07/22/2010 3:50PM

Distance an issue in Coaching Club American Oaks

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. − Richard Dutrow Jr. and Todd Pletcher have no qualms with the New York Racing Association’s decision to move the $250,000 Coaching Club American Oaks from Belmont Park to Saratoga. But both trainers, at least this year, would have been quite content if NYRA had left the distance at 1 1/4 miles.

A meeting at 10 furlongs between the Dutrow-trained Acting Happy and the Pletcher-conditioned Devil May Care will have to wait until the Grade 1 Alabama here Aug. 21. Saturday, the two fillies will try to outduel each other at 1 1/8 miles in the Coaching Club, a Grade 1 race for 3-year-old fillies that will be run for the first time at the Spa. The CCA Oaks was last run at 1 1/8 miles in 1917.

Traditionally the last Grade 1 race to be run at the Belmont summer meet, the Coaching Club was moved to Saratoga when NYRA decided to expand the meet to 40 days. Also, the distance was reduced from 1 1/4 miles to 1 1/8 miles to make it part of a natural progression to the 1 1/4-mile Alabama. The one-mile Acorn and 1 1/16-mile Mother Goose precede the Coaching Club.

“It was a mile and a quarter last year, wasn’t it?” Dutrow asked Thursday outside his Saratoga barn. “I wish it was this year, too.”

Dutrow has always thought Acting Happy to be a natural distance horse. She made a winning debut at 1 1/8 miles at Gulfstream in January and was beaten by the highly regarded Christine Daae at the same distance one month later. After finishing second in a one-turn, one-mile allowance race at Gulfstream in March, Acting Happy won the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico on May 14.

In the Black-Eyed Susan, Acting Happy was part of the pace and raced between horses, before prevailing in the stretch. She beat a field that included No Such Word, Seeking the Title and C.C.’s Pal, all of whom came back to win.

From the moment Acting Happy left the Pimlico winner’s circle that day, the Coaching Club and Alabama were on Dutrow’s radar.

“I think she’s going to be one that gets better and better and better as time goes by,” Dutrow said. “Everyday she’s just getting more into her game. She knows what’s expected of her and is happy to give it.

“I think that if our filly likes the track here and she gets a good trip and she runs her race, then we’re very live,” Dutrow said.

Dutrow said he is even happy with drawing the outside post in the eight-horse field. Jose Lezcano rides.

Pletcher was not bashful about trying the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby with Devil May Care, who finished 10th in that race. She came back to win the Grade 1 Mother Goose at Belmont by 1 1/2 lengths over Connie and Michael, who is also back in this spot.

“I thought she rebounded well,” Pletcher said. “She was a bit keen early on with the layoff and the blinkers. Even with the blinkers, she idled a bit when she made the lead.”

While the Mother Goose and the Grade 1 Frizette − a race Devil May Care won last year − are run around one turn, Devil May Care did win the Grade 2 Bonnie Miss at Gulfstream around two turns.

“I think she does either very well,” Pletcher said. “We felt like the more distance she has the better. The two-turn mile and an eighth should suit her very well.”

John Velazquez rides Devil May Care from post 7.

Connie and Michael and Biofuel finished second and third behind Devil May Care in the Mother Goose. Connie and Michael, now trained by Dominick Schettino, figures to be part of the pace along with Absinthe Minded and Lisa’s Booby Trap, an undefeated filly from Finger Lakes.

Bahama Bound and Seeking the Title will attempt to rally from off the pace.

The Coaching Club American Oaks goes as race 9 on a 10-race card and is the third leg of a pick four that will have a guaranteed pool of $500,000.