Vertical Oak stands tall in rain-soaked G2 Prioress
by NYRA Press Office
J. Kirk and Jody Robison's Vertical Oak found the sloppy and sealed going much to her liking, splashing to a 5 ¼-length victory in the Grade 2, $250,000 Prioress for 3-year-old filly sprinters under steady rain Sunday at Saratoga Race Course.
The 3-year-old Giant Oak filly broke alertly under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez and tracked the pace a half-length off Student Body along the rail, who took the field of eight through an opening quarter-mile in 22.21 seconds and the half in 45.24. Vertical Oak made an outside move to meet the pacesetter in the turn.
Student Body dug in as the field turned for home but couldn't hold off Vertical Oak, who shook clear at the eighth pole to complete the six-furlong dash in 1:10 to score her second career win over an off-track, following a 7 ¾-length victory in the April 29 Goldfinch at Prairie Meadows for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.
"Steve told me she loves the slop and to let her do her thing," said Velazquez, who picked up his third win on the day's card and his seventh win over the last two days. "I came out running to make sure I got the position I wanted. Once I got the horse to the outside, I gave her a little chance to run around the turn and when I asked her down the lane she was running nice."
Dispatched at odds of 9-2, Vertical Oak returned $11.40 for a $2 win wager.
The win was the first for Vertical Oak since taking the Grade 3 Miss Preakness by 3 ¾ lengths on May 19 at Pimlico Race Course. After being declared a nonstarter in the listed Jersey Girl on June 11 at Belmont Park, Vertical Oak finished behind heavyweight sprinter American Gal in her last two starts, finishing second to the California invader in the Grade 3 Victory Ride on July 9 and then fifth in the seven-furlong Grade 1 Test at the Spa on August 5.
"When she won her stakes race at Prairie Meadows in a very sloppy racetrack similar to today, it was visually impressive but you weren't sure who she beat," said Asmussen, who won his second stakes on the weekend at Saratoga following Gun Runner's 10 ¼-length romp in Saturday's Grade 1 Woodward. "Without a doubt, she relishes the slop. This confirms that.
"This race suited us better than the Test, and we took a bit of a shot in the Test," he added. "She's a very seasoned filly. She broke her maiden here last year. She likes it here at Saratoga. The Test being the race that it is, I thought she deserved a chance. She ran valiantly in there and battled between fillies and tired a bit late. Backing up to three-quarters today helped her for the distance. The cool mornings that we've had has kept her sharp."
The Todd Pletcher-trained Nonna Mela was second, 1 ¼ lengths ahead of as the 5-2 post-time favorite Dawn the Destroyer. Fellow Asmussen trainee Golden Mischief was another neck back in fourth. Student Body, Downtown Mama, Royal Inheritance, and Yorkiepoo Princess completed the order of finish. Sister Kan was scratched.