07/13/2013 8:07PM

Hollywood Park: Emollient delivers as favorite in American Oaks

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Benoit & Associates
Emollient (No. 3), ridden by Mike Smith, wins the Grade 1 American Oaks by a half-length over Emotional Kitten.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – After leaving the winner’s circle following Saturday’s $350,750 American Oaks at Betfair Hollywood Park, Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith took a moment to congratulate himself on his ride.

He had the right.

Riding Emollient, Smith made a decision on the backstretch to move the 6-5 favorite three wide and engage a slow pace set by Sarach. It turned out to be a vital move. Emollient ($4.40) had a clean trip through the final five furlongs and won the Grade 1 American Oaks by a half-length over a determined Emotional Kitten.

“I had a chance to get clear and make the pace go,” Smith said of his backstretch move. “I thought if I stayed behind, I could have gotten out later, but if I didn’t, the closers would be coming. Looking back, it was a good move, but then if I’d gotten beat a head, you could have said I moved too soon.”

Making her turf debut, Emollient ran 1 1/4 miles in 2:02.38.

Even though Emollient is trained by Bill Mott in New York, Smith knows the filly. He rode Emollient to a nine-length win in the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes on the Polytrack synthetic surface at Keeneland in April and was aboard when she finished a disappointing sixth as the 6-5 favorite in the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan at Pimlico on May 17. Emollient stumbled badly at the start of the Black-Eyed Susan on dirt, essentially losing all chance.

She had a better start in the American Oaks, even though Smith described her break as “flat-footed.” There was a plan to take Emollient to the lead if she broke sharply, but Smith settled the filly in third through the first half-mile, following Sarach, who set a slow early pace of 25.63 and 50.26 seconds.

When Sarach reached six furlongs in a poky 1:14.91, with Emollient only a head behind, Smith felt better about his decision to engage the leaders on the backstretch. Turning into the stretch, Emollient led by a half-length but was quickly challenged by Emotional Kitten, the winner of the Hilltop Stakes on turf at Pimlico on May 17.

Emotional Kitten got within a neck of Emollient in the final furlong but could not catch the leader.

“I thought I was going to get there right at the wire,” said Victor Espinoza, who rode Emotional Kitten.  “She ran an unbelievable race. I thought I’d catch them.”

Emotional Kitten finished three-quarters of a length in front of Topic, a maiden race winner in her last start June 13. Sarach, who won the Grade 2 Honeymoon Handicap on June 8, was followed by Becky Lou, Scarlet Strike, Macha, and Wittgenstein.

Emollient, by Empire Maker, is owned by Juddmonte Farms. The American Oaks was her fourth win in eight starts. She has earned $656,900.