News & Barn notes

Shug McGaughey-Trained Kathleen O. Scores Upset At 9-1 In Sunday’s $100,000 Serena’s Song Stakes

May 12, 2024

A slight change in routine – and a return to two turns – is all it took for Kathleen O. to get back to her winning ways after a two-year drought.

The 5-year-old mare wore down an erratic-running Occult, the 1-5 favorite, in the final 100 yards to win by three-quarters of a length in Sunday’s $100,000 Serena’s Song Stakes at Monmouth Park.

Sent off at 9-1 in the field of five fillies and mares, three and up, Kathleen O. had to survive two objections against her in a wild finish that saw all five horses in the field blinking on the tote board as the objection and inquiry signs were lit. The stewards ruled that Occult interfered with third-place finisher Venti Valentine, with the Chad Brown runner disqualified from second to third. Venti Valentine was elevated from third to second.

The winning time for the mile and a 70-yard feature over a track listed as sloppy was 1:44.50.

Kathleen O., who was first or second in seven of her first eight career starts, was coming off two off-the-board finishes in one-turn races at Gulfstream to start her 2024 campaign before Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey changed her routine.

“I think the two turns helped. I took her to Kentucky to get her out of Florida and let her eat grass and get some cool weather instead of the hot Florida weather and I think she did good there,” said McGaughey. “She had a really good work at Keeneland on the Saturday before she shipped up there and she shipped good. After the two terrible races (at Gulfstream) we were optimistic she would run well but we didn’t know.

“I think the two turns, the off track didn’t hurt, and getting her out of Florida and changing her routine and getting her in some cooler weather all helped. We’re just happy to have her back on the right track.”

Ridden by Monmouth Park newcomer Vincent Cheminaud, Kathleen O. trailed the field through an opening quarter in :24.17 and a half in :48.40 before getting her cue entering the final turn. As the field wheeled out of the final turn, with Occult grimly trying to hold her lead, Kathleen O. rolled by on the outside for her fifth win in 12 career starts. The victory in the Serena’s Song carried the added bonus of free start and entry fees to the Grade 3, $500,000 Molly Pitcher on July 20 (NYRA Bets Haskell Stakes day).

McGaughey said the Molly Pitcher was now on his radar for the Kentucky-bred daughter of Upstart, who won a pair of Grade 2 races as a 3-year-old.

She had not won since capturing the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks on April 2, 2022 eight races ago.

Cheminaud said he knew the Winning Stables-owned Kathleen O. would fire if he was close enough to the leader coming into the stretch – and if Occult, who won the Grade 3 Monmouth Oaks by 10¼ lengths last year, tired after a 6½-month layoff. Both things happened.

“This is the way she runs,” said Cheminaud, a native of France who is in his second year of riding in the United States. “When she won a Grade 2 (the Gulfstream Oaks) she was last early. She does not have natural speed from the gate. But today she was close to the field even though she was last for a while and I know she almost always finishes good.

“This is a good mare. In the last turn I was thinking that she had a chance to win. She gave a good answer when I asked more from her.”

Ironically, jockey Javier Castellano, who had the mount aboard Occult, had ridden Kathleen O. in nine of her first 11 career starts.