Vertical Oak Returns to Winning Ways in Open Mind


Photo: Adrianna Lynch
Vertical Oak and Ricardo Santana Jr. return from winning the Open Mind Stakes at Churchill Downs

J. Kirk and Judy Robison's Vertical Oak overcame early adversity, rallied late, and ran down Astrollinthepark in deep stretch to win the $100,000 Open Mind Stakes Sept. 15 at Churchill Downs.

The 4-year-old Giant Oak filly came off a runner-up finish in the July 25 Honorable Miss Handicap (G2) at Saratoga Race Course, and returned to the form that saw her take the June 23 Roxelana Overnight Stakes at Churchill. She was sent to post as the even-money favorite in a field of seven fillies and mares.

Vertical Oak was unexpectedly out-footed at the break from post 3 as Courtmewithcarats shot to the front with Miss Kentucky tracking in second, Our Majesty trying to keep up, and Astrollinthepark stalking from the outside. Vertical Oak was shuffled back to sixth under Ricardo Santana Jr. as Miss Kentucky and Astrollinthepark closed to draw even with the leader on the far turn, who clocked an opening furlong in :21.74. After a half-mile in :45.70, Astrollinthepark spurted clear at the top of the stretch but Vertical Oak, who swung to the outside to commence a late run, rolled in the lane to just get up by three-quarters of a length.

Trained by Steve Asmussen, Vertical Oak clocked six furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.16 to give the trainer and Santana their third win together in the race. They also won with Vuitton (2013) and Aireofdistinction (2014).

"I thought there would be a lot of speed in this race today," Santana said. "So Steve and I talked and said to break from the gate and see what happens. I had all the confidence in the world in my filly that she would be okay coming from off the pace."

The victory was worth $60,760 and increased Vertical Oak's earnings to $630,030 with a record of 7-3-3 from 18 starts. Vertical Oak was bred in Kentucky by Millennium Farms out of the Pollard's Vision mare Vertical Vision, and was a $20,000 purchase by J. Kirk Robinson from her breeder's consignment to the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Fall Yearling Sale.

Vertical Oak rewarded her backers with $4.20, $2.60 and $2.20, Astrollinthepark returned $3.20 and $2.80 as the 2-1 second choice, and 15-1 outsider P Boo finished 4 1/4 lengths back in third, and paid $5 to show.

This was Vertical Oak's fifth stakes win. Her most notable triumph came in last year's Prioress Stakes (G2) at Saratoga. 

"She really showed some maturity today," Asmussen said. "We've tried to get along with her all along but she's always been a bit headstrong. It's very nice to see her be able to rate behind horses as she did today."