By Gene Kershner
Irad Ortiz, Jr. made his first Grade 1 victory a special one, winning the Coaching Club American Oaks (CCAO) during opening weekend at Saratoga Race Course aboard Questing ($9.80) for Godolphin Racing. The victory was the second straight CCAO victory for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. It was the first Grade 1 race of the premier summer meet and Ortiz came through on the Hard Spun filly.
McLaughlin won last year’s edition of this race with It’s Tricky and will most likely point Questing to the Grade 1 Alabama in four weeks to try and pull off a back-to-back CCAO-Alabama double. He was more than pleased with the effort from his exuberant rider. “Irad [Ortiz] did a great job. He rode an excellent race for a 19-year-old kid. We thought we were faster than [Yara], but he said, and we talked about it, ‘If she goes, let her go.’ And he rode a great race. He used good judgment. He did everything right. I think he’s a very talented and positive kid. He’s upbeat and rides very well. He’s only been on her in the afternoon, but he’s won twice on her,” said the trainer.
After trying the turf a couple times, McLaughlin decided to run Questing back on dirt and she had a big performance at Belmont in a one mile optional claimer. “We tried turf twice, and she didn’t run so well, so we switched her back to dirt and she ran huge. This was kind of lucky I guess, she ran fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, so she did handle the dirt as a 2-year-old. She didn’t run very fast that day. We’re very excited to win a Grade 1 with her,” said McLaughlin.
“I broke good, and when the No. 3 horse [Yara] went, I saved my horse. She was good and relaxed. When I asked her turning for home, she went on,” said Ortiz. When asked how special it was to win his first ever graded stake, let along a Grade one, Ortiz responded, “It’s unbelievable. Thank you to my trainer who did a very good job getting her ready for this race.”
Two Grade 1 winners completed the trifecta, Zo Impressive, the Mother Goose winner, finished second and Post Time selection In Lingerie finished third. The $2 [Hard Spun] exacta paid $37.80 and the $2 trifecta paid $73.00. Questing completed the 1 1/8-mile race in 1.37.16.
As for the favorite, it just wasn’t In Lingerie’s day although jockey Javier Castellano had her in position to win turning for home. “She ran well. The winner, I give her all the credit. They didn’t come back to us. My filly took me there and put me in the race but at the quarter pole, she was a little flat. Maybe it was because she was inside horses. I think she would do better coming around horses.”