NEW ORLEANS -- The gate popped open for the Grade 2, $200,000 Rachel Alexandra Stakes on Saturday at Fair Grounds, and odds-on favorite Monomoy Girl spun her wheels.
On the lead in three sharp dirt performances to conclude a very promising 2-year-old campaign, Monomoy Girl went into the first turn of her 3-year-old debut last of seven.
"What was I thinking? I wasn't thinking good thoughts," said trainer Brad Cox.
Monomoy Girl still was last down the backstretch, but then she started rolling. Passing horses on the outside under Florent Geroux, Monomoy Girl reached contention midway around the far turn, came up to the leading Classy Act at the top of the stretch, and went on to a 2 1/2-length victory that was impressive given the circumstances. Classy Act finished a well-beaten second, and Wonder Gadot was another 1 1/4 lengths behind in third.
"At the 3 1/2-, the three-furlong pole, I started feeling confident when I went by Wonder Gadot and I was fully loaded," Geroux said. "The horse on the lead was coming to me fairly easily."
Monomoy Girl struck the front and wandered a bit, reacting, Geroux and Cox said, to a left-handed crop. She still stopped the timer in a solid 1:43.26 for 1 1/16 miles while making her first start in about three months. She paid $3.80 as the heavy favorite.
"She's obviously still a little bit of a funny filly to deal with," Cox said. "She's still learning."
Monomoy Girl is all but guaranteed a spot now in the Kentucky Oaks if that race overfills since the Rachel Alexandra was a key Oaks qualifier. Monomoy Girl got 50 Oaks qualifying points for winning, Classy Act 20 for second, Wonder Gadot 10, and fourth-place Patrona Margarita five.
Testing One Two finished fifth, followed by She's A Julie and Heavenly Love. Actress On Board was scratched.
How Monomoy Girl gets to the Kentucky Oaks isn't yet certain. Cox said the filly will be considered for either the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland or the Fair Grounds Oaks here next month.
"We'll just kind of see what we think moving forward," he said. "It'll be one of those two."
Monomoy Girl debuted going two turns on turf last summer at Indiana Grand, not so much for the surface but because her habit of breaking slowly from the gate suggested to Cox that sprinting would not work out so well. Monomoy Girl began breaking better with experience, but coming back from a winter break, she reverted to her old habit in the Rachel Alexandra.
"No, I didn't expect it, but if I go forward, she's five wide on the first turn, and you can't lose ground like that," Geroux said.
Instead, he sat patiently on the filly as Classy Act, who also broke poorly, dueled outside Testing One Two through a quarter in 23.58 seconds and a half-mile in a swift 46.83. Classy Act, racing in her first stakes, held well for second.
"One thing you don't want to do with her is smooch at her or take a little hold, and because she did break tardy, [Javier Castellano] had to push on her a little bit, and she jumped on the bridle a little harder than he wanted, got a little too keen," said Classy Act's trainer. Bret Calhoun. "Overall, I was happy with it. If she looks good after this and bounces back, I think we will come back for the Fair Grounds Oaks."
Monomoy Girl won the Rags to Riches Stakes around one turn, then dueled on a hot pace and succumbed late to Road to Victory while making her two-turn debut Nov. 26 in the Grade 2 Golden Rod Stakes. She showed Saturday she does not need to lead and that she can finish off a true route race with good energy.
"She showed us a lot as far as overcoming things -- dirt in her face, passing horses. She's becoming a big girl," Cox said.
Monomoy Girl now has four wins and a second from her five races. Owned by Monomoy Stables, Michael Dubb, and the Elkstone Group, the filly is by Tapizar and out of Drumette, by Henny Hughes. She's already good, and the mistakes she's still making suggest she could still get better.
"I think there's a couple things we can work on with Brad and his team," Geroux said. "The main thing is we know she can run, and she can run fast."