Rosario guides Vergara to narrow win in DG Oaks

(Photos: Joel Rosario rides Vergara to a narrow victory over Skims. Coady Photography)

Video: Joel Rosario

FRANKLIN, Ky. (Monday, Sept. 5, 2022) — Vergara outdueled Skims by a head to win the $500,000 Exacta Systems Dueling Grounds Oaks at Kentucky Downs on Labor Day.

The outcome gave 2021 Eclipse Award-winning jockey Joel Rosario, last year’s meet champion with a record-smashing 17 victories, his first stakes win on his first day riding at the FanDuel Meet. Rosario rode at Saratoga on Thursday and Saturday, Kentucky Downs’ first two days. With Kentucky Downs’ Sunday card postponed until Monday because of Saturday’s inclement weather, Rosario gave up riding Saratoga’s closing-day program to be in Kentucky.

“It was great to have Joel ride her,” winning trainer Graham Motion said by phone. “He gave her a super ride. I was concerned if she wanted to go that far, but clearly she handled the distance, no trouble. I’m tickled to win a race like that. It’s been a while since I’ve done that out there at Kentucky Downs.”

Motion’s last stakes victory at Kentucky Downs came in 2017 with Miss Temple City in the Grade 3 Ladies Sprint, which then was worth $350,000.

Vergara sat just behind pacesetter Turnerloose, who set opening fractions on the good turf course of 25.40 seconds and 50.67. Rosario guided Vergara to the front and slowed down the pace to 1:16.11 for six furlongs into the sweeping far turn, while Turnerloose stayed on as Beechnut Trophy and Skims ran into contention.

Leaving the turn, Skims loomed on the outside as Vergara cut the corner in a mile timed in 1:42.46. Skims got the best of a stubborn Turnerloose in mid-stretch, and from there it was an all-out tussle to the finish line. Vergara finished the 1 5/16 miles in 2:14.95 and paid $10.96 to win.

“She broke really well,” Rosario said. “I thought I was going to be laying second or third or whatever (for longer). But then she put herself in the front nicely. Just like Graham said, ‘Just let her be happy.’ And she was happy there. When that horse came to us, it looked like that horse would get by. But she was game and she came back and got ’em. She ran really well. Every step of the way, she was just there for me the whole time, relaxed, just looking around. I was just a passenger.”

Said Julien Leparoux, rider of second-place Skims: “She ran a good race. We got in front, about half-a-length in front, and the other filly came back on the inside. I got in front a little bit before the eighth pole until about the sixteenth. The last sixteenth of a mile, (Rosario’s) filly came back on us. But she ran a good race.”

California Angel came on late to finish 2 1/2 lengths back in third, another three-quarters of a length ahead of 6-5 favorite New Year’s Eve, who had only one horse beat in the early going. Rounding out the field were Beechnut Trophy, Turnerloose, Fancy Martini, Silverleaf, Sequist, Heavenly Hellos and Princess Pauline.

California Angel, a $5,500 2-year-old purchase last year, won her debut at Kentucky Downs last year and then captured Keeneland’s Grade 2 Jessamine in her next start. She came into this race off of a six-month layoff since finishing second in a turf stakes at New Orleans’ Fair Grounds Race Course.

“I was very pleased,” trainer George Leonard said of California Angel, “She ran hard. Just her first race back off a long layoff, you’ve got to be pleased with that. Wanted to win. But the odds are against you, but she ran a heck of a race.”

Vergara, a daughter of Noble Mission out of the Street Cry mare Figure of Beauty, now is 3-1-2 in eight starts, earning $425,933 with the $291,400 payday. In her last start, she finished second by a head in Woodbine’s Grade 3 Ontario Colleen.

“She ran super last time and she’s been pretty consistent, really, and she’s pretty adaptable,” Motion said. “She’s run anywhere from a mile last time to more than a mile and a quarter today… Having Joel was huge. I think that made a big difference.”

Rosario guides Vergara to narrow win in DG Oaks - The Mint Gaming Hall