SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Ever upward, for Guarana.
The lightly raced filly made the jump up in distance to a mile and an eighth in the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga Race Course a successful one on Sunday, and has now won all three of her career starts by a combined 21 3/4 lengths.
Ridden by Jose Ortiz, Guarana went to the front right out of the gate from the No. 1 post and held off Point of Honor by a length, then had to wait to get her photo taken while the stewards looked at replays on an objection from Point of Honor's owner, Aron Wellman of Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners.
In fact, Guarana shied from a left-handed stick from Ortiz and veered several paths away from the rail ahead of Point of Honor and jockey Javier Castellano, but that filly wasn't close enough to take contact. The result stood.
"It was a good horse race," trainer Chad Brown told the New York Racing Association. "I think she got a little lonely out there towards the wire, but like Jose indicated to me, she was starting to get a little tired. She did overreact to the stick a little bit. It caused her to briefly come out, but she was well clear."
Although Guarana had won easily at Keeneland on April 19 and in the Grade I Acorn at Belmont Park on Belmont Stakes Day June 8, Ortiz said used the stick once on her each time to get her familiar with it.
"The first two times, I hit her, because I always make sure with my babies, even when they're winning easy, I tap them once to teach them a bit," Ortiz said. "But I think she was running as fast as she could [Sunday], and I hit her left-handed looking for another reaction, and then she told me 'This is all I got. I'm running as fast as I can. Don't ask for anymore.' And I respect that."
He said he wasn't worried about the objection, since Guarana was well clear of Point of Honor, but the victory would have come down if Point of Honor had been closer.
As these things usually go, of course, Castellano didn't see it that way.
"She came out too quick and intimidated my horse," he said. "I did have to stop riding a little bit. She came out pretty far."
While Guarana didn't blow away the field in the CCA Oaks and was able to control the pace that wasn't exactly lightning-fast -- 24.27 for the first quarter-mile, 49.49 for the half -- she has established herself as one of the top 3-year-old fillies in the country in a short period of time.
"She handled a mile and an eighth well," Brown said. "I thought she got a really good ride from Jose. Nice, comfortable fractions and had enough to get to the wire. The runner-up ran terrific as well."
"She's very talented, for sure," Ortiz said. "Her record, 3-for-3, speaks for itself. Two Grade I's in three starts is pretty amazing, she beat the Black Eyed Susan winner and she went from 6 1/2 [furlongs] to a mile and from a mile to a mile-and-an-eighth, two turns, for the first time. This filly is very nice."
Whether she runs in the Grade I Alabama on Aug. 17 is the next decision.
Ortiz said Guarana may not relish the extra eighth of a mile distance of the mile-and-a-quarter Alabama.
"I don't think so," he said. "I think this is as far as she wants."
The CCA Oaks and $200,000 Caress Stakes had been postponed from Saturday's card that was canceled due to an excessive heat forecast.
GRADE III SHUVEE
After the Shuvee, the upcoming Personal Ensign on Travers Day is a good problem for trainer Bill Mott to have.
He was planning to run Elate there off her second straight win, in the Delaware Handicap last weekend, and now he'll have to consider Golden Award for that race, too, after she finished 2 1/4 lengths ahead of Wow Cat in the Shuvee.
"That's the logical step," Mott said. "We have another one to run in there, and if we have to run two, we'll run two."
Golden Award gave jockey Tyler Gaffalione his third winner on the card, after he won back-to-back in the fifth and sixth races on Scars Are Cool and Chestnut Street, respectively.
The pace was slow early, so he let Golden Award pick it up on the backstretch, and she bolted away from the field once they got into the stretch of her second straight race stretching out to a mile and an eighth, which is also the Personal Ensign distance.
"It [distance] didn't hurt today," Mott said. "She's certainly bred for it. It was odd, in her first couple races she showed a tremendous amount of speed and then backed up. But maybe she was just going a little too fast early."
"She was kind of keen a little on the backside, but we were going awfully slow, so I let her out a little bit, put my hands down, and she just kept reaching, reaching, reaching," Gaffalione said. "When I asked her in the stretch, she really exploded and finished the job.
GRADE III CARESS
Jockey Kendrick Carmouche brought his parents up from Louisiana to watch him ride at Saratoga on Sunday, and he gave provided them with an extra treat by winning the $200,000 Caress on 29-1 long shot Mominou.
Carmouche sent his filly to the front right out of the starting gate for the 5 1/2-furlong turf sprint, and she never looked back, winning by 1 1/4 lengths over Fire Key and Jose Ortiz.
"[Trainer] Jimmy [Toner] gave me the option of how I want to ride her, and I figured the best way we could win was to take the race to them out of the gate," Carmouche said. "We broke good, and she never relented. She was ready the whole way."
"I was going to go for it, because I initially looked at it and thought there'd be some speed in the race, which there was," Toner said. "But when I looked at it again, I said, 'She should be the main speed.' The only shot we were going to have was just to go for it."
"Hats off to the winner, she went fast and kept going," Ortiz said. "We had a good trip. It was a great ride by Kendrick being aggressive early."
Reach Gazette Sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 518-395-3146 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.
SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Ever upward, for Guarana.