Favored Emollient made an extremely successful turf debut, winning the Grade 1, $350,750 American Oaks Saturday at Betfair Hollywood Park.
Making her first start since failing at 4-5 in the Grade 2 Black Eyed Susan May 17 at Pimlico, Emollient fought off Emotional Kitten, another shipper, through the stretch to win by a half-length.
Owned and bred by Juddmonte Farms, Inc. and trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, Emollient, a 3-year-old Empire Maker filly out of the Touch Gold mare Soothing Touch, won for the fourth time in eight starts. Her second Grade I success – she captured the Ashland by nine lengths April 6 at Keeneland – increased her earnings to $656,900. She paid $4.40, $4.20 and $4.20 as the 6-5 choice.
The win was the second in a row in the American Oaks for Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who used a rail-skimming ride to score with Lady of Shamrock in 2012. Smith is the third rider to win the Oaks more than once, joining Kent Desormeaux (Ticker Tape in 2004 and Gozzip Girl in 2009) and Martin Garcia (Harmonious in 2010 and Cambina – a dead heat with Nereid – in 2011).
Positioned just behind the slow pace set by Sarach and Macha, the 1-3 finishers in last month’s Grade II Honeymoon Handicap, Emollient joined the leaders outside with about a half-mile remaining, got the advantage in midstretch, then was game to repel the bid of 8-1 shot Emotional Kitten, who was seeking her third consecutive victory for owner-breeders Ken and Sarah Ramsey and trainer Wesley Ward.
Rallying outside the winner, Emotional Kitten, who had earned her two recent wins by a nose on the turf at Keeneland and Pimlico, finished three-quarters of a length in front of 14-1 outsider Topic, a maiden winner June 13 over the Betfair Hollywood Park turf.
Emotional Kitten paid $8 and $5 while the show price on Topic was $6.80.
“She answered a couple of questions today,’’ said Rodolphe Brisset, Mott’s assistant trainer. “We didn’t know about the grass and we didn’t know about the mile and one quarter. That was a very good race for her.
“She’s definitely going to stick to the turf, but we can keep in mind that she won a Grade I on the synthetic (Polytrack) as well. It’s one or the other, we can keep everything open.’’
A gate-to-wire winner of the Ashland, Emollient changed tactics Saturday. According to Smith, this was by necessity.
“I got away slow, so I kept her covered up,’’ he said. “She broke so flat footed, I just put her right in behind. I could tell how slow they were going (25.63 and 50.26 for the opening half-mile), so I went for it to get in the clear and make the pace move. Looking back at it now, I can say it was a great move.’’