08/08/2008 12:00AM

Oaks a better spot for Acoma


OCEANPORT, N.J. - Trainer David Carroll hopes to get Acoma back in a winning groove Saturday in the Grade 3, $150,000 Monmouth Oaks. The 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-old fillies drew a field of seven.

Acoma carried a three-race winning streak into the Coaching Club American Oaks at Belmont Park, where she finished fourth. She was in season going into the race, and she was in deep against Grade 1 winners Music Note and Little Belle.

The Oaks looks like a solid spot to regroup.

"It certainly wasn't her best race, but Music Note and Little Belle had a lot to do with that," Carroll said from Saratoga. "Our filly is capable of running better. She's trained well since and we're hoping we can get back on track and run a very good race."

A homebred daughter of Empire Maker owned by Helen C. Alexander and Helen K. Groves, Acoma did not race at 2 but has rarely missed a beat this season.

Acoma rallied from far back to get third in her debut at the Fair Grounds and then proceeded to reel off the three straight wins, a streak that culminated with a victory in the Grade 3 Dogwood Stakes at Churchill Downs.

"She always showed a lot of promise with a beautiful pedigree," Carroll said. "She ran a big race in the Dogwood and she obviously has talent. We're hoping to get back on track with a big race on Saturday."

Elvis Trujillo will ride for the first time.

The Oaks will mark Carroll's return to Monmouth for the first time since the former assistant and exercise rider for Shug McGaughey accompanied Seeking the Gold to the 1988 Haskell Invitational. Seeking the Gold lost by a nose to Forty Niner.

African Violet figures to give Acoma a strong run for the role of favorite.

She finished second to Kentucky Oaks winner Proud Spell in the Grade 2 Delaware Oaks last time out. Eddie Castro picks up the mount for trainer H. Graham Motion.

Trainer Steve Margolis recently shipped six horses, including Oaks entrant Whirlie Bertie, to Monmouth from Kentucky. Whirlie Bertie was the dominant winner of her last three races, all at Churchill Downs, and makes her stakes debut with Calvin Borel aboard.

"She's a big, good-looking filly who always showed promise," Margolis said. "This is the next step in the process. We feel that Monmouth will be a good strip with her tactical speed. She doesn't need the lead. We considered other races but the Monmouth Oaks looked like a good fit, timing wise."

Completing the field are Maren's Meadow, winner of the Grade 3 Bourbonette Oaks at Turfway Park, plus Philly Gal, Open Skies, and Populist.

Cobra Strike cranked up for Select

Trainer Alan Seewald isn't sure how well Cobra Strike stacks up against the competition in the $70,000 Select Stakes for 3-year-old sprinters on Saturday.

Of one thing he is certain: the gray colt is ready to run.

"I think he'll probably run the best race of his life," Seewald said. "Whether it's good enough to win is another story, but I think he's going to put in a big effort."

* Apprentice rider Joseph Berrios Cruz shifted his tack from Saratoga to Monmouth on Friday. Danny Mellul will handle the book of the 7-pound bug.