Longines Kentucky Oaks victress Princess of Sylmar and Unlimited Budget, who recently ran sixth in the June 8 Belmont Stakes, top a quality field of five sophomore fillies for the $300,000 TVG Coaching Club American Oaks July 20 at Saratoga Race Course.
Princess of Sylmar has not raced since upsetting the May 3 Oaks at odds of 38-1, and the 1 ⅛-mile CCA Oaks will prove a prime testing ground as she makes her second start in Grade1 company. The CCA Oaks is also a chance at redemption for Unlimited Budget, a three-time graded stakes winner who was undefeated until her Kentucky Oaks third and subsequent off-the-board finish against the boys.
Todd Pletcher trains both Princess of Sylmar, a daughter of Majestic Warrior owned by Ed Stanco's King of Prussia Stable, and Unlimited Budget, a Street Sense filly who races for Repole Stable.
Princess of Sylmar took the Busher Stakes and Busanda at Aqueduct Racetrack by open lengths before finishing second to Close Hatches in the Gazelle en route to her Kentucky Oaks win. She breaks from post 4 under Javier Castellano and is the 9-5 favorite on the morning line.
"Ed Stanco said a long time ago that he would really love to win the [Aug. 17] Alabama," Pletcher said. "After the Kentucky Oaks we looked at the schedule and felt that if we were going to run twice, this would be a similar program to what she had when she had a little bit of a break and ran in the Gazelle and the Kentucky Oaks. Hopefully, this will set her up nicely.
"We have no issues with her handling the distance," the trainer went on. "She's a very relaxed filly who turns off easily, so we'll let her relax in the early part of the race and hope she finishes well. Based on the way she has breezed over the track, I'd be pretty confident she handles it well."
Unlimited Budget won the Demosielle Stakes at Aqueduct and took the Rachel Alexandra and the Fair Grounds Oaks at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. She will be ridden from post 3 by Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez and is the 2-1 second choice on the morning line.
"I thought, physically, she handled it well," said Pletcher of Unlimited Budget's Belmont Stakes performance. "She came out of it in good shape. We were asking a lot of her, but she didn't disgrace herself. We'll try again back in against fillies. She's never run here before, but she has trained well, and the cutback to a mile and an eighth she should appreciate."
Michael Dubb's Grade 3 stakes winner My Happy Face is another strong contender. Saratoga racing fans will recall the daughter of Tiz Wonderful from her 21 ¼-length maiden victory last summer sprinting 5 ½ furlongs at the Spa. Since then, she was second by a hard-fought head to Dreaming of Julia in the Frizette Stakes at Belmont, won the Tempted at Aqueduct, was runner-up to Kauai Katie in the Jan. 26 Forward Gal at Gulfstream Park for Rudy Rodriguez. She was transfered to trainer Chad Brown and returned to Belmont to take the June 13 Lotka Stakes going a mile in just her second start of the season.
"I didn't know the filly all that well [before the Lotka]," said Brown. "I was able to breeze her only three times before that race. Rudy had done a lot of the foundation work and sent her to me in perfect shape. She came out of the race better than I expected. She really moved forward off the race. I'm excited to run her."
The TVG Coaching Club American Oaks will be My Happy Face's first start beyond one mile and around two turns. She is 3-1 on the morning line and leaves the rail under Joel Rosario.
"When I was looking at her past performances when she was first transferred to me, I was a little skeptical she'd be able to go two turns," said Brown. "With the way she is training, she is acting like it won't be a problem. We'll just have to try it to know for sure."
Spendthrift Farm's Cue the Moon was fourth in the May 27 Acorn Stakes last time out, and third in the Gulfstream Oaks before that. The lightly-raced Malibu Moon filly seeks her first win for trainer H. James Bond since breaking her maiden last September at the Spa by half a length over eventual Grade 1 winner Emollient. In her only other start as a 2-year-old, she ran second in the Tempted by a neck to My Happy Face.
Alex and JoAnn Lieblong's Marathon Lady completes the field. Since breaking her maiden for trainer Steve Hobby at Oaklawn Park this February, the daughter of Graeme Hall has been competitive in graded stakes. She finished second in the Fathead Bourbonette Oaks at Turfway Park, third in the Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn, second by a neck to Fiftyshadesofhay in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico Race Course, and third in the Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont.