SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Trainers often feel pressure to push hard on expensive, well-bred colts early in their 3-year-old seasons. With fillies, there's usually no rush, leaving time to experiment with different surfaces and distances. Kiaran Mc- Laughlin is known for his patience, and it paid off Saturday with Questing in a 4¼-length knockout in the 11/8-mile Coaching Club American Oaks.
"She didn't run so well on the turf twice this year,'' McLaughlin said. "We switched her to the dirt, and now she's 2-for-2 for us on the dirt.''
Young Irad Ortiz Jr. moved Questing aggressively on the backstretch to challenge front-running Yara, and the Oaks was over midway on the stretch turn. Although Questing drifted out late under lefthanded whipping, runner-up Zo Impressive never had a chance to catch her in the first Grade I of the Saratoga meeting.
"Irad did a great job,'' McLaughlin said. "He rode an excellent race for a 19-year-old kid. We thought we were faster than Yara, but he said, 'If she goes, let her go,' and we talked about it. And he used excellent judgment and did everything right.''
Questing paid $9.80 for her third win in eight starts, and the $180,000 winner's share raised her career total to $314,874. The time on a fast track was 1:50.30.
"I broke good,'' Ortiz said, "and when [Yara] went, I saved my horse. She was good and relaxed. When I asked her turning for home, she went on.
"It's so exciting. It's unbelievable to get my first graded stakes at Saratoga.''
Trainer Todd Pletcher's uncoupled duo of In Lingerie, the 3-2 favorite, and Disposablepleasure finished third and fourth, respectively. Five minutes later, Pletcher's Awesome Maria (third) and Love and Pride (fourth) couldn't get close to heavily favored Royal Delta in the Grade I, 1¼-mile Delaware Handicap at Delaware Park.
Questing debuted last June in England, going 1-for-3 on grass before finishing fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Godolphin Racing transferred her from John Gosden to McLaughlin in Florida, and he gave her four months off before she ran fourth at a mile on Gulfstream's turf. The British-bred daughter of Hard Spun was fifth May 11 in a 7-furlong optional claimer on Belmont Park's grass before making a sudden leap forward. She led all the way June 24 in a mile optional claimer on Belmont's main track in her first race with Ortiz. That's when McLaughlin began thinking about the Oaks.
"It was a great win for Godolphin and Sheikh Mohammed,'' he said, "and we're so proud to have her.''
Rose Junction tops Sanford. Showcasing lightly raced 2-year-olds is a 149-year-old Saratoga tradition, and today's 98th running of the Grade II, 6-furlong Sanford Stakes will provide another opportunity. Pletcher, a five-time Sanford winner, will saddle an uncoupled entry of Starlight Racing's Rose Junction, the 5-2 morning-line favorite, and Onetwentyeight. Each colt dominated his debut last month at Belmont. Rose Junction's three-length win looks even better after runner-up Lignite scored here Friday.
Mike Repole owns Onetwentyeight, a son of Discreet Cat, whose offspring tend to be precocious. Onetwentyeight led throughout at odds of 1-2, but this time he's listed at 8-1. "He did everything we wanted and won by 5 with something left,'' said Repole, who's wary of Rose Junction. "But I don't like being in the same race with Todd. It doesn't feel good watching him in the winner's circle with his other horse.''
Around the track: Nobody picked six for the second straight day, creating a $280,309 carryover for Sunday. Cozy App ($29.60) burned the remaining live tickets in the last race, when she gave Edgar Prado his third winner of the card.