While Decked Out might have been a hunch play in the New Year’s Eve feature at Santa Anita, you didn’t need a holiday-appropriate angle to see her appeal in the $302,415 American Oaks (G1).
The Keith Desormeaux filly had earned her signature win in a rainy edition of the April 9 Providencia (G3), contested over 1 1/8 miles on a yielding Santa Anita turf course. Once the rains hit Arcadia, California, again, prompting the switch of Saturday’s other two turf races to the main track, and the shortening of the American Oaks from 1 1/4 miles to her nine-furlong wheelhouse, the omens appeared auspicious for the 9-2 chance.
As usual, Decked Out dropped out in the early going, with Hall of Fame rider Kent Desormeaux saving up for her patented one-run style. Up front, Sassy Little Lila was dictating through fractions of :22.68, :47.03 and 1:10.70 on a course listed as good. Stays in Vegas, the 5-2 favorite, tracked in second, only to come under pressure turning for home and fade to seventh.
The rail-skimming Lady Valeur emerged as a threat to the pacesetter in midstretch, but Sassy Little Lila found more and turned her back after a mile in 1:35.08. Just when the front runner might have believed she’d weathered the storm, along came Decked Out, surging wider out. Decked Up thrust her nose in front at the wire in a final time of 1:47.86.
“It’s been that kind of year for the Desormeaux family,” Kent said. “It was doubtful from the quarter pole. I wasn’t getting there fast enough and I thought I had won, but with the recent photo finishes, I was scared to have an opinion. The end result was close, because she’s knocked on the door all year. She’s been on the south end, and today she got on the north side.
“(The turf course) has a lot of give to it. I wouldn’t call it yielding, but it’s definitely soft.”
Sassy Little Lila’s jockey, Luis Saez, had his hopes of hanging on dashed.
“I thought we were going to be right there – if we didn’t win, it was going to be a dead heat,” Saez said, perhaps hearkening back to the dead heat in the Midnight Lute (G3) earlier on the card. When I came back and saw the result, we got beat. I thought we had it. The course was fine. I was in front and didn’t notice anything wrong. I felt like she was very comfortable.”
Keith Desormeaux’s mind flashed back to Decked Out’s Providencia victory.
“She won the Providencia on Santa Anita Derby Day on soft ground, so I definitely wasn’t worried,” her trainer said. “We don’t get this weather too often here in Southern California. We’re Louisiana-breds so I’m glad I’m the trainer today.
“She looked tired (in the stretch.) She looked like she was starting to labor so I was surprised that she continued on. She showed her heart today.
“I think that twenty-two and change took its toll on (Sassy Little Lila). The reoccurring theme in my mind is that she has so much heart. I had no idea who won the photo at first.
“She was training awesome coming into today. I think a key decision was not run her at Del Mar (during the Bing Crosby meet). We skipped a race in hopes of getting her fresh and that may have been the winning decision.
“You can’t ever get enough of these Grade 1s. I have to compliment the team. Grade 1s are always what we’re after and her broodmare value just skyrocketed so it’s very gratifying. To be able to buy these kinds of horses and get these goals accomplished, it’s so fun and it’s been a helluva year.”
The Desormeaux brothers’ year was highlighted by Exaggerator, the Preakness (G1), Santa Anita Derby (G1) and Haskell Invitational (G1) winner, who had some ownership in common with Decked Out – Big Chief Racing and Head of Plains Partners. Decked Out’s partnership includes Gene Voss, her buyer for $75,000 at Keeneland September.
Also a near-miss runner-up in the Del Mar Oaks (G1), Decked Out sports a mark of 16-3-2-3, $480,859. The Street Boss filly is out of the multiple stakes-winning You and I mare Once Around, who is also responsible for multiple stakes scorer Morrow Cove.
Earlier, Santa Anita transferred the Robert J. Frankel S. to the sloppy, sealed dirt. As a result, the race was automatically downgraded from a Grade 3 to a listed event pending review by the American Graded Stakes Committee.
With Arles, Into the Mystic, and Ryans Charm all scratching thanks to the surface switch, that left a scant field of four to take their chances. Abbondanza Racing’s new recruit Goodyearforroses, an Irish-bred who’d never raced on dirt, handled the slop best of all in her debut for Richard Baltas. Comeback rider Corey Nakatani sent her to the lead entering the backstretch, and she found herself bowling along happily through splits of :47.12, 1:11.24 and 1:37.53.
The only rival to try to stay with her for the duration was Pretty Girl, an Argentinean-bred by Harlan’s Holiday, but Goodyearforroses left her toiling in deep stretch. Frenzified was trudging far back in third, and 7-5 favorite Keri Belle gave way rounding the far turn in a tailed-off last.
Splashing 5 1/4 lengths clear of Pretty Girl, Goodyearforroses toured nine sloppy furlongs in 1:51.42.
“I’m very happy,” Baltas said. “So are the owners. As always, the owners are very, very happy. They get excited. They love to watch their horses run and they love this game.
“She’s trained very forwardly and has worked well. When the race came off the turf, we thought ‘Well, it’s a small field. And, she kind of skips across the dirt in the mornings.’
“I didn’t know if she was going to like it or not, but she’s a very sound horse, and I thought it was worth giving her a shot, especially with all the scratches.”
Nakatani had good cause to celebrate his Santa Anita homecoming after an eight-month absence from riding.
“Talking with Richard (Baltas), and having worked her and knowing her, the plan was that whatever came easy to her, don’t take it away,” Nakatani revealed. “It was an off track, so I just went out there and did my job. I just shook her up a little turning for home, and she kicked on.
“Coming back and being home is always close to your heart. It’s always home at here at Santa Anita Park and it’s definitely always nice to win here. I have to thank Richard and the owners for having faith in me.
“I have a lot of faith in Richard and he’s a helluva horseman so I’m just grateful to be a part of his team and with owners like this, giving us these opportunities, the sky is the limit.”
Goodyearforroses was previously based with Hall of Famer Roger Attfield at Woodbine, where her stakes credits came on the Tapeta. The four-year-old daughter of Azamour won the August 13 Flaming Page – ironically transferred from the turf – and was most recently a neck third in the Maple Leaf (G3). She was then sold for $200,000 at Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November and took up residence in Southern California.