By Bob Ehalt
Photo: Zo Impressive
The first half of 2012 did little to establish anyone as the leading 3-year-old filly in the nation.
Now, at no less of a setting than Saratoga, some clarity could be added to the scramble for supremacy when a field of six tangles in the $300,000 TVG Coaching Club American Oaks.
Once a fixture at Belmont Park, the transplanted Grade 1 Oaks features a rematch at a longer mile and an eighth distance between Zo Impressive and the late-closing Disposablepleasure, a pair that beat the likes of Kentucky Oaks winner Believe You Can and runaway Acorn winner Contested a month ago in the Mother Goose.
The aptly named Zo Impressive certainly passed the eye test in the Mother Goose, stalking the front-running Contested and then holding off a late charge by Disposablepleasure to register a three-quarters-of-a-length victory at 10-1 odds in the one-turn mile and a sixteenth Grade 1 stakes.
“This is the best I’ve seen her,” trainer Tom Albertrani said about the 2-1 morning line favorite. “She ran around two turns at Gulfstream and didn’t have any problems. I don’t think the extra distance should be an issue as she was edging away from Disposablepleasure in the last 50 yards of the Mother Goose.”
Disposablepleasure, second in her last two starts, is listed at 4-1 in the morning line and will receive some help from an uncoupled stablemate in trying to turn the tables on Zo Impressive. In Lingerie (5-2 ML odds), who has not raced since beating Disposablepleasure in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico on May 18, gives trainer Todd Pletcher a strong hand in the CCA Oaks.
“For a moment, I thought (Disposablepleasure) was going to get there (in the Mother Goose),” Pletcher said. “She just couldn’t get past Zo Impressive. It was another improved effort. Each race this year she has gotten a little better, and hopefully she’ll continue to move forward and maybe knock one of these down one of these days. I think a mile and an eighth suits her well.
“(In Lingerie) kind of grabbed herself when she left the gate, and we just needed to make sure that healed up properly,” he added. “If we came back in the Mother Goose that probably would have put her in position where we would have had to skip (either the Oaks or the Alabama on Aug. 18 at Saratoga). Coming off the big effort we figured the Mother Goose was the logical one (to miss), and hopefully if things go well we can run her twice here.”
Aside from them, Questing, an impressive gate-to-wire allowance winner last month at Belmont, also deserves attention. Listed at 3-1 in the morning line, Questing started on a dirt surface labeled fast for the first time in her June victory. The Godolphin Racing filly began her career with three grass races in England, then was fifth on a good track in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. She was unplaced in two 2012 grass races before returning to the main track and registering a speedy 3 ¾-length score in 1:34 for a mile
“It’s a big step up from an allowance to a Grade 1,” trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. “It looks like a short, quality field. It would be great if we could hit the board. We wouldn’t have minded if it was a week later, but we decided to give it a try. She’s a very nice filly.”
The field also includes Yara (15-1), who is winless since capturing the Davona Dale at 64-1 odds in February, and Funny Proposition (8-1), who was eighth on turf last time out in the Regret but is a perfect 2-for-2 on dirt.
Both will be long shots, but given Saratoga’s reputation as “The Graveyard of Favorites” and the muddled state of the 3-year-old filly division, the potential is there in the Oaks for someone to plant the seeds for a rewarding second half to 2012.