Updated on 09/15/2011 12:38PM

Going long in the Oaks

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Benoit & Associates
Chris McCarron on Starrer, the likely favorite in Saturday's Coaching Club American Oaks.

ELMONT, N.Y. - While some are scurrying from Saturday's Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks because of its demanding 1 1/2-mile distance, trainer David Hofmans is embracing it with his 3-year-old filly Starrer.

Considering Hofmans shipped Starrer 3,000 miles for this race, what's another 12 furlongs?

Starrer, winner of the Grade 2 Princess Stakes at Hollywood Park in her last start, figures to be a solid favorite in the $350,000 Coaching Club American Oaks, the final leg of New York's triple crown for 3-year-old fillies and the final graded stakes of the Belmont spring-summer meeting.

Starrer faces seven rivals in the CCA Oaks, but only one other graded winner, Tap Dance, who won the Grade 2 Bonnie Miss in March. Exogenous, third in the Mother Goose; Majority Whip, a winner of three straight; Unbridled Lassie; Tweedside; Ten Flags; and Classy Place complete the field.

Hofmans had several reasons for keeping Starrer out of last week's $150,000 Hollywood Oaks to focus on the Coaching Club, which did not draw Acorn winner Forest Secrets, Mother Goose winner Fleet Renee, or Kentucky Oaks winner Flute.

"This is a Grade 1, the distance, and the money," Hofmans said. "Without Fleet Renee and Flute, going we got a better chance at a Grade 1. Plus, the mile and a half is two turns, and I think she's suited for a mile and a half."

There are two additional reasons to like Starrer in the Coaching Club. First, the horse that finished third to her in the Princess, Affluent, came back to win the Hollywood Oaks. Second, Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron is giving up two days at Del Mar - Friday and Saturday - to fly cross-country to ride. Starrer breaks from post 5.

Starrer lost all three of her starts as a 2-year-old and injured an ankle when finishing third in the Landaluce Stakes at Del Mar. She returned to the races in March, finishing third in a six-furlong maiden race. Starrer won the Santa Paula Stakes and finished second behind Golden Ballet in the Railbird before taking the Princess.

"We've always thought this filly was something special," Hofmans said. "She's a Dynaformer who got it together early. Since we brought her back she's been just awesome."

Hofmans shipped Starrer here early enough for her to get a workout. On Monday, she breezed five furlongs in 1:00.10 over Belmont's main track. "She really handled the track well," Hofmans said.

Although Starrer came from off the pace in her previous races, Hofmans said he believes she will be close to the pace on Saturday.

"She comes out of probably the fastest race, and my thought is she's going to be closer to the pace than we think," Hofmans said.

A year ago, Neil Howard sent out Secret Status as the 2-5 favorite in the CCA Oaks, but she could do no better than third. Saturday, Howard will be represented by Unbridled Lassie, who has not raced since May 11, when she won a second-level allowance race at Churchill Downs.

Howard said he wanted to get another allowance race into Unbridled Lassie, but it did not fill. Still, he is somewhat optimistic about her chances to get the 12 furlongs.

"I think she's got the pedigree and the running style," Howard said. "She's a stamina-type filly and she hasn't missed any training."

Exogenous heads the list of local contenders. A daughter of Unbridled, Exogenous had a three-race winning streak snapped when she finished third in the Grade 1 Mother Goose, her first graded-stakes attempt. However, she finished with good energy in the Mother Goose, leading her connections to believe the distance should suit her fine.

"She's much stronger and better now than she's ever been," said Randy Schulhofer, assistant to his father, Scotty. "I don't see why the distance would be a problem."

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