steadily on the east coast and then reportedly has come to life quite nicely in southern California in her last two local drills.  Graham Motion has won with four of his last eight stakes entrants in southern California and it’s a huge plus to see Joel Rosario back out to ride in this Grade 1, coming off his victory with Mind Your Biscuits last Monday in the Grade 1 Malibu at Santa Anita.  Even though this gal gut dusted in some Ireland stakes races her last two starts, she’s had plenty of time to recover and grow up heading into this one, so you are probably wise to draw a line through those efforts.  The fact she has beaten winners overseas is enough for me to consider her dangerous and being that she’s just a few hours away from turning four, it’s reasonable to expect plenty of improvement from her on the grown-up angle.  These connections are potent and always dangerous; she grabs Lasix for the first time and the distance shouldn’t be a concern; she also has won both her starts coming off layoffs in the past; the pick.

9-Mrs. Norris 30/1 ML- The lone win for her came against five other maidens on the dirt at Los Alamitos back in December of last year, leaving her 0-for-10 this year with three minor placings.  She’s a classy-bred, deep closer that can pass a few tired horses but she’s had nine tries at the first allowance level and continues to merely knock on the door without entering.  Now, we’re being asked to consider whether she can threaten in a Grade 1 race with a lifetime Beyer speed figure of 87.  If everything went her way and she found herself running third then I suppose that would enhance her breeding value with Grade 1 black type on her resume, but even when you move heaven and earth around in the vortex of your mind and exercise all your creative powers as a handicapper, it’s difficult concocting a scenario where that situation will happen.  She should be closer to 60 to 1 than 30/1 and for good reason; would be a stunner to hear Michael Wrona call her name late; wait until she returns to face her friends.

10-Sheeza Milky Way 12/1 ML- She is another who seems to be a bit player and heads into this one off a seven month layoff when last seen running third behind Stays in Vegas in the Senorita.  Peter Eurton has grabbed plenty of positive headlines this year with his trainees having fared quite well in some high-quality races, so that bodes well for her.  She also displays a nice bullet here on Christmas morning so she appears to be feeling good in anticipation of her comeback.  Cooling my jets on this gal however, is the win-shy nature she appears to have at this point in her career and atop her back will be a rider who has never been on her.  (Eurton and Theriot are a combined 0-for-9 last two years)  She has a wide draw heading down off the hill and will likely have plenty of company in a gathering group near the back of the field.  Sheeza Milky Way has performed well over the turf at Santa Anita but this would be a bit of an eye-opener if she pops in a 10 furlong Grade 1 off the vacation; believe others to be more reliable.

11-Dynamic Mizzes K 30/1 ML- Had to ship to Golden Gate to break the maiden and then it took this filly three tries to break through at the first level allowance condition at Del Mar last time, prevailing in an exciting finish.  Desormeaux predictably defects to Decked Out and Corey Nakatani comes over to ride this long shot that will have her work cut out for her to say the least.  She doesn’t have the best turn of foot in the field and she also suffers a draw from a very wide barrier in this one, so spotting ground, class, and experience to many of these is certainly a strong enough confluence of factors to spell defeat.  She was 9/1 to break through last time in a first level allowance score, so expect every bit of that 30 to 1 morning line price this time around; she will most likely feel the pinch leaving the ½ mile pole en route to an also ran performance in the Grade 1 American Oaks.

12-Barleysugar (Ire) 12/1 ML- Irish-bred filly knocks on the door but seldom enters.  Last time out she was relatively listless and uninspiring in the Red Carpet Handicap, but before that she showed better life when “miling” at the great race place.  Barleysugar appears to be in need of a wake-up call at this point however, as her exclusive rider has apparently signed the divorce papers for now and chooses not to ride in the race.  She seemed to have a lot less punch when adding on the extra distance at Del Mar last time, so the 10 furlongs is a bit of a concern and perhaps she’d be a better fit if the rains come and they shorten the distance to 9 furlongs over the main course, which is possible.  Regardless, she really needs to pick it up to threaten for top honors in this spot and the bail out of Stevens is enough to get me off fancying her here; foresee her getting outkicked in the late stages.

13-Mokat 6/1 ML- Draws unenviably to say the least and that may cause her new jock to put her in the race a bit earlier than he’d like, trying to save as much ground as possible coming off the hillside course and over the dirt crossing.  This filly has some good talent however, as she chased Songbird home on the dirt earlier in the spring (Grade 1) before finding new life on the turf course after her freshening from the Kentucky Oaks.  Her Del Mar Oaks effort is better than looks on paper and she’s right there with Decked Out and Stays in Vegas on paper.  Last time out in the Q.E.II, she was wide the whole way after suffering a wide draw in that one, and subsequently lacked the finishing punch necessary.  She’s plenty capable of pulling this off on her best day and Richard Baltas will have her ready to go, but the racing gods will have to be smiling over this filly on Saturday given the post position impediment she faces yet again in hopes of prosperity; needs everything to break just right.

Consensus: 8-7-2-13