06/28/2009 11:00PM

American Oaks draws intriguing cast


With Hollywood Park having taken a $300,000 scythe to the American Oaks, which is now worth just $700,000, we will not be seeing any Japanese fillies running in the 1 1/4-mile turf race for 3-year-old fillies on Sunday. A typical Grade 2 in the Land of the Rising Sun goes for at least $1 million, so Japanese trainers are staying home this year.

But Hollywood racing secretary Martin Panza has assembled a competitive field of fillies. Turf stakes winners Gozzip Girl, Afternoon Stroll, Well Monied, Mrs Kipling, and Acting Lady will be joined by three foreign raiders, Apple Charlotte from England, Rare Ransom from Ireland, and Puttanesca from New Zealand, making for an intriguing international event, if not exactly one of Grade 1 caliber.

Apple Charlotte has already run twice at 1 1/4 miles. Trained by Henry Cecil, a man who has won the English Oaks eight times, this daughter of Royal Applause is one of only two fillies in the field to have won, or even run, at the Oaks distance. She won by 2 1/4 lengths in the listed Swettenham Stud Fillies Trial Stakes at Newbury two back. Last time, on June 11, she was only caught on the line in a similarly conditioned event while spotting the winner three pounds, thus suffering her first defeat in four starts. Possessed of tracking speed at both a mile and 1 1/4 miles, Apple Charlotte should be sitting close early on but will be meeting a much stiffer pace than what she encountered at Newbury. Mike Smith has been contracted to ride.

Puttanesca is the only other filly in the field who has won going 1 1/4 miles. That was on Feb. 7 when she took the Group 2 Royal Stakes at New Zealand's best track, Ellerslie. Trained by the husband-and-wife team of Vanessa and Wayne Hills, she was subsequently third in another Group 2 at the distance and has since been seventh in the Group 1 New Zealand Oaks, although she was only beaten by a total of 2 1/4 lengths that day. Most recently, she has been a head second in handicaps going seven furlongs and a mile. Those outings should have sharpened her speed and prepared her for a step back up to 1 1/4 miles, which looks like her best distance.

Although bred in New Zealand, her pedigree has lots of American influence as she is by Bertolini, a Danzig stallion who was second or third in four Group 1 sprints in England and Dubai. Her dam is a daughter of Breeders' Cup Turf winner Prized.

As a Southern Hemisphere filly, Puttanesca is a half-year older than American and European-bred 3-year-olds, so she will carry 125 pounds, four more than her Northern Hemisphere rivals. That, however, is scale weight for this time of the year at 1 1/4 miles, and Hollywood Park is to be commended for recognizing the distinction and allowing her to run. Glen Boss flies in from Australia for the ride.

Dermot Weld won this race in 2003 with Dimitrova and was fourth last year with Caribbean Sunset. This year, he brings Rare Ransom. A daughter of the sensational young sire Oasis Dream, a champion European sprinter who is developing a knack for producing winners at all distances up to 1 1/4 miles, Rare Ransom has never been farther than a mile but has been keeping the best company of any filly in the Oaks. She twice chased Group 3 winner Chintz as a 2-year-old and has been thrown up against Again three times, most recently when a distant but respectable fourth in the Irish 1000 Guineas on unsuitably heavy ground. Weld's regular rider, Pat Smullen, will be at the controls. Expect her to enjoy the firm ground and the added distance.

Mrs Kipling, formerly trained in England by Sylvester Callaghan but now with Neil Drsydale, and Well Monied are both stakes winners on the Hollywood Park turf. Acting Lady, who began her career in England, was beaten by one or the other of them in her last two starts but was giving weight both times and will be back on equal terms in the Oaks.

Gozzip Girl has won the Grade 2 Sands Point at Belmont on yielding ground, Gulfstream's Grade 3 Herecomesthebride on firm ground, both of them at 1 1/8 miles, and narrowly missed in the Grade 1 Ashland on the Keeneland Polytrack. As the most accomplished and versatile filly in the field, she rates a favorite's chance if she can handle the Hollywood turf in what promises to be a terrific betting contest.