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Pitino’s #Kydownsgrad Coach Rocks On Kentucky Oaks Trail

By Jennie Rees

Coach Rocks was second by a half-length in a Kentucky Downs maiden race last fall in her second start, the mile distance indicating she should thrive as the races stretch out. Now she’s en route to the Kentucky Oaks after winning Saturday’s Gulfstream Park Oaks for trainer (and Kentucky Downs regular Dale Romans) and an ownership group that includes former University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino.

Here’s Gulfstream Park’s recap:

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Roddy Valente, RAP Racing and West Point Thoroughbreds’ Coach Rocks, fresh off a front-running maiden triumph over the same track, came with a relentless drive through the stretch to catch favored leader Take Charge Paula and win Saturday’s $300,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2).

The 48th running of the 1 1/16-mile Gulfstream Park Oaks for 3-year-old fillies was the fifth of seven stakes, five graded, worth $2.3 million in purses on a spectacular 14-race Florida Derby Day program anchored by the $1 million Xpressbet.com Florida Derby (G1).

Also on Saturday’s card were the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Hardacre Mile (G2), $250,000 Pan American (G2) and $250,000 Honey Fox (G2) for older horses, the latter two on grass, and the $150,000 Cutler Bay and $150,000 Sanibel Island for 3-year-olds on turf.

It was the second straight win and first in a stakes for Coach Rocks ($7.60), a $95,000 purchase out of last March’s 2-year-old in training sale at Gulfstream that didn’t break her maiden until her seventh try, an eight-length romp Feb. 14.

Jockey Luis Saez and Coach Rocks found themselves in tight quarters going into the first turn, then settled in mid-pack along the rail as 80-1 long shot Eight Thirtyone ran the first quarter-mile in 23.47 seconds before being overtaken by Forward Gal (G3) winner Take Charge Paula after a half in 47.27.

Alter Moon, at 24-1, ran six furlongs in 1:12.22 to wrest the lead away on the turn, but it was short-lived as Take Charge Paula surged again and straightened for home with a clear advantage. Saez, meanwhile, had swung Coach Rocks to the far outside where she circled the field and set her sights on the leader, gaining with every stride under tireless encouragement from Saez and pulling clear by 1 ½ lengths.

“What a rough trip,” Saez said. “My plan was to break and be right up front, first or second, but there was a lot of speed in the race. Thankfully when we got to the three-eighths pole, it got clear and she took off. When we came to the stretch I thought the horse to beat was going to go, but my filly kicked fine and thank God we passed them.”

The winning time was 1:44.63 over a fast main track. Take Charge Paula, the narrow 2-1 favorite who also ran second in the Davona Dale (G2) March 3, was 10 lengths clear of Princess Warrior in third. It was another three lengths back to maiden Tell Your Mama in fourth.

It was the third Gulfstream Park Oaks win in four years for trainer Dale Romans, following Go Maggie Go in 2015 and Birdatthewire in 2015. By 2013 Preakness (G1) winner Oxbow, Coach Rocks had three seconds and a third from six starts before her maiden-breaking victory last out.

“She figured the game out. I never expected her to lose. Every time I’ve brought her over, I thought she would win. It took time for her to figure it out that she is as good as she is,” Romans said. “When she swung out wide and finding her rhythm, I thought she would grind them down. I know she’s fit and distance wasn’t an issue.

“We dropped down and saved ground. It looked like Luis got stopped a little bit on the backside when one backed up into his face,” he added. “He had to go around, but it all worked out. Good horses overcome bad trips and win good races.”

Coach Rocks earned 100 qualifying points toward the May 4 Kentucky Oaks (G1), which Romans said will be the filly’s next start. Also earning Oaks points were Take Charge Paula (40), Princess Warrior (20) and Tell Your Mama (10).

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