Four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown saddled the one-two finishers as Michael Dubb, Madaket Stables and Robert V. LaPenta’s Shantisara (IRE) outdueled pacesetter Higher Truth (IRE) to capture the $700,000 Jockey Club Oaks Invitational for sophomore fillies at Belmont Park on Sept. 18.
The 11-furlong inner turf test was the concluding leg of NYRA’s Turf Triple series for females which included the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks and the Grade 3 Saratoga Oaks.
The 2nd running of the Jockey Club Oaks was part of a lucrative card that saw Locally Owned win the $300,000 Grand Prix American Jockey Club Invitational and Yibir capture the $1 million Jockey Club Derby Invitational for sophomores.
Higher Truth, with Jose Ortiz up, set the pace as Shantisara, piloted by Flavien Prat, stalked outside in second position through splits of :25.51, :51.70 and 1:18.12 on the firm turf.
Creative Flair (IRE) saved ground in third position after exiting the inside post under Jamie Spencer and looked to advance up the rail through the final turn as Harajuku, who broke outward from post 6 and trailed under Ryan Moore, tried to follow suit.
Higher Truth maintained a precarious lead at the top of the lane as Prat asked Shantisara for more and Harajuku angled off the rail in search of racing room. But Higher Truth continued to find more for Ortiz and engaged in a stirring stretch duel with Shantisara, who pulled clear in the final jumps for a half-length win in a final time of 2:16.91.
Brown said he was watching anxiously for any closing threats as his trainees turned for home.
“I was really looking behind those two to see if anyone was going to make a kick off that slow pace,” Brown said. “Fortunately, when they started to widen, it looked like it was a two-horse race, so I was relieved and happy either way it would’ve turned out. It’s too bad there had to be a loser in the race.”
Prat said he felt confident throughout.
“She was super relaxed. I thought it was a great run. I was very confident going into the race,” Prat said. “Obviously, it was a step forward for the distance. She broke well and got herself into the race. She took a nice breather around the turn, and when I asked to move, she came through.
“Going first time at the distance, I was a bit worried she’d come back on me,” added Prat. “But she handled it really well. Plus, it was an easy pace, so that probably helped us as well.”
Shantisara, who made her first five starts in France, finished second in the Boiling Springs in June at Monmouth Park in her first start for Brown. She entered from a convincing three-length score under Prat in the nine-furlong Grade 3 Pucker Up in August at Arlington Park.
“Shantisara is an improving horse. I just have to say that I’m so appreciative to the ownership group. The three groups that own her have been super patient and let me develop her at our pace and her pace,” Brown said. “She’s really shown some promise. We were even tempted to take a shot up at Saratoga. We talked about it and figured we would just go to Arlington.
“She needs a bit more seasoning over here and that’s when we were able to hook her up with Flavien and it just took the filly up another notch,” added Brown. “I’m really proud of her development. She and Higher Truth both look like really promising horses going into next year.”
Higher Truth competed in all three legs of the Turf Triple, missing by a half-length when third in the Belmont Oaks and was a game second, defeated less than a length, in the Saratoga Oaks.
“Higher Truth ran her heart out on the lead. Jose gave her another great ride,” Brown said. “She’s the only filly that ran in all three legs of the Turf Triple and ran great in all three legs to show her constitution. Jose gave three masterful rides in all three and she came up just a little bit short each time.”
Harajuku (IRE), a Group 3-winner making her North American debut for trainer Andre Fabre, completed the trifecta.
Moore said the awkward start likely didn’t cost her a winning chance.
“She broke a bit slow. She ran a good race. The pace was a bit steady and she had a chance, but she still ran a good race,” Moore said. “The front two were maybe just a level above her.”
Bred in Ireland by Mr. Oliver Donlon, Shantisara banked $375,000 in victory while improving her record to 8-4-2-0. She returned $11.40 for a $2 win bet.