07/24/2009 11:00PM

Hightap can emerge as star in her own right

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
After a poor performance in the Acorn, Funny Moon rebounds by romping in an allowance last time out.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Long before the best 3-year-old filly in the country arrived in his barn, trainer Steve Asmussen thought he already had one who could be top-class.


While Hightap can hardly be mentioned in the same breath as Rachel Alexandra, she could join her more celebrated stablemate as a Grade 1 winner when she meets seven rivals in Saturday's $300,000 Coaching Club American Oaks, the final Grade 1 race of the season at Belmont Park.

With two Grade 3 victories on her resume, Hightap is the most accomplished of the eight 3-year-old fillies set to contest the 1 1/4 miles of the Coaching Club.

"In the spring we were thinking she was worthy of getting in the deep water," Asmussen said Thursday from Dallas. "Now, she's in the deep water."

After running second in her debut going six furlongs, Hightap responded to being stretched out around two turns with a maiden win going a mile in January and a first-level allowance win at a mile and 40 yards in February, both at Fair Grounds.

Asmussen went into the Grade 3 Honeybee at Oaklawn confident, but came away disappointed when Hightap finished last of seven.

"She had a little foot [issue] out of the race, but I've sure had them win with bigger excuses than that before," Asmussen said. "That race is always going to bother me.''

Asmussen backed off of Hightap for a little while before bringing her back in the Grade 3 Dogwood at Churchill, which she won by 3 1/4 lengths. A month later, Hightap shipped to Prairie Meadows to win the Grade 3 Iowa Oaks. Peach Brew, who finished third that day, came back to win the Arlington Oaks on July 18.

"She ran great in the Dogwood," Asmussen said. "I thought that her Iowa race was very good, especially with Peach Brew coming back and winning. I think it's a great opportunity for her. I sure would have liked to have had Klesaris's mare run last weekend."

Asmussen was referring to trainer Steve Klesaris and his filly Livin Lovin, who was entered but scratched out of two stakes last weekend at Delaware Park. Livin Lovin, who won the Grade 3 Tempted last November, had a chip removed from an ankle and didn't make her 3-year-old debut until the Acorn on June 6, where she finished a troubled fourth. Livin Lovin will break from the rail under Ramon Dominguez, and could be the controlling speed.

"She's got plenty of tactical speed," Klesaris said. "Look at all her races, she's right there except the last one, when she got hammered at the break."

Funny Moon bounced back from a next-to-last finish in the Acorn with an 8 1/4-length romp in a second-level allowance race. Trainer Christophe Clement believes Funny Moon may have been adversely affected by the big crowd in the Acorn, which was on Belmont Stakes Day.

Wynning Ride, Don't Forget Gil, What a Pear, Devotee, and Casanova Move complete the field.