Trainer Chris Oakes will start Agent Q in Friday night’s (July 20) $44,000 Filly and Mare Open Handicap Pace at Yonkers Raceway, but in the daughter of Western Terror’s previous local start, the pair were on less friendly grounds.
Agent Q’s only other races at the Hilltop came in the elimination and final of the Lismore Pace in May 2017. Agent Q captured her elimination and started as the 1-5 betting favorite in the $140,770 final for then conditioner Aaron Lambert. However, Oakes’ filly, Tequila Monday, upset Agent Q with a 4-1 score from post seven.
"That was a good one, I don’t think I was supposed to win that race," Oakes said with a laugh as he recalled the action. "I remember her following Agent Q, Agent Q cleared, and Tequila Monday sat outside of her and pulled right up alongside of her. Probably nobody else could have kept up. She cleared her and was gone. That was a big mile."
Tequila Monday traded blows with Agent Q throughout last year with the latter taking the Lynch Memorial and Matron Stakes. Instead of continuing to race against her, Oakes added Agent Q to his training roster when owners Crawford Farms, Rochetti Cassar Racing, and Robert Muscara purchased the filly.
"Quite honestly, it just tells you how much power I’ve got as far as owners go," Oakes said. "She’s a good horse and instead of having to fight against her, we ended up buying her and putting her on the team. If you can’t beat them, join them. That’s the way I look at it.
"I just knew she was solid, she raced from the front, from the back and every time she raced, she put in a really solid effort," he continued. "I knew coming back at 4, she’d probably be one of the top mares this year and I already had one, so they complement each other."
Although Agent Q vetted out with a chip in her left hind ankle, Oakes and the ownership went through with the purchase. Agent Q underwent successful surgery to remove the chip over the winter and came to Oakes’ Florida barn in February to prepare for her 4-year-old campaign. Although she wasn’t a physical standout, her attitude signaled her talent.
"Nice mare, she could have been a little bigger and stronger," Oakes said. "She wasn’t an overly powerful looking horse, but definitely has the spirit and the heart, you could tell she’s real feisty. Definitely a really good horse.
"Right off the bat, she got down to Florida for the winter and she was fine, there was never really any problems with her," he continued. "She was eating decent. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a great caretaker. I’ve got Therese Pierce and she’s amazing. She got the filly and just loves on her all day long. It’s personal with them, they work all day long and they love what they do."
Agent Q won her first two starts for Oakes in the Great Northeast Open Series at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono and Harrah’s Philadelphia May 13 and 20, respectively. Her debut effort came as a shock to her trainer as Agent Q raced last of eight around the racetrack before riding cover three-wide to the top of the stretch. Still in last with a furlong to pace, Agent Q quickened under urging from David Miller and streaked past the field to record a 1:52.3 score at odds of 5-2.
"First win was actually a big surprise," Oakes said. "She sat last pretty much the whole mile and Dave Miller, who had been driving her for the previous connections, I just told him, ‘just take care of her, first start, race her easy,’ and he did and she still won. She was dead last turning for home and just flew by them."
After her quick double to start the year boosted her record to 15 wins from 32 stars and $1.2 million in the bank, Agent Q recorded three straight losses, including a ninth-place finish in her Roses Are Red elimination where she was beaten 15-3/4 lengths at Mohawk June 9. Oakes took time to regroup.
"It’s just weird how you take a wrong turn and you’re just trying to get back to where you were," he said. "The horse had a bad night and we had to straighten her out and we’re back on track now."
Agent Q qualified back at Pocono July 11, finishing second to 3-year-old star Springsteen. She was individually timed in 1:53.3 with a :27.1 final quarter. The effort gave Oakes enough confidence to enter Agent Q into the distaff feature Friday night. Starting from a drawn post six with Eric Goodell in the sulky, Agent Q is a 10-1 morning line.
Agent Q’s six rivals include Magic Forces, who won two straight Filly and Mare Opens June 29 and July 6 before finishing eighth from post eight last out July 13. The Ron Burke trainee drew post five and is the 3-1 second choice on the morning line. Caviart Cherie is the 5-2 morning line choice off a win in the Filly and Mare Preferred last week while Newborn Sassy is 3-1 from post seven off a win in last week’s feature. Bronze Over, Lispatty, and Medusa complete the lineup. Oakes admits this is a difficult spot for Agent Q to make her return.
"I think she’ll race well. She’s in a little bit of a tough spot, there’s speed inside of her. I think she’ll race well, but is she going to go the mile of her life? No, she’s coming off a little bit of a layoff in a qualifier, so I think she’ll be better off another race or two."
First post time Friday at Yonkers is 6:50 p.m. For entries to the races, click here.--By Brandon Valvo/Standardbred Owners Association of NY