2015 Beldame Stakes Day Preview

This year’s fall Breeders’ Cup prep races at Belmont are split into two weekends.  This weekend features the first set of them: five graded stakes races, of which two are Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In events.  A pair of Grade I events provides automatic berths to the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland next month: the Vosburgh Stakes offers its winner a ticket to the BC Sprint, and the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic winner punches their ticket to the BC Turf.  Three more graded events round out the card at Belmont: the Beldame Invitational (GI), the Gallant Bloom Handicap (GII), and the Pilgrim Stakes (GIII).  Though none of those offer an automatic spot in the Breeders’ Cup, runners in those races often turn up in the Distaff, the Filly and Mare Sprint, and the Juvenile Turf, respectively.

Belmont Park is guaranteeing the Pick Four that spans races 7-10 on Saturday with a $500,000 pool. The pick six that encompasses races 6-11 that same day, and featuring races in the preview below, will have a $100,000 guaranteed pool.

In addition to the action at Belmont, Paul Mazur also previews the closing weekend stakes action over the Arlington turf in the Teleprompter Stakes and the Melanie Frances Stakes.

Horse Racing Radio Network will also live-stream these races (along with races from Santa Anita) on its website. That broadcast will run from 5:00-8:00pm ET. As with all NYRA racing at Saratoga, Belmont, and Aqueduct, audio of these races is streamed on the NYRA website, and HD video is available to anyone with a free NYRA account.

Selections are made “turf only” in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic and the Pilgrim Stakes.  At publish time the rail on the Widener turf course is slated to be placed at the zero setting while the Inner turf course’s rail setting is slated for eighteen feet from zero. All races previewed in this piece are slated for Saturday September 26th.  Authors of each preview are denoted by initials at the end: NN for Nicolle Neulist, and PM for Paul Mazur.

Belmont Park — Race 5 — G1 Beldame Invitational Stakes– One and one-eighth miles on dirt — post time 3:06 pm ET

Although the Grade One $400,000 Beldame Invitational doesn’t automatically provide its winner a free spot in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff gate, that hasn’t stopped this race from being a notable prep. Four distaffers have turned the Beldame-Breeders’ Cup Distaff double: Lady’s Secret (1986), Personal Ensign (1988), Beautiful Pleasure (1999), and Royal Delta (2012). While an invitational this year, it will certainly provide Breeders’ Cup clues and put the best Eastern division of distaff route set on display. Fitting as the race, which was inaugurated in 1939, honors a stout distaffer in Beldame. Beldame was a Hall of Fame race mare who beat fellow females in the Alabama and Gazelle as a sophomore and bested males and elders in the Carter Handicap. As a four year old, she annexed the Suburban Handicap against males despite carrying burdensome handicap weight.

Royal Delta shrugs off It’s Tricky and coasts to a score in the 2012 G1 Beldame.

Unseen since winning the G1 Ogden Phipps, WEDDING TOAST already has a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff gate as the Phipps was a “win-and-you’re in” race.  The G1 Beldame is not an automatic qualifier.  But she can prepare nicely for that big race on Halloween weekend in the G1 Beldame.  WEDDING TOAST went gate-to-wire in the Phipps last out, but it’s worth noting she could pull back to stalk and win, as she did two back going a one-turn mile in the G2 Ruffian.  Four-of-five in the win column over Big Sandy, perhaps the break by design has her keen and on the lead and not as over-the-top as others can be that have had long campaigns.  A Kiaran McLaughlin trainee, she’ll have Jose Lezcano up on a runner with some solid training statistics – as McLaughlin does well when there’s a 90+ day off layoff (26% wins, 54% top three).  CURALINA in this field tries elders for the first time, and doesn’t pick a difficult spot do it.  Winner (post-disqualification) of the G1 Coaching Club American Oaks and the winner outright of the G1 Acorn three back, she got lulled to sleep by Embellish The Lace last out in the G1 Alabama.  Perhaps a wide trip doomed her, or perhaps CURALINA is on the wrong side of the best form – she’s been in training since March and might be wearing down.  Still, this is a division that beyond Beholder out west doesn’t have a clear leader, doesn’t have a dominant horse, and doesn’t have any monsters.  The weight break for her age helps too.  She’s more of a defensive use in this spot based on the potential of her being over the top.  Perhaps the presence of Untapable in the G1 Spinster next week at Keeneland scared CALL PAT away from a home-track matchup there.  She arrives in the G1 Beldame off a closing win in the G3 Groupie Doll over at Ellis Park and a neck loss to Illinois-bred Cabana in a listed stakes on Indiana Derby Day.  CALL PAT got a target to reel in and a full field to influence a swift pace in the G3 Groupie Doll.  Yet she went last-to-first in a short field two back at Indiana Grand.  Class is what she’ll be tested for here, as she’s moving into G1s for the first time.  Still, she’s in the form of her life and perhaps the time is now – even if she’s shipping out of Kentucky.



#1 CURALINA (3/1)

#5 CALL PAT (15/1)

Longshot: With apologies to Randy Newman, “Well, I don’t want no Short Fields, Don’t want no Short Fields, Don’t want no Short Fields`Round here”. — PM

Belmont Park — Race 7 — G2 Gallant Bloom Handicap — Six and one-half furlongs on dirt — post time 4:16 pm ET

This race takes its name from Hall of Fame inductee Gallant Bloom: the DRF Champion two-year-old filly in 1968, and the consensus champion three-year-old filly in 1969. Fellow Hall of Fame inductee Shuvee beat Gallant Bloom in the Frizette Stakes by a neck, but Gallant Bloom got her revenge later that year, in the Gardenia Stakes. They faced each other twice more at age three in the Delaware Oaks and the Gazelle Handicap; Gallant Bloom got the best of Shuvee both times. She also won the Matchmaker, the Spinster, the Monmouth Oaks, the Post-Deb Stakes, and the Liberty Belle Handicap, on the way to her title as champion sophomore filly. In addition, she did well enough against older to get the nod from the DRF as the Champion Female Handicap Horse that year. The Gallant Bloom has been run in her honour since 1994. Inaugurated at a six furlong sprint at Belmont, it was stretched to its current distance the following year. To date, the most accomplished winner of this race was Indian Blessing, who won it in both 2008 and 2009. The Champion Two-Year-Old Filly in 2007, the Bob Baffert trainee parlayed her Gallant Bloom win to a Female Sprint Horse Eclipse Award that year. She won the race again the next year, though was injured before she could try the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint that year.

In what would be her final career start, Indian Blessing repels Sara Louise to win her second Gallant Bloom Handicap.

Though DAME DOROTHY, ROOM FOR ME, WAVELL AVENUE, and CLASSIC POINT have shown some measure of aptitude along the front end, all of them have a little bit of versatility — and no one in this field has the early zip of LA VERDAD.  This five-year-old mare has been in the form of her life this year, having won all four of her starts.  She gets regular rider Jose Ortiz back in the irons, and trainer Linda Rice wins at a robust 39% in graded stakes races.  Anyone sending with her in the early stages would be promising themselves certain destruction, particularly over LA VERDAD’s favourite track.  She has won six of seven at Belmont, and two of three at this distance.  Her only second-place over this track and distance came in last year’s Gallant Bloom, when Artemis Agrotera turned in a freakish late run to nail her by a head.  Barring an equally *wow* performance from someone here, LA VERDAD should be very difficult to run down.

DAME DOROTHY is the other “logical” one here, but after she threw such a clunker in the Ballerina (GI) last out, she is hard to trust.  It is doubly difficult to want any part of her at a relatively short price given that regular rider Javier Castellano is jumping ship to ride STREET STORY instead.WAVELL AVENUE steps into graded company for the first time, but won a salty allowance at Saratoga last out over the likes of Sweet Whiskey and Aireofdistinction.  Rider Joel Rosario, who guided her to that N3X win last out, returns to the irons again; he also got her past the N2X condition over this same course and distance.  WAVELL AVENUE does have two wins at the six and a half furlong distance already, as well as two wins in three starts over Big Sandy.  Finally, she has good versatility of pace — she has won races on the front, just off it, or rallying from midpack.  This gives her the flexibility to put herself in the right place whether anyone sends after LA VERDAD or not.  WAVELL AVENUE would have to be her best to win here, but the price should be right to bet that given her current form and the solid people behind her.  The aforementioned STREET STORY also deserves a good look.  Rider Javier Castellano jumps ship from DAME DOROTHY to take the call on her instead.  Though her Ballerina last out was a disappointing outing, the cutback and the track change both bode well here, and she has rebounded after a bad start before.  She has a win in her only start going six and a half furlongs at Belmont, having taken the Victory Ride (GIII) last year.  Her stalking to midpack style should have her in a good spot, and her middle to late pace should be strong enough to put her in the thick of it late.  Though catching a loose LA VERDAD may be a difficult ask, a return to her spring or early summer form should put her on the board against this field.


#2 LA VERDAD (4/5)


#5 STREET STORY (10/1)

Longshot:  The longshot writer stopped to smell the flowers. — NN

Belmont Park — Race 8 — G3 Pilgrim Stakes — One and one-sixteenth miles on Inner Turf — post time 4:51 pm ET

This race is named after 1919 Remsen Stakes winner Pilgrim. Pilgrim was owned by Joseph Widener, the namesake of the outer turf course at Belmont Park. In addition to Pilgrim, Widener owned three Belmont Stakes winners: Chance Shot (1927), Hurryoff (1933), and Peace Chance (1934). Widener bred Peace Chance, a son of Chance Shot, at Elmendorf Farm — land that Carter Henry Harrison, Sr. owned from 1840-1855. The Kentucky farm, not yet a racehorse breeding operation, had passed to him at the age of fifteen when his father Robert Carter Harrison passed away. Harrison sold the farm to Thomas Hughes in 1855, after which he eventually moved to Chicago. Carter Henry Harrison, Sr. served four terms as Chicago’s mayor from 1879-1887. He began a fifth term in 1893, but was assassinated on October 28 of that year.

The Pilgrim Stakes has been run since 1979, and began as a nine-furlong race. It has been run at distances between that and a mile and a sixteenth since its inception, except for 2009 when it was washed to the dirt and run at a flat mile. It has been steady at a mile and a sixteenth since 2010, and run at Belmont every year except for 2001 (Aqueduct). The 1992 Pilgrim Stakes winner eventually made a huge impression in the Chicago area. Awad broke his maiden by winning the 1992 Pilgrim (GIII). He went on to win the Secretariat Stakes (GI) in 1993, and the Arlington Million (GI) in 1995. Several winners of the Pilgrim have gone on to win Breeders’ Cup races, though in diverse categories. 2000 Pilgrim Stakes winner Volponi also found immortality at Arlington; he won the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) there in 2002 as a 44/1 bomb. Volponi was not the only Pilgrim winner to do well in the Breeders’ Cup. Miesque’s Approval (2001) won the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Mile, and Bobby’s Kitten (2013) won the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (GI).

Bobby’s Kitten romps in the 2013 Pilgrim Stakes, his first stakes-level win.

Trainer Chad Brown does well with his two-year-old grass horses, and he has a pair of live runners in this year’s edition of the Pilgrim Stakes: RAY’S THE BAR and EIDMILAAD.  In addition to both of them hailing from the Brown barn, both go first-time Lasix in the Pilgrim, a 28% (and positive-ROI!) proposition with Brown.  They have also both shown the ability to pass horses.  Each has raced once, and rallied from off the pace to make their debut a winning one.  Both RAY’S THE BAR and EIDMILAAD look live here, and choosing between these Chad Brown runners is almost a 1/1A proposition.  This space will side with RAY’S THE BAR given his upside on the stretch out to a route.  RAY’S THE BAR went off a 20/1 longshot when he debuted at Ascot in July, but rallied to prevail by a head.  That came at seven furlongs over the turf.  He should stretch out well: he is out of a half-sister to turf router Smoking Sun.  Even though sire Exceed and Excel excelled at sprinting, it is not out of the question that he would produce a classy and precocious router: he did, after all, sire 2013 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (GI) winner Outstrip.  He has gotten a few spins over the Belmont turf in the morning, and knowing Brown, With 20% turf rider Javier Castellano in the irons, RAY’S THE BAR should be ready to run well Saturday.  EIDMILAAD does have a win at a mile and a sixteenth already.  He graduated at first asking over Saratoga’s Mellon course, taking command down the stretch to beat a field that included fellow Pilgrim entrant DISSIDENT.  He had an honest though not reasonable pace into which to rally last out, and stands to get that again here.  Irad Ortiz, Jr. gets back in the irons after piloting EIDMILAAD to his maiden win, and any step forward from his maiden win should make him a serious contender here.

Among the others in the field, FOREVER IN LOVE deserves a long look.  Though NEXT SHARES, FOREVER IN LOVE, and even AZAR have shown some speedy propensity, FOREVER IN LOVE has a very strong chance to survive.  He has only raced once, but that outing was sharp.  On August 28, he dismantled a field of New York-bred maidens, going the same distance as the Pilgrim today.  He showed the ability to get headed, take it in stride, and kick clear to win by an easy eight and a quarter lengths.  The competition will be tougher today, but he won easily enough last out to suggest there should be more in the tank here.  He also adds blinkers for the first time.  Though that move comes as somewhat of a surprise given how strong his only start to date was, trainer Linda Rice’s first-time blinkers statistics (23% wins, 60% in the money) suggest that she does not make this move as a stab in the dark.  He also gets rider Jose Ortiz back in the irons from that maiden win; he is firing at 20% at Belmont so far, and 24% (with positive ROI) with Rice over the last two months.


#1 RAY’S THE BAR (6/1)

#6 EIDMILAAD (3/1)


Longshot: Though #10 BRASS COMPASS (20/1) disappointed in his debut at Saratoga, that came over just a five and a half furlong trip.  The Edward Plesa trainee shipped south to Monmouth, stretched out to a mile, and posted a sharp maiden victory on September 5.  He broke from an outside post that day, much like he drew here.  He cleared, made it inside, and then duelled for much of the backstretch and far turn when Paddy O’Wagon came at him on his outside.  He had plenty left to kick away and win by daylight.  Though this field will be tougher than a maiden special weight set at Monmouth, the ability to clear from an outside post and survive a duel should be very helpful given what other speed is in the race.  If speed holds, he showed enough in his maiden win to suggest that he could hold it, and the fact that he ships from Monmouth means he could do so at a price. — NN

Belmont Park — Race 9 — G1 Vosburgh Stakes — Six furlongs on dirt — post time 5:26 pm ET

This race is named after Walter S. Vosburgh.  One of the founding members of the Jockey Club, he wrote “Racing in America, 1866 to 1921“, a seminal text on the turn-of-the-century American turf.  In addition to being a horse racing historian, he served as the handicapper for the Jockey Club.  In that role, he instituted the Experimental Free Handicap, a hypothetical race among top two-year-olds going into their three year old year, in which handicap weights are assigned for a hypothetical race among them.  Hypothetical as it may be, the Experimental Free Handicap continues to provide fodder for spirited debates to this day.  The Vosburgh Stakes was inaugurated in 1940, two years after its namesake’s death.  It began as a seven-furlong race, and was run at that distance through 2002.  The 2003 edition covered a six and a half furlong trip, and it was cut down to its current six-furlong distance in 2004.  Of most local interest is its most recent winner: Private Zone, who won in both 2013 and 2014.  Private Zone is owned by Good Friends Stable, a syndicate led by Rene Douglas, a perennial champion jockey at Arlington Park until he was paralysed in an accident in the 2009 Arlington Matron (GIII).   In addition to that locally connected globetrotter, the list of winners features some of the all-time greats: runner and sire Bold Ruler, two-time winner Dr. Fager, three-time horse of the year Forego, and more recent stars like Housebuster, Affirmed Success, Artax, and Housebuster.  Again this year, the race offers a Win And You’re In berth to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

Private Zone becomes the fourth back-to-back winner of the Vosburgh Stakes, rebuffing a stubborn Dads Caps to win the 2014 edition of the race.

PALACE looks to have lost a step compared to who he was last year, making him underlaid at best and overmatched at worst.  With that the case, ROCK FALL looks like the one to beat here.  He is fast, very fast.  He is consistent, having won last six starts (out of seven in his career), all of which with Javier Castellano in the irons.  Castellano returns today.  ROCK FALL has won on the front end, but typically does his better work stalking — something helpful, since WEEKEND HIDEAWAY has some sharp early speed in his toolkit, and could outgun him early.  He loves the Belmont track, with three wins in three tries, and six wins in seven starts over the six-furlong trip.  A lot looks to weigh in ROCK FALL’s favour.  That said, there is one runner likely to go off at a better price who could well spring the upset as long as he takes well to Big Sandy: WILDCAT RED.  His first two starts of the year suggested that he will find his stride as an older horse in the sprinting ranks, not the routes in which he spent his sophomore season.  He finished third behind Favorite Tale and Work All Week in the Smile Sprint Handicap (GII) in his first start off of a six-month lay, and followed that up with a gutsy win over STALLWALKIN DUDE in the Teddy Drone at Monmouth.  Both of those came at six panels, the same distance as the Vosburgh.  Last out, WILDCAT RED finished fourth in the seven-furlong Forego Stakes (GI), caught late for the show by VIVA MAJORCA.  Here, he cuts back from seven furlongs to six.  In terms of pace, he will be forwardly placed, but does not need to have the lead.  Seven furlongs against real seven-furlong horses, the likes of Private Zone and The Big Beast, may have proven too much — but cutting back to six furlongs against this somewhat softer set should be a perfectly realistic spot for WILDCAT RED to finally capture his first Grade I.

Trainer David Jacobson entered a pair into the Vosburgh: SALUTOS AMIGOS and STALLWALKIN DUDE.  SALUTOS AMIGOS at his best would be imposing here, but he has not quite found his best yet this year.  He finds himself in an easier Grade I field than the Forego (GI) last out, but tends to do his best at Aqueduct — or in the slop, given his six-for-six line over an off track.  With no rain in the forecast between now and the Vosburgh, the other Jacobson holds a bit more appeal.  STALLWALKIN DUDE has two wins in four starts over the Belmont main, both of which came over fast dirt.  Both of those came at six furlongs, as well — a distance over which STALLWALKIN DUDE is 9-5-2-1.  In terms of pace, he has versatility: he can slug it out on the front end, stalk, or rally from midpack.  Expect a stalking or midpack trip here, as he does not quite have (or need to try to exhibit) the early speed of WEEKEND HIDEAWAY or ROCK FALL.  He gets Irad Ortiz back in the irons from his last-out win in the Tale of the Cat Stakes at Saratoga, as well.  Though this crowd will be tougher than what he faced in that restricted stakes, the speeds are in line, and the pace versatility will give him every chance for a smart rider like Ortiz to get him exactly where he needs to be.


#2 WILDCAT RED (15/1)

#7 ROCK FALL (2/5)


Longshot:  Sometimes, the longshot category contains a horse who could win the race at a price.  Other times, it features a horse who may not have a realistic chance of winning the race, but stands to be the bomb who makes a trifecta or superfecta pay very nicely.  #4 BROTHERSOFTHETIME (30/1) is one of those latter types.  Though the four-year-old Bob and John colt has three wins to his credit, they all came his juvenile year at Calder.  (Yes, it was still called Calder then.)  Still, he fires more often than not from a midpack to closing spot, and his late pace is strong enough that he should be closing ground late if he gets something to attack.  With WEEKEND HIDEAWAY’s best chance being to set the pace, and ROCK FALL likely on the front as well, that pace should at least be honest.  Last out, he finished fourth beaten only a length behind WILDCAT RED in the Teddy Drone as a 43/1 b0mb.  He has been on the shelf since that August 2 race; trainer Jorge Navarro hits the board at 63% off of similarly long lays.  If he takes a step forward off the freshening, BROTHERSOFTHETIME could run late for a piece as the longest shot on the board.  — NN

Belmont Park — Race 10 – G1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational Stakes — One and one-half miles on Widener Turf — post time 6:01 pm ET

First contested at cross-town Aqueduct in 1977, the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational Stakes started with Aqueduct as the the prefix to the “Turf Classic” that this race was known by for many years.  The race now honors Joe Hirsch, writer for the Daily Racing Form for nearly half a century and founder of the National Turf Writers of America.  That group has now included broadcasters in TV and radio, taking on the initials of the NTWAB.  The Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational Stakes offers Grade One spoils, a $600,000 purse and a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Turf gate should the winner wish to proceed on.  Manila (1986), Theatrical (1987), Tikannen (1994), Illinois-bred Buck’s Boy (1998), English Channel (2007), and Main Sequence (2014) have all parlayed wins in this autumnal Belmont turf tilt into Breeders’ Cup wins.  It should be noted English Channel is a double winner of this event, having taken the 2006 running as well.

English Channel (saddle towel 1, green and white silks) squeezes through at the rail to win the 2007 Hirsch Turf Classic.

In the G1 Sword Dancer on Travers Day, FLINTSHIRE came over from across the pond and put on a nifty turn of foot to make his favortism justified and to make those (like this author) who took swings against him look like idiots.  The horse who ran second was RED RIFLE, and RED RIFLE owns two autumnal turf top two finishes last year – one win in the Yankee Affair over the twelve furlong configuration he goes in the Hirsch and one second in the G3 Sycamore.  RED RIFLE may have gotten a turn in the G2 Bowling Green, but this G1 drew a dearth of speed and RED RIFLE is confirmed long winded speed (wire-to-wire G2 winner last fall at ten furlongs) that this space is tabbing on top.  While the figure in the Sword Dancer might be exaggerated, he can close off of a target (which SHINING COPPER projects to be) or get into a rhythm midpack or stalking and then push on home.  Perhaps he can positioned by Javier Castellano to stalk and then wear down the leaders from a first-flight tracking position.  Perhaps it gives Todd Pletcher another Hirsch win (remember, he trained English Channel).  While the “second to Flintshire” card will attract bettors, the steam appears to be within reason.  The SLUMBER and BIG BLUE KITTEN show returns for another episode.  These two runners are both trained by Chad Brown and both have been dancing the dances in the male distance division of turfers.  The first episode saw SLUMBER outclose BIG BLUE KITTEN in the G1 Manhattan on the undercard of Belmont Stakes Day.  The second episode saw BIG BLUE KITTEN close widest and get the win in the G1 United Nations at the Jersey Shore.  The third episode saw the pair go to the G1 Arlington Million, where neither of them were the winner and The Pizza Man gave the home team a tasty victory.  The fourth episode takes them back to Belmont Park and at a mile and a half.  Both have similar styles and both while get a setup from BIG BLUE KITTEN’s stablemate in SHINING COPPER.  The edge goes to BIG BLUE KITTEN – who was second in the Arlington Million and has worked better on the sweeping courses that Belmont is akin to – think Arlington and Woodbine (runner-up in the G1-CDN Pattison International).  SLUMBER may fit better if this race was at ten or eleven furlongs, but he’s a course winner from earlier in the year that’s worth a look.


#1 RED RIFLE (5/2)


#5 SLUMBER (7/2)

Longshot: How far #6 SHINING COPPER (10/1) goes is the question.  He was the rabbit expected to get out of the way and let the real horses do the running in the United Nations, but he cracked the superfecta at 127-1 odds.  He proved the performance then was no fluke when he got the bronze medal last time out behind stablemate BIG BLUE KITTEN in the G1 Arlington Million.  Twelve furlongs will be the issue, but perhaps now that Team Ramsey has figured he’s better than just a sacrificial lamb – he can tell his rider for this race, Manny Franco, to go out and try to win the race while on the lead.  With fewer runners in his rear (and a non-zero rail setting), perhaps he can pull a wire job as it appears only RED RIFLE is his only pace challenger. — PM


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