Daddys Lil Darling Finally Gets Her Grade 1 in American Oaks

Normandy Farm’s homebred Daddys Lil Darling finally earned herself a Grade 1 victory after four previous runner-up finishes with an impressive half-length triumph in Saturday’s $301,380 American Oaks (GIT) at Santa Anita. The bay daughter of Scat Daddy received a perfect, ground-saving trip just off the pace under Hall of Famer Mike Smith before digging in down the lane to hold off the storming charge from Madam Dancealot.

Trained by Kenny McPeek, Daddys Lil Darling was the public’s 2-1 second choice in the field of nine sophomore fillies and returned $6, $3.60 and $4. Madam Dancealot, at more than 9-2, closed off the $14.40 exacta and was good for $4.20 and $3.60. Near 19-1 outsider Kathy’s Song also closed down the lane to earn third, 1 ½ lengths behind the runner-up, returning $6. The 50-cent trifecta was worth $56.35.

New Money Honey, Beau Recall, Pantsonfire, Coachwhip, Bernina Star and Desert Duchess completed the order of finish. Rymska was withdrawn.

After a clean break from all, Coachwhip sped straight to the lead as expected where she showed the way through splits of :24.38, :48.68, 1:12.83 and 1:36.83 for the first mile of the 10-furlong turf feature. Smith was content to let Daddys Lil Darling stalk the pace behind the frontrunner and New Money Honey, who was sitting to the outside of the early leader. As the tightly bunched field turned for home, Smith went to his left-handed stick and the winner responded, digging in and inching past the rivals in front of her, taking command in deep stretch and successfully holding on to the victory.

The final time for the last Grade 1 of the year was 2:00.11 on a firm course.

“Kenny [McPeek] said not to be surprised if we were laying a whole lot closer today,” Smith said. “We’re so used to seeing her run double-digits out the back, but she’s been training really well and really aggressively. He said, ‘OK , she can just do :48s and keep reelin’ them off.’ He said as long as she jumps well, to leave her up there as long as she was happy — to not take anything away that was coming easily and that’s pretty much what I did.”

Kentucky-bred Daddys Lil Darling earned her fourth career victory and her lifetime line now reads 15-5-5-1, $777,040. She is a daughter of the stakes-winning Houston mare Miss Hot Salsa.

“We’ve been a bit of a bridesmaid all year,” McPeek said. “We’ve had 83 thirds on 53 winners, which is a little frustrating and kind of an odd number.

“She was second in the Kentucky Oaks, second in the Ashland, but it was one of those things. What are you going to do but keep trying? We wanted to keep her in straight 3-year-old filly competition before the year was out. Fortunately, she stayed on form. It was a bit frustrating [not getting a Grade 1] because she was always competitive, but didn’t have things go her way. But she’s a special filly and you just have to keep trying with those kind. She tries hard on any kind of going and that makes a trainer’s job pretty easy.”

McPeek said Daddys Lil Darling will head straight to Florida and his winter base of Payson Park where she’ll get a 45-day vacation before her 2018 campaign is mapped out.

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