AMERICAN OAKS | PURSE: $350,000 | 3-YEAR-OLD FILLIES | GRADE 1 | 1 1/4 MILES (TURF)
Kentucky shipper Room Service, the only Grade 1 winner in the field, overpowered the leaders in the drive for the wire to tally impressively in the $350,000 American Oaks May 31 on the Santa Anita Park turf.
Shaun Bridgmohan rode Gary and Mary West's homebred daughter of More Than Ready to victory for trainer Wayne Catalano as Room Service rang up her third straight graded stakes. The 2-1 second choice among eight 3-year-old fillies arrived in Southern California off a dead-heat win with Rosalind in the Central Bank Ashland Stakes April 5 at Keeneland. Prior to that she won the March 2 Herecomesthebridestakes at Gulfstream Park in her graded debut.
"I thought everything in the race was unfolding like I expected it to," said Catalano, who got a seven-furlong move into Room Service over the course May 24. "Going a mile and a quarter, I didn't think she'd get too far back. We were very happy to see the position she was in. When Shaun pulled the trigger and moved a little bit to get a jump on the horses, I thought it was a good move."
The Wests bred the winning bay filly out of the multiple graded stakes-placed Old Trieste mare Dream Lady.
Room Service won by 2 ¼ lengths in a time of 2:01.08 for the 1 ¼-mile distance over firm turf. Diversy Harbor rallied from last to get the runner-up spot over Little Journey, with Tiz the Key fourth. Nashoba's Gold, the 3-2 favorite, was unplaced.
The 13th renewal of the American Oaks, previously held at Hollywood Park, was conducted for the first time at Santa Anita.
Outsiders Kissin Lucky Lips and Tiz the Key engaged in a spirited battle for the early lead with Sweet Bliss close also as they fought through opening quarter mile fractions of :24.98 seconds, :48.03 seconds, and 1:12.02. By then, the three leaders had separated themselves by eight lengths over the rest of the field -- including Room Service -- who was content to bide her time in sixth.
But as Kissin Lucky Lips made her way around the final bend, Little Journey, Room Service, and Nashoba's Gold took aim on the leaders. Room Service, advancing best of all from the four path, hit the front from Tiz the Key a furlong from home and drew off nicely under some urging from Bridgmohan. She won as much the best.
"We obviously wanted a little pace to run at and we got it," said Bridgmohan, who rode Room Service for the first time in the Ashland. "I happened to work her on the grass at Churchill [five furlongs on May 6] and she's got a great turn of foot on it. She showed that here today."
Diversy Harbor, sixth at the furlong mark under Mike Smith, finished well to be a neck better than Little Journey, who edged Tiz the Key by a half-length for the show dough with Joe Bravo aboard. Then came Nashoba's Gold, who steadied off heels at the quarter pole and weakened late, Kissin Lucky Lips, Loan Savant, and Sweet Bliss.
Smith said he had some traffic problems before gtting clear to rally late.
"We got tangled up with Doug O'Neill's filly [Loan Savant, ridden by Mario Gutierrez] and my filly kinda' got turned sideways," he said. "I'd like to have a clean run at them next time but this might be best in the long run. She settled real well today and made a big run, which is what she needs to do."
Room Service won for the third time in four starts in 2014, her only defeat coming in the one-mile Sweetest Chant Stakes at Gulfstream Park in January. Her dead-heat win in the Ashland on Polytrack, in which she was seven lengths clear of the third-place horse after spotting the field 12 lengths, is the only start of her career so far that was not on turf.
Overall, her career mark stands at 4-1-2 in seven races with earnings of $546,565.
"She's mainly a grass horse, but she will handle synthetics pretty well," Catalano said. "We'll talk over plans for what's next with Mr. and Mrs. West and make a decision. It was great to be in California with the Wests. The way it worked out, you couldn't have written a better script. We came to Mr. West's hometown and decided to win a race."
Carrying top weight of 123 pounds, five more than each of her opponents, Room Service paid $6.40, $3.60, and $3 while topping a $38.20 exacta with Diversy Harbor. The latter, coming off a third-place finish behind Nashoba's Gold in the Honeymoon Stakes May 4, returned $6 and $4.20 while never threatening the winner. French import Little Journey, third in her only other prior U.S. start in the Edgewood Stakes at Churchill Downs May 2, paid $4.
"It got a little tight around the quarter pole,"said jockey Joe Talamo of his ride on Nashoba's Gold. "I was going for a spot, but that's horse racing. I really had a good trip up to that point.
"Actually, me and the winner were kind of moving at the same point," he added. "I was going for a hole but they just had a little more momentum and we got squeezed a little bit out of there. I don't know if we'd have won today, but I think we'd have definitely hit the board. It cost her a lot of momentum."