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Five Memorable Winners of the Coaching Club American Oaks

Coaching Club American Oaks winner Abel Tasman
Coaching Club American Oaks winner Abel Tasman by Jlvsclrk

The Coaching Club American Oaks is a prestigious, Grade 1 race for three-year-old fillies. It is the final jewel in the Triple Tiara, a series of three New York races that only eight horses have swept. Many incredible fillies have won this race since its inception in 1917 - here's a look back at five of them.

1969 Coaching Club American Oaks: Shuvee

Shuvee was a beautiful, well-bred daughter of Nashua out of the good race mare Levee. Levee won the Coaching Club American Oaks by a neck in 1956, so it was very fitting that her brilliant daughter Shuvee would also win the iconic race thirteen years later.

Shuvee had previously won the two other races in a series known as the “Triple Tiara” - the Acorn and Mother Goose Stakes - both times beating a talented filly named Hail to Patsy, first by ¾ of a length in the Acorn and then by 2 ½ lengths in the Mother Goose. Though Shuvee had twice defeated Hail to Patsy and was well on her way to becoming the second winner of the Triple Tiara in history, her owners Mr. and Mrs. Whitney Stone were nervous about their filly’s chances.

"That Hail to Patsy bothers me," Mrs. Stone admitted. "I knew I wasn't going to be able to sleep a wink last night. Whitney said he wasn't going to be able to sleep. So, two minutes after he was in bed he was snoring away peacefully. I lay awake thinking of all the terrible things that could happen to her.”

Terrible things almost did happen to her. The start of the Coaching Club American Oaks was a near disaster; Shuvee broke badly and almost went down immediately. She managed to pick herself up, only to clip heels with the filly next to her. Thankfully, Shuvee had no shortage of athleticism and was able to recover and win the race with absolute ease. She finished 3 lengths ahead of Hail to Patsy.

Shuvee would go on to become the only filly to win the Jockey Club Gold Cup when the race was still run at the two-mile distance, capturing consecutive editions in 1970 and ‘71, among 16 other races. Her earnings of $890,445 made her the highest-earning female in history at the time of her retirement. Shuvee was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame in 1975 and is honored with a stakes race at Belmont Park each year.

1975 Coaching Club American Oaks: Ruffian

Ruffian had taken the world by storm far before she stepped foot in the starting gates for the Coaching Club American Oaks. The nearly black filly was an imposing figure. She won every single race she competed in with astonishing ease, often leaving her competition many lengths behind.

The Coaching Club American Oaks was her 10th career start. She had already captured the other two legs of the Triple Tiara - the Acorn and Mother Goose - by 8 ½ and 13 ½ lengths respectively and set a record in every stakes she competed in. The Coaching Club American Oaks would be no different; Ruffian led her rivals all the way, crossing the wire 2 ¾ lengths ahead of Equal Charge in second place.

“She just runs easy,” jockey Jacinto Vasquez told reporters after the race. “I pushed her a little in the final 16th, but that was all.”

This race is cemented in her fan’s memories as it was the last time they got to see this magnificent filly come home safely. Ruffian suffered an injury in her 11th and final start, a highly anticipated match race with Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure, and had to be euthanized.

Ruffian was buried in the infield of Belmont Park with her nose pointed toward the finish line. In 1976, one year after her victory in the Coaching Club American Oaks, she was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame and had a race named in her honor. An equine hospital also named in her honor was opened in Elmont, NY in 2009.

1985 Coaching Club American Oaks: Mom's Command

Two things stand out about Mom’s Command’s career: she never once competed outside of stakes company, even debuting in the Faneuli Stakes, and was ridden in all but two of her starts by Abigail Fuller, the daughter of her breeder/owner Peter Fuller.

Mom’s Command won three of her seven starts as a juvenile highlighted by the Selima Stakes (G1). She was even better during her sophomore year, capturing her season debut in the Flirtation Stakes by 19 lengths, and was on a four-race win streak that included the first two legs of the Triple Tiara - the Acorn (G1) and Mother Goose (G1) - when she entered the starting gates for the Coaching Club American Oaks.

With Abigail Fuller aboard, Mom’s Command took the lead and never looked back; she crossed the wire 2 ½ lengths in front. The win made Abigail Fuller the first female to sweep all three races in the Triple Tiara series and Mom's Command the sixth filly to complete the series. Mom’s Command had previously made Abigail Fuller the third female jockey to ride a Grade 1 winner.

Mom’s Command was second to celebrated racehorse Lady’s Secret in her next race following the Coaching Club American Oaks, the Test Stakes (G1), but rebounded to win the prestigious Alabama Stakes (G1) by four lengths. She joined Shuvee as the only two Triple Tiara winners to also win the Alabama, which is comparable to a Triple Crown winner capturing the Travers (G1), a feat only Whirlaway accomplished.

The Alabama was the last race of Mom’s Command’s career, as she suffered an ankle injury during training and was ultimately retired.

2016 Coaching Club American Oaks: Songbird

Every start of Songbird’s career from 2015 through 2016 brought the question of whether or not she would finally be beaten. The Medaglia d’Oro filly was undefeated when she arrived at Saratoga in July of 2016 having already captured eight races, half of which were Grade 1s, by a combined margin of 42 ½ lengths. Only four horses dared to face her in the Coaching Club American Oaks and Acorn (G1) winner Carina Mia was thought to be her only formidable foe.

Nearing the far turn, it looked as if Carina Mia might just be the horse to end Songbird’s winning streak; she drew up alongside Songbird and gave her the hardest challenge she had ever faced. The two fillies soared around the turn and down the stretch nose to nose, sending waves of excitement and anxiety crashing through Saratoga. Songbird, however, was not willing to lose. She dug in deep and repelled Carina Mia, crossing the wire 5 ¼ lengths in front.

Songbird had shown her passion and drive for winning while providing yet another thrilling edition of the Coaching Club American Oaks. Her win streak extended through two more Grade 1s before she finally felt defeat in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, finishing a whisker behind the brilliant older mare Beholder. She won two additional Grade 1s and finished 2nd in another during her four-year-old season to round out a fabulous career.

2017 Coaching Club American Oaks: Abel Tasman

Abel Tasman liked to win her races by rallying from the back of the pack, so it was shocking to see her make an early move for the lead down the backstretch in the 2017 Coaching Club American Oaks. Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith is well aware that it takes a good pace for a closer to win and the field was practically crawling around Saratoga’s track, so he took the risk and allowed Abel Tasman to move to the lead.

"Everyone threw the anchor out and went to slow down,” Smith explained. “She got into such a pretty stride and felt so good, I didn't want to get in the way of it. If I did, I felt like I'd hurt her more than help her. She's capable of that, and once she gets in that big, beautiful stride, that's where you want her. It was there. I took it.”

Abel Tasman still had the lead at the top of the stretch and the horse thought to be her biggest threat, Salty, was closing on the outside. However, it was the 5-1 shot Elate that proved to be the toughest to beat. She moved up on the inside of Abel Tasman and threatened to stick her head in front with every stride. Abel Tasman was just able to hold off Elate’s drive to win by a head.

Mike Smith allowing Abel Tasman to take the early lead wasn’t the only shocker of the race - he had moved his mare closer to Elate to encourage his filly to keep digging in during the stretch drive. Elate’s jockey Jose Ortiz claimed foul against Smith for pinning him so tightly to the rail, but the stewards ruled that the move did not hamper Elate’s ability to win the race.

The Coaching Club American Oaks was the fourth Grade 1 win of Abel Tasman’s career, following the Starlet, Kentucky Oaks, and Acorn. She went on to win two more Grade 1s during her four-year-old season.


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