Best of Saratoga: Wet Paint, Godolphin win CCA Oaks

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Editors Note: We’re wrapping up the 23rd year of The Special with some moments from the meet. You can find the complete editions from 2023 here.

Wet Paint gets up in time to win the 2023 CCA Oaks. Dave Harmon photo

Full Circle: Wet Paint lands Grade 1 for Godolphin, Cox. By Joe Clancy. July 26 edition.
Overton Square. Trainer Brad Cox didn’t hesitate when asked about his first winner at Saratoga.

“I’d been up here, but it was time for the family vacation to Florida,” he said. “Brittany Trimble (now Russell) was working for me then and she saddled the horse. We were driving through Georgia. Winning at Saratoga. What an unbelievable feeling.”

A simple $40,000 claimer for non-winners of two, the July 21, 2014 race won’t exactly rival the nine Breeders’ Cup wins on Cox’s resume now but it mattered.

“You dream,” the trainer said of the impact of a Saratoga win on an early training career. “This is where you want to get. You want to be in a position like this.”

A day and 19 years later, Cox won the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks with Wet Paint. The Godolphin homebred, fourth as the favorite for the Kentucky Oaks in May, wore down Sacred Wish in the final yards to prevail by a neck and vault back into the 3-year-old filly championship picture. Ridden by Flavien Prat, the daughter of Blame and the Street Cry mare Sky Painter covered 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.68 while winning for the fifth time in nine starts.

The 7-5 second choice behind 6-5 Gambling Girl, who wound up third, Wet Paint was last of five early as She’s Lookin Lucky took the group through early splits of :24.67 and :48.81. Still in front after three-quarters in 1:12.59, She’s Lookin Lucky soon found company as Sacred Wish (Manny Franco) rolled alongside approaching the quarter pole. Roused by Manny Franco, the 11-1 shot responded and built a quick advantage as Wet Paint swept around the rest and straightened up for the stretch.

At the eighth pole, Sacred Wish looked home free as trainer George Weaver implored her from a front-row box seat. Half a furlong later, she looked vulnerable as a relentless Wet Paint cranked out strides. She jumped back to her left lead late and stuck her head in front three strides before the wire.

“The filly turning for home on the lead is obviously a very good filly, it looked like she had something left and she did, she fought on hard,” Cox said. “Our filly just had her momentum going forward down the lane.”

Prat felt that momentum and called its arrival timely.

“Turning for home, I thought I was going to win,” the jockey said. “At the eighth pole, I was questioning it, but then she finally found another gear to get by that filly. I don’t think she was going one-paced. I think we went slow, and we really picked it up, and the filly of George Weaver’s really kept on going.”

Wet Paint won three stakes at Oaklawn Park this winter and spring to stamp herself the Kentucky Oaks favorite, but settled for fourth in a race won by Godolphin’s Pretty Mischievous from the barn of Brendan Walsh. Cox was disappointed for his filly, not in her.

“It was huge to get a Grade 1 with her,” he said. “She accomplished so much this winter at Oaklawn. She won three big races. She ran well in the Kentucky Oaks, unlucky to probably not be third after probably sitting a little bit closer to a hot pace than she’s normally used to.”

Pace played a role in Wet Paint’s start prior to the CCA Oaks as well, as she finished second behind front-running Hoosier Philly in a 1-mile stakes at the speedy Ellis Park. That rival signed on for the CCA Oaks, but was scratched Saturday morning. Cox would have preferred she run.

“It’s one less you have to run against, but I would have liked her to stay in there and keep the pace a little bit more honest,” he said. “I was hopeful and confident we still would have gotten the result we got. This filly breezed really, really good on the Oklahoma last Saturday morning. Flavien breezed her and it was a good move and she was tipping her hand that she was ready to run.

“She’s super classy, overcomes a lot, doesn’t matter really what you run her on. Wet track, fast track. She closes into soft paces like she did today. She’ll close into a fast pace obviously. She did that at Oaklawn. She’s really honest. This is her thing . . . flopping out of the gate, kind of finding her way and finishing up.”

That style and more convinced Cox to start Wet Paint’s career on the turf at Kentucky Downs last September. She finished 10th and hasn’t been back on the grass since while pushing her career mark to five wins and two seconds with a bankroll of $1,057,175 in nine starts.

“Sometimes the way she runs I still think she’s a turf horse,” he said. “I was very disappointed the first time we ran her. We liked her. We thought she’d run well. I told Flavien today, ‘Ride her like a turf horse.’ That’s really what it comes down to. You just kind of let her break and find her way around there. She starts picking up, just keep her out of trouble.”

Prat did that, Wet Paint handled the rest – adding Grade 1 form to her pedigree page after coming up short in Kentucky and making room at the top of a standout class of 3-year-old fillies for the owner/breeder. Godolphin and trainer Brendan Walsh won the Kentucky Oaks with Pretty Mischievous, who returned to win the Grade 1 Acorn in June. The daughter of Into Mischief bypassed the CCA Oaks in favor of the Grade 1 Test here Aug. 5. All being well, Wet Paint will try to add the Alabama here Aug. 19 while Pretty Mischievous targets the Grade 1 Cotillion at Parx Racing in September after the Test.

“We hoped that both of them were the caliber to win a Grade 1 at Saratoga and we just wanted to give each of them a chance,” said Dan Pride, Godolphin USA chief operating officer. “Next girl up.”

Additional reporting by Alec DiConza.

Actual Wet Paint gave Wet Paint her name.

A Masterpiece. The Outside Rail, By Joe Clancy. July 26 edition.
After Essential Quality won the 2021 Travers Stakes, Tammy Masterson left Saratoga Race Course with her Godolphin friends and co-workers and spied a commemorative jockey statue near the Wright Street entrance. Sporting the stable’s blue silks and a Travers Stakes sign hanging from his left hand, the jockey was the perfect photo opportunity.

“That was my first time being part of a big race win, being present, and I was just really, really excited,” said Masterson, a Godolphin employee since 2002 and the current head of housing for the Kentucky farm. “We went to the champagne room, it was a great day and I don’t know why but I had a lot of adrenaline going that day.”

She hustled over to the statue, ignored several people shouting and waving their hands, knelt down to jockey-statue height, placed her hand on his back and smiled – just as she realized what everyone was shouting and waving about.

“I of course had no idea what they were saying, so I ignored it . . .,” she said. “Apparently, they were saying ‘Wet paint. Don’t touch it. Wet paint.’ After I stooped down and realized my hand was blue – the artist is there and is horrified – I couldn’t stand up and nobody wanted to help me since my hand was covered in blue paint. I have a series of the funniest photos . . . and they tell the story way better than I can.”

Monday afternoon, Masterson texted the photos. She said I could publish them. Trust me, they’re funny. Yes, you can see artist Robin Schumacher – plus her paints and the small camp chair she uses to get down to jockey statue level – in the background. Masterson is smiling. Then she isn’t. Then she is again.

Saturday, the blue-hand story found another chapter as Wet Paint won the Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga for Godolphin and trainer Brad Cox. Named for that 2021 Travers Day, the 3-year-old filly caught Sacred Wish in the final yards to become a Grade 1 winner, surpass $1 million in earnings, jump into the divisional championship picture and make Masterson laugh about a great day all over again.

“It’s not often that something you do that’s so stupid has such a great ending to it.”

No, it’s not.

Godolphin USA chief operating officer Dan Pride told the story in the winner’s circle Saturday, found a jockey photo taken the day after the 2021 Travers (paint touched up by Schumacher, prominent warning sign displayed) and connected the dots.

“That’s why she’s named Wet Paint,” said Pride, “so it’s very fitting that she wins a Grade 1 at Saratoga so now she gets her own silks out front with some more wet paint.”

By Blame out of Sky Painter, the bay filly might have been named Wet Paint anyway but that moment from two years ago made it more appropriate. Masterson started working a year after Sheikh Mohammed purchased the former Jonabell Farm in Lexington, Ky. She coordinated the American side of the Flying Start Thoroughbred education program for 14 years and now oversees accommodations for farm guests and the various homes on the Kentucky properties.

Pride called Masterson “a great, great lady,” and said the story behind the horse only enhanced Saturday’s win. “That’s why she’s named Wet Paint. She is named after an experience.”

And the experience isn’t finished. Every racehorse name comes with a story, be it funny, happy, sad, silly, powerful, poignant, mildly risqué or complete gibberish. Horses don’t always live up to the handles. Wet Paint may have never raced. She could still be a maiden. She might have been sold or claimed. But here she is winning a Saratoga Grade 1 for the people who named her two years after the moment that inspired her name.

Wet Paint finished 10th in her debut on the turf last September, won her second start on the dirt in October, placed second in an allowance race on synthetic in December. This year, she won three consecutive stakes at Oaklawn and started as the favorite in the Kentucky Oaks. She finished fourth there, prepped for Saratoga with a second at Ellis Park in June and broke through at Saratoga.

“It’s so much fun to see how it all turned out,” said Masterson. “There are no guarantees in any of this. I was so excited on Oaks Day, but she didn’t do it. I think she was waiting for Saratoga where her name was conceived. I was pretty excited cheering for her at home.”

And nowhere near any paint.