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Five seek to be #1

If you missed last Saturday’s Delaware Handicap, you failed to see what is likely to be crowned the race of the year. The re-match of Blind Luck versus Havre de Grace proved to be everything a race fan could’ve ever asked for; when the rivals turned for home, the real bout began, and Blind Luck came to Havre de Grace before the two had even reached the quarter pole. From there, the fillies locked horns and battled tooth and nail to the wire, drawing away 18 ½ lengths away from the third place horse, Life at Ten. Havre de Grace tried valiantly to hold off her rival until the bitter end, but Blind Luck collared her in the final gasp of the duel to prevail by a head.

Plum PrettyThis heart-palpitating performance will be a tough act to follow, but this Saturday’s Coaching Club American Oaks is setting up to be a thriller in its own right. The race will be held over the first stakes-packed weekend at the grand old Spa, and what an opener it should be. A field of only five 3-year-old fillies has been drawn for this Grade I test over 1 1/8th-miles. The contenders themselves are so venerable, it’s hard to separate a true favorite; Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty, Acorn winner It’s Tricky, and dual-stakes winner Joyful Victory are top billed, and they will be joined by Black Susan winner Royal Delta and Mother Goose winner Buster’s Ready. There’s not a clunker in the bunch, making this not only a real grudge match, but a bettor’s dream.

Most of these fillies are already old foes. It’s Tricky and Royal Delta have already defeated Buster’s Ready, the filly who sprung the upset on Joyful Victory in the Mother Goose. Joyful Victory hasn’t shown her dominant form since sailing to victory in the Grade II Fantasy by 7 lengths, and was soundly defeated as the favorite in the Grade I Kentucky Oaks by Plum Pretty. Plum Pretty’s biggest adversaries are not present, so she will have better luck trying to find the winner’s circle again after losing to Zazu in the Hollywood Oaks. Her trainer, Bob Baffert, says she is back to her old self and seems to like the dirt better, and when Baffert exudes this kind of confidence, you’d better listen.

It's TrickyIt’s Tricky was on a 3-race win-streak until the Gulfstream Park Oaks, where she was blown out of the water by R Heat Lightning and finished 4th. Since then, she rebounded in a huge way, winning her first Grade I in the Acorn Stakes at Belmont over the multiple-stakes-winning Turbulent Descent. It’s Tricky has never won over the 1 1/8th-mile distance before, but the way she ran down Turbulent Descent in the Acorn shows she may be able to handle the extra distance. It’s Tricky is by 2003 Horse of the Year Mineshaft, and is out of a Tale of the Cat mare, so she’s bred to handle classic distances. With only 5 races to her career, It’s Tricky has lots of room for improvement, and is just one of the fillies who could find herself as the division leader with a win here.

The Coaching Club American Oaks has been set up as an early race to decide top honors in the 3-year-old filly division. Whereas the 3-year-old male division is lacking in widespread talent, the filly picture tells a whole different story. Here, so many fillies have stayed true to form and have been consistently winning stakes races, the CCAO at Saratoga may serve as the focal point on the way to the biggest decider of them all, the Grade I Alabama Stakes. So will Joyful Victory return to her old form and reclaim her position at the top, or might Plum Pretty show her victory in the Kentucky Oaks was just the beginning of an award-winning campaign? No matter who wins this spectacular edition of the CCAO, Saratoga is off to an explosive start.

The Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks will be broadcast live from Saratoga Racecourse on NBC. Post time is scheduled for approximately 5:45pm ET.

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