Although it looked like it battle might loom in the $500,000, Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks July 23 at Saratoga Race Course when Longines Kentucky Oaks victress Secret Oath drew even with Kentucky Oaks runner-up Nest past the half-mile pole, the latter put that idea to rest fairly quickly and turned the tables in emphatic fashion, kicking clear at the top of the stretch en route to a 12 ¼-length blowout.
Owned by the partnership of Repole Stable, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, and Michael House, Nest entered the Coaching Club American Oaks off a good runner-up finish behind stablemate Mo Donegal in the June 11 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets.
In the CCA Oaks, Nest assumed the early lead after undefeated Society, a three-time winner who had set the pace in her two prior starts, stumbled at the break. Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. set honest fractions through the backstretch while Society hustled up to press the pace and then fell back. Secret Oath, racing four wide in the backstretch, moved up to challenge Nest midway through the far turn and it appeared momentarily that a classic stretch duel was in the works. But Nest quickly drew clear of her Kentucky Oaks vanquisher and was never threatened in the homestretch, powering to an impressive victory.
“My plan was not to be on the lead, but I wanted to break good out of there,” Ortiz said. “Honestly, that was the main thing and I tried to break, and she broke clean and I realized the other filly [Society] didn't break well. So I said, 'let’s go, Plan B.’ I was in front and didn't panic. I just let her do her thing. That was [how] the race came up. Everything changed when the gates opened and I just let her do her thing and she did the rest.”
“She's showed up every race of her life,” Nest’s trainer Todd 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.”
The slight betting favorite over Secret Oath, Nest paid $3.90 to win in a short field of five. The 3-year-old daughter of Curlin raced 1 1/8 miles in 1:51.04.
Secret Oath, making her first start since checking in fourth in the May 21 Preakness Stakes, finished second with Grade 3 winner Nostalgic completing the trifecta.
“I think coming in here, shipping in is always difficult,” said D. Wayne Lukas, trainer of Secret Oath. “The winner ran a super, super race. She won fair and square. We hung a little bit. 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 over it. But the good news is we'll have another shot.”
Nest improved her career record to three wins and two seconds in five starts and $1,200,550 in earnings.
“We’ve run a lot of horses in the Belmont Stakes 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 (Aug. 20) Alabama (Stakes), but she was just doing too good to bypass this race.”–Tim Wilkin