Rhea Moon fights for the win in the GI American Oaks. Benoit Photo
D’Amato Runs 1-2 as Hernandez Gets His Third Stakes Win and 4th Overall On Opening Day
Mike Willman/Santa Anita Press Box
ARCADIA, Calif.—Well positioned for a third consecutive Classic Meet training title but quiet through the first 10 races on opening day, Phil D’Amato made plenty of noise in the 11th and final event, the Grade I, $300,000 American Oaks, as his Irish-bred Rhea Moon rallied from off the pace to score by a head under Juan Hernandez, who not only registered his second Grade I victory of the day, but his third stakes win and fourth overall as he seeks to defend his leading rider title from 2021-22.
Idle since taking the Grade III Autumn Miss Stakes at one mile on turf Oct. 29, Rhea Moon, who had broken her maiden going a mile and one eighth on grass four starts back, got the mile and one quarter Oaks in 2:00.75.
Unhurried while a joint eighth, about five lengths off the lead turning up the backside, Rhea Moon saved ground at the rail under a snug hold to the top of the land, split horses three deep and gradually overhauled stablemate School Dance to annex her first Grade I win.
“With four wins and three stakes wins, I feel really proud. My agent and I are a pretty good team, and he got me the opportunity to ride some nice horses today like this filly. She’s improving every race, and she’s won her last couple of races. She showed up today to do it again,” Hernandez said.
“This field is full of talent. Everyone brings their horses on a big day like Opening Day ready to run and win races.” Hernandez commented.
“I had a ton of horses in front of me, and my trainer told me to save ground. So, I was just saving ground and waiting for the opportunity to present itself. Then, around the quarter pole I started following a horse who was having a nice trip and snuck in right behind that horse to cross the finish line first.”
A first condition allowance winner at one mile on turf two starts back at Del Mar Aug. 21, Rhea Moon was off at 6-1 in a field of 11 sophomore fillies and paid $15.60, $7.60 and $5.20.
Owned by Rockingham Ranch and Talla Racing, LLC, Rhea Moon, who was winless in a pair of Irish starts at age two, is now 9-4-3-2 overall. With today’s winnings of $180,000, she increased her earnings to $371,831.
The D’Amato exacta completed by School Dance, who was making her stakes debut with Ramon Vazquez up. Off at 11-1, School Dance paid $10.80 and $7.60 while finishing three quarters of a length in front of Sparkle Blue.
“I think going a mile and a quarter, the one hole was an advantage. Juan took advantage, just saving every inch of ground and getting her out in time. He gets a lot of credit for developing this filly…Juan and I are really in a groove, as much as Flavien and I do well, Juan and I just seem to really get on a hot streak, and I have a lot of confidence in him as does everyone else. It is just great to see. I don’t need to give him a lot of instructions and he gets the job done,” D’Amato said.
Ridden by Joe Bravo for Graham Motion, Sparkle Blue was off at 8-1 and paid $6.80 to show.
Irish-bred Salimah, who shipped in from New York for Chad Brown and was the 5-2 favorite, showed the way to the quarter pole but tired to finish seventh under Flavien Prat.
Fractions on the race were 23.88, 48.31, 1:12.45 and 1:36.97.
An on-track crowd of 46,446 contributed to an all-time Santa Anita opening day record all-sources handle of $26,315,016. Racing will resume on Friday, with first post time through Monday, Jan. 2 at 12 noon.