Last night, Paul went on the first half of the pre-Breeders' Cup road trip, taking a look at the Fayette Stakes (GII) at Keeneland and the Autumn Miss Stakes (GIII) at Santa Anita. This segment of the road trip heads back east to New York for the two Saturday stakes at Belmont. The only graded event on Saturday is for the older sprinting set, the Grade III Bold Ruler. However, it was the ungraded stakes on the card that drew the deeper and potentially even more contentious field: the Chelsea Flower, a turf mile for juvenile fillies.
Both races take place at Belmont Park on Saturday, October 25. Picks in the Chelsea Flower are for turf only.
Race 3: Bold Ruler Stakes (GIII), three-year-olds and up, seven furlongs on the dirt, post time 1:52 EDT
This $200,000 race is named after Bold Ruler, a horse who excelled both on the racetrack and in the stud barn. Born in 1954 at Claiborne Farm, the "Sunny" Jim Fitzsimmons trainee won three stakes races as a juvenile, before launching a Horse of the Year campaign in 1957. He won the Wood Memorial and the Preakness Stakes, and then showed that he could sprint against older by winning the Vosburgh that same year. He returned to race at four, and won the Champion Sprinter award that year. In the breeding shed, he was an eight-time leading sire in North America: 1963-1969, and then again in 1973. His most notable progeny was Triple Crown winner Secretariat, but he also sired ten other champions, including hall of famer Gamely. Originally, the Bold Ruler was run at six furlongs, though it was stretched to seven starting with the 2009 edition. Last year's winner, Clearly Now, came back to set the seven-furlong track record in the Belmont Sprint Championship (GIII) earlier this year. Other notable winners of the race include Laurel Park stakes namesake Dave's Friend (1980-1981), prominent sprint sire Phone Trick (1986), and two-time winner and later sire Kelly Kip (1998-1999).
This race looks to have a balanced pace scenario, with no true can't-rate types and only Joe Tess who is absolutely always near the front. River Rocks has the best recent form in the field, and looks like the one to beat here. As good as he was last year in the Wayne Catalano barn, he has truly come into his own with John Terranova this year. He rattled off three straight allowance wins between six and seven furlongs at Belmont and Saratoga this year, and missed by just a length behind Vyjack on the stretch to the mile in the Kelso (GII) last out. This distance should suit him better, and Terranova wins at 22% on the cutback from a route to a sprint. River Rocks has a shot at the early lead, though if he is outgunned by the likes of Joe Tess or Salutos Amigos, he howed back in June that he could sit off the early pace and pounce later. Confrontation drops in here from a disappointing ninth-place finish in the Forego (GI) last out, but that race was his first attempt in stakes company. Trainer Barclay Tagg gave him a bit of a break off of that race, though he should still be fit: that race was about two months ago, but he has a regular and sharp worktab over that time. He had hit the board in each of his seven career races before that. He also moves back to Big Sandy today: a course over which he is 3-2-1-0 lifetime. He is not likely to be the speed of the speed here, but he has successfully come from off the pace -- both closer up and further back -- enough times to show off his pace versatility as a real asset here. Salutos Amigos pre-entered the Breeders' Cup Sprint, though trainer and co-owner David Jacobson has shown uncertainty as to whether he will actually run in that race. The Breeders' Cup is more than likely over his head, but this seems a more realistic level for him. After winning in allowance company three times earlier this year he switched back up to graded stakes company for three of his last four starts. He hit the board in both the True North (GII) and the Belmont Sprint Championship (GIII), and was second behind River Rocks in an allowance two back. He missed the board in the Vosburgh, but was still only two lengths behind winner Private Zone, and a neck out of third. The fact that he has never won in ten starts in stakes company makes him hard to take on top, but he should stalk the pace and hit the board here.
One horse to take a stand against here is Romansh. On class, he stacks up strongly, and he does need this sort of a class drop. However, the cutback to a sprint distance smacks of "we don't know what to do with this horse, so let's see if this sticks". He did hit the board in the Met Mile, his shortest distance all year, but he does not seem to have sprinting speed like some of his adversaries. At closer to 6/1 or 7/1 he could be worth considering on class, but if the 7/2 morning line holds, that's just too short to take on an experiment like this.
#6 RIVER ROCKS (2/1)
#1 CONFRONTATION (6/1)
#4 SALUTOS AMIGOS (5/2)
Longshot: #7 CEASE (12/1) has some back class, including a stakes win and graded stakes placings at both Saratoga and Hawthorne. After slipping down into the claiming ranks this year, trainer Jason Servis claimed him out of the David Jacobson barn for $25,000 in August. If the name Jason Servis sounds familiar in the context of bringing claimers with back class into stakes form again, that's because it is: Servis and Mr Amore Stable (the owners of Cease) are the humans behind the renaissance of Ribo Bobo last year. As for Cease, he returned a month and a half later to run a sharp second at 1 1/16 miles in an allowance optional at Belmont. He keeps Manuel Franco from that race. Though this is a step up in class, he is dialing back to a distance at which he has won, on a track over which he has won. As an off-pace type in a race where Confrontation, Sage Valley, Joe Tess, and River Rocks all stand a chance to be near the front, Cease has a shot to take advantage for a price.
Race 8: Chelsea Flower Stakes, two-year-old fillies, 1 mile on the turf, post time 4:27 EDT
As can sometimes happen with stakes races named after horses with oddly spelled monikers, the name has gotten a little lost in translation here. Though the reports on Equibase call it the "Chelsea Flower Stakes", the Belmont website calls this the "Chelsey Flower Stakes", and only the latter spelling applies to a named Thoroughbred. Chelsey Flower, born in 1991, was not a New York-bred, but she did do her best work over the grass at Belmont. She was a precocious turf runner who broke her maiden on the step up from maiden claiming to maiden special, and then wired the Miss Grillo Stakes (GIII) next time out after breaking her maiden. After racing in mainly allowance company in New York at ages three and four, she experienced a career renaissance at the age of five, winning two more graded stakes races over the Belmont grass that year: the Sheepshead Bay (GII) and the Flower Bowl (GI). She never produced a stakes winner in the breeding shed; her most accomplished offspring was her first named foal, a 1998 son of Storm Cat named Wow, who was stakes-placed on both dirt and grass. This is the third running of the race named in Chelsey Flower's honour. Mariel N Kathy won the race in 2012, and Recepta won it last year in her turf debut. Each of these incarnations has been a mile on the grass for two-year-old fillies; this year's $100,000 incarnation has the same conditions.
Chad Brown has been nothing short of brilliant at placing his runners. He has won 27 of his 100 starts this Belmont meet, with another 34 races in the money. His placement of Ack Naughty in this race looks no different. This two-year-old Afleet Alex filly has only raced once before, but she came from mid-pack to put away a New York-bred maiden special weight at a mile over the Belmont grass last month. She moves up in class here, but that raced showed that she had an affinity for the Belmont grass, and could get a mile. Brown has also won six of his last twelve with second-time turf runners, with ten of those twelve in the money. Ack Naughty has put up two works since then, and keeps jockey Irad Ortiz in the irons. There will not be a ton of pace in front of her, but it shouldn't crawl: though Skinner Box is the only one in the field who has shown much love for being right on the front, Margaret Reay and Quick Reward should not be far off, and Phoenix Park seems likely to tussle there with the addition of blinkers for this race. Ack Naughty was not extremely far off the pace, and the Belmont grass has been kind to off-the-pace types. Furthermore, she drew post position 11 in that race -- showing she can handle the same sort of outside post she drew for this race. All signs point to Ack Naughty having a great shot here. Miss Chatelaine is another who has only raced once before. She won an open maiden special weight at a mile over the Belmont grass, and returns to that surface and distance here. She stalked just a couple lengths off early, made her move through the turn, and kicked away down the stretch to win. The same sort of trip would give her a strong chance in this one. She races for trainer Christophe Clement, who wins at 24% (with a 60% in-the-money rate) with runners who are last-out maiden winners. He, like Brown, excels in placing his newer runners, and looks to have found the right place for Miss Chatelaine. Finally, we circle back to that potential lone speed: Skinner Box. Though her only win (and her only wire job) was a five-and-a-half furlong dash at Saratoga, she acquitted herself well in the Natalma Stakes (GII) at Woodbine next out, at this mile distance, coming from off the pace. She was outgunned early by a host of runners, but dealt with some traffic trouble and pressed on gamely. Though she never truly threatened Conquest Harlanate or Isabella Sings in that race, she was beaten just 2 1/4 lengths -- still over seven lengths clear of the fourth-place finisher. She faltered in the Miss Grillo (GIII) last out, but did not start well and raced at 1 1/16 miles: a distance likely too long for her. The cutback to the mile should help Skinner Box, as should her affinity for the front.
#11 ACK NAUGHTY (7/2)
#6 MISS CHATELAINE (3/1)
#2 SKINNER BOX (12/1)
Longshot: #9 PATH (9/2) lived up to her name last out, taking the overland route to victory in her first attempt on the grass, and her first attempt at a route. That race was over the grass at Belmont, so she has shown she likes the surface. She cuts back from 1 1/16 miles to a flat mile here, and her connections could not be classier: 18% ungraded-stakes trainer Shug McGaughey, and 25% turf jockey Javier Castellano. Castellano rode her in that maiden win. She has put up a series of good works since. The biggest concern with Path is how far she came from off the pace last out; she was over half a dozen lengths back before making her move. Still, if the stalking contingent or the blinkers-on Phoenix Park give Skinner Box any trouble up front, Path should be right there to pick up the pieces.
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