07/03/2009 11:00PM

Well Monied facing serious shippers

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Benoit & Associates
Well Monied, Joel Rosario riding, wins the Honeymoon Handicap, coming from off the pace.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The first time that Joel Rosario rode the 3-year-old filly Well Monied, to a win in a maiden race at Santa Anita in March, trainer Howard Zucker noticed how well they got along.

The pairing convinced Zucker that Well Monied could develop into a stakes-caliber filly by late summer. She has done a lot more sooner.

Well Monied won her next two starts, including the Grade 2 Honeymoon Handicap at Hollywood Park on May 31, and will start as a leading contender in Sunday's $700,000 American Oaks.

Once again, she will be partnered with Rosario, and once again, she will be a threat from off the pace.

"He drives her like a car," Zucker said of Rosario. "He turns her on and off."

Rosario will need to draw on that experience to win the Grade 1 American Oaks, which has drawn a field of 14 that includes eight stakes winners. The other six fillies have placed in stakes. There are two fillies on the also-eligible list who have yet to place in a stakes.

The American Oaks is the eighth race on an 11-race program that begins at 1 p.m. Pacific. The card features one other Grade 1 stakes, the $300,000 Triple Bend Handicap for sprinters.

Well Monied, owned by C.T. Grether, will start from post 13. Considering her come-from-behind style, Well Monied is likely to save ground for the first half of the race. The American Oaks will be her first try at 1 1/4 miles on turf, but that is not a major concern for Zucker. In the Honeymoon Handicap, which came over 1 1/8 miles on turf, Well Monied closed from fourth on the final turn to win by a widening 1 1/4 lengths as the 7-5 favorite.

"She should like it," Zucker said of the distance. "She acts like she wants to go longer when she gallops out. She's gotten a lot more experience since her last race."

Well Monied will be a higher price in the American Oaks than she was in the Honeymoon, largely because of the presence of New York shipper Gozzip Girl, the English invader Apple Charlotte, and the New Zealand stakes winner Puttanesca.

By no means are they the only starters capable of winning. Irish trainer Dermot Weld will start Rare Ransom, who was fourth in the Group 1 Irish 1000 Guineas on May 24. Mrs Kipling will be making her first start since a promising win in the Grade 3 Senorita Stakes here on May 3. The Best Day Ever, trained by Kenneth McPeek, will try to win her first stakes after a second-place finish in the Grade 3 Regret Stakes at Churchill Downs on June 13.

Gozzip Girl may go favored, but will be a lukewarm choice. Trained by Tom Albertrani for Farnsworth Stables, Gozzip Girl has won 3 of her last 4 starts. She won the Coconut Grove Stakes and Grade 3 Herecomesthebride Stakes on turf at Gulfstream Park, finished second in the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes on Polytrack at Keeneland, and took the Grade 2 Sands Point Stakes at Belmont Park on May 30.

In the Sands Point, Gozzip Girl set a slow pace and won by 1 1/2 lengths. In her three previous starts, she was at the back of the field early.

Afternoon Stroll, who won the Grade 3 Appalachian Stakes at Keeneland in April and was third in the American 1000 Guineas at Arlington Park on May 23, may set the pace.

Apple Charlotte, a winner of 3 of 4 starts in England, will not be far from the front and should have no difficult handling the course or distance. Trained by Henry Cecil, Apple Charlotte is a nose away from being undefeated.

In late spring, she made two starts over 1 1/4 miles on turf at Newbury, England, winning the Swettenham Stud Fillies Trial over good ground on May 15 and losing the Ballymacoll Stud Stakes by a nose over good-to-firm ground on June 11. In both races, she was just behind the leaders early.

"She'll be just off the pace, but she won't be on the lead," said William Brown, Cecil's assistant who accompanied the filly to California. "Hopefully, she'll go on and take the pace up when she turns in" the stretch.

Puttanesca is attempting to be the first from New Zealand to win the American Oaks. A winner of 2 of 11 starts, she was second by a head in a minor handicap at Ruakaka racecourse in New Zealand on June 17.

"She was a bit of a sitting duck when she was in front early in the straight," trainer Wayne Hillis said. "She's got a good turn of foot."

Puttanesca may need a quick burst of speed in the stretch of Sunday's race to catch Apple Charlotte and hold off Gozzip Girl and Well Monied in an American Oaks with several potential winners.