Singling one filly in the Grade 1, $1 million Cotillion Stakes at Parx Racing is not the easiest task. Without division leader Nest present, the race offers handicappers many questions and various directions to go.
The favorite Secret Oath can win, especially now that she escapes the great Nest. Her last two starts are not as bad as some observers made them seem. But there are two other fillies who look interesting as well.
First, here is why Secret Oath is not dismissible yet. Secret Oath probably lost her last two starts more because of Nest’s brilliance than declining form. In particular, Secret Oath's Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) effort deserves a pass.
Secret Oath got caught up in a brutal pace scenario where Society, Nest, Nostalgic and Secret Oath contested the pace through opening fractions of 24.10 and 47.46 seconds, which are swift numbers for nine furlongs at Saratoga.
Those initial fractions translated into an opening 147 TimeformUS Pace Figure for Society and a 147 for Nest through the half-mile fraction. As stated before, TimeformUS Pace Figures get hot above the 140 range.
Nest continued to hold a narrow lead over Secret Oath through six furlongs in 1:11.05, which TimeformUS also translated into another grueling 147 pace figure for Nest. At that point, the two stars were separating from the field and into their own world for a possible battle.
But Secret Oath failed to keep up with Nest. Once Nest opened up quickly in mid-stretch, Secret Oath appeared not to try as hard anymore. Sometimes horses know when they cannot win and begin to lose interest.
Even though Secret Oath lost by 12 1/4 lengths, she held second and had another chance in the Alabama Stakes (G1). When Nest took the lead by the far turn after a slower pace, she carried Secret Oath and Goddess of Fire wide as they rounded the turn, and then Nest opened up again in mid-stretch to win by a more mild 4 1/4 lengths.
Secret Oath turned in efforts that might win most “normal” editions of the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama. But she had to face an exceptional filly who moved forward after losing to Secret Oath in the Kentucky Oaks earlier in the year. The recent two losses are not terrible.
Then again, maybe Secret Oath has been feeling the effects of a long campaign led by trainer D. Wayne Lukas. There are other options.
Secret Oath earned a 117 on TimeformUS for both runner-up finishes. On the rail, the rapidly improving filly Green Up already posted a higher figure.
Green Up enters the Cotillion with four wins in four starts this year. The last two wins came in ungraded stakes races.
At Monmouth, Green Up won the Boiling Springs Stakes in easy fashion by 5 3/4 lengths over Radio Days, who previously was third in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (G2). Green Up earned only a light 101 TimeformUS Speed Figure, but from a visual standpoint, Green Up was impressive.
Then in the local Cathryn Sophia Stakes, Green Up moved forward in a big way. After stalking the pace, she took control of the lead on the far turn and pulled away from Interstatedaydream in the stretch run to win by 3 3/4 lengths with a 120 TimeformUS Speed Figure. She went up by 19 points.
Interstatedaydream had won the Indiana Oaks (G3) and Black-Eyed Susan (G2) in her two starts. Even without the official graded-stakes label for the Boiling Springs and Cathryn Sophia, it was clear by this point that Green Up could defeat at least Grade 2-type runners.
Green Up steps onto the Grade 1 level now and needs to prove herself.
The other alternative option is Adare Manor, who might just blitz the field on the front end in typical Bob Baffert fashion. Mike Smith takes the mount, and he usually just lets good speed horses roll early on.
Take a look at Adare Manor’s two best races. In January at Santa Anita, Adare Manor broke her maiden by 12 lengths after securing an uncontested lead. One month later in the Las Virgenes Stakes (G3), Adare Manor contested the pace before taking over and opening up by 13 lengths late.
For the Las Virgenes effort, Adare Manor earned a 119 on TimeformUS, which also puts Adare Manor ahead of Secret Oath if she can run back to the figure.
Maybe the switch back to the Baffert barn will help Adare Manor progress.
Green Up or Adare Manor could end up winning the Cotillion at value odds. But Secret Oath owns the best class after running in the biggest races all year, and that is not something to underestimate when constructing plays.