ARCADIA, Calif. -- In the nick of time, Daddys Lil Darling became a Grade 1 winner in Saturday's $301,380 American Oaks for 3-year-old fillies at Santa Anita.
The American Oaks was the final Grade 1 of 2017 and was Daddys Lil Darling sixth appearance in such a race this year.
"She's a special horse and we had to keep trying," trainer Ken McPeek said.
Daddys Lil Darling ($6) closed from third in a field of nine to win the American Oaks at 1 1/4 miles on turf by a half-length over 9-2 Madam Dancealot, who closed well from last place.
Daddys Lil Darling was timed in 2:00.11. Ridden by Mike Smith, Daddys Lil Darling stalked pacesetter Coachwhip to the turn. Smith guided Daddys Lil Darling off the rail with a three-wide move in early stretch and caught favored New Money Honey in the final furlong.
Smith said he was happy with Daddys Lil Darling's position "the whole way."
"I was up in the pocket a little too much," he said of the filly's position on the turn. "At the three-eighths pole, the horse next to me slowed and the two in front moved up."
With running room, Smith guided Daddys Lil Darling wide into the stretch.
"I needed to get good momentum," he said.
Daddys Lil Darling was fully extended to hold off Madam Dancealot. The two fillies have run well in major races against each other in the past. Daddys Lil Darling and Madam Dancealot were second and third in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland on Oct. 14.
Madam Dancealot looked like a winner briefly in the final furlong.
"I thought Madam Dancealot would win because she has a good kick," trainer Richard Baltas said. "I thought she'd do it. The filly of Mike's is a good horse.
"We'll get our Grade 1's."
Kathy's Song, also trained by Baltas, finished third followed by New Money Honey, Beau Recall, Pantsonfire, Coachwhip, Bernina Star, and Desert Duchess.
Daddys Lil Darling is owned by breeder Nancy Polk's Normandy Farm. By Scat Daddy, Daddys Lil Darling has won 4 of 15 starts and earned $1,138,405. She went past seven figures in earnings with the winner's share of $180,000 from the American Oaks.
Earlier this year, Daddys Lil Darling was second in three Grade 1 races - the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland in April, the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs in May, and the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup.
"We wanted to keep her in straight 3-year-old filly competition before the year was out," McPeek said. "Fortunately, she stayed on form."