Twelve Fillies Vie for a Million Bucks in Belmont Oaks

At Belmont Park on Saturday, Eclipse Award winner Chad Brown will tighten the girths on a quartet of talented fillies for the $1 million Belmont Oaks Invitational (GIT), a 1 ¼-mile test for sophomore fillies that drew a field of contenders from around the globe. Brown is seeking his third win in four years, having sent out Lady Eli to win in 2015, Minorette in 2014 and Alterite in 2013.

Peter Brant’s Sistercharlie will make her U.S. debut off a second-place finish in the Longines Prix de Diane (GIT) (French Oaks) at Chantilly. The Irish-bred daughter of Myboycharlie, who was purchased privately after that effort, is a dead-closer and just missed by a length in the 1 5/16-mile race. She’s only been in America for about a week, but, so far, has acclimated well, Brown said. She will break from the outside post with Hall of Famer John Velazquez in the irons and while not an ideal post normally, her late-running style helps her here.

Brant also owns Fifty Five, who was second in the Wonder Again Stakes (GIIIT) over this course a month ago where she was defeated by stablemate and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (GIT) champion New Money Honey, who is back in here after faltering in her sophomore debut in the Appalachian (GIIIT) at Keeneland in the spring. Both fillies will be trying 1 ¼ miles for the first time, though Brown is confident the pair can handle the distance. New Money Honey will be ridden by regular jockey Javier Castellano and will break from post eight while Florida Oaks (GIIIT) winner Fifty Five will be ridden by Jose Ortiz and will break from post 10.

Brown is also sending out Michael Dubb, Head of Plains Partners, Haras d’Etreham and Bethlehem Stable LLC’s Uni, who is another making her American debut. The chestnut filly has been training in New York since being transferred to Brown’s barn in May after winning an ungraded stakes at Maisons-Laffite in early May. Irad Ortiz, Jr. has the mount and the two will break from post seven.

Also making her American debut is Tabor, Magnier and Smith’s Key to My Heart, who is trained by champion European trainer Aidan O’Brien. The daughter of Galileo shipped into Belmont Tuesday morning, less than a week after winning the 1 ¼-mile Irish Oaks Trial at Naas on June 28. She will carry jockey Wayne Lordan and the pair will break from post position five.

“She only won last week. Now she’s in this. She’s very impressive,” said O’Brien’s assistant T.J. Comerford. “She always looked like a winner as well. We had another favorite in the race, and this one went well.”

Coasted (photo by Chelsea Durand/NYRA).

Coasted (photo by Chelsea Durand/NYRA).

The connections of Kentucky Oaks (GI) runner-up Daddys Lil Darling are hoping for a better return to turf after the disaster that was the post parade before the June 2 Investec Oaks (GI) at Epsom in England, when she ran off after being spooked by lightning, causing jockey Olivier Peslier to bail to save his life as well as the filly’s as she ran up on the starting gate. Now back in the United States, trainer Kenny McPeek is depending on better luck and believes Saturday’s race is more about the distance for the daughter of Scat Daddy. Dylan Davis rides the filly and the pair will break from post postion 11.

“She really needs the distance more than the ground,” McPeek said. “I could’ve run her in the Acorn, I just didn’t like her at a flat mile. I probably could’ve run her in the Mother Goose, but we just felt like we wanted a little more ground than that. She seems to be a filly that needs pace, and it’s hard to say whether you’ll get that in this race or not, but we’ll see.”

Dynatail will break from post position nine under jockey Luis Saez and the Michael Dini-trained daughter of Hightail is coming off a nice win in the Penn Oaks on June 3. This is a big jump in class for the daughter of Hightail, but if she can get to the front fairly easily and control the speed early she looms a big threat to steal a win.

Irish-bred Grizzel, winner of the Selene Stakes (GIIIT) at Woodbine on May 21, will carry regular jockey David Moran and the pair will break from post four. Riding a two-race win streak, she’s definitely facing the toughest field in her career so far, but she has a tactical running style she can adapt depending on how the pace sets up.

Trainer Graham Motion will send out the once promising Journey Home, who captured her first two starts last year, including a Grade 3 at Del Mar, but faltered in a handful of starts since before taking a non-graded stakes at Delaware three weeks ago. This is a big step up in class for the daughter of War Front, but her best under jockey Edgar Prado gives her a strong chance at a win from post position six.

Beau Recall is riding a streak of two wins followed by three runner-up finishes in grassy stakes events in California. The Simon Callaghan trainee definitely faces some tough competition in her first start beyond nine furlongs, but she’s bred to like the stretch-out and her consistency is her weapon.

Violet Blue, fresh off breaking her maiden in a dead heat at Belmont Park on June 3, takes a big jump in class but does have the benefit of trainer James Toner in her corner and jockey Manny Franco aboard.

Rounding out the field is Leah Gyamarti-trained Coasted, who was second in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf and who will break from the inside post with rider Joel Rosario aboard. After finishing a nice second in her 3-year-old debut in the Herecomesthebride Stakes (GIIIT) at Gulfstream Park in March, she’s struggled in two starts since but did have some legit trouble in her last. A clean trip may be all she needs here to get a larger share of the big purse.

Margaret Ransom
California native and lifelong horsewoman Margaret Ransom is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. She got her start in racing working in the publicity departments at Calder Race Course and Hialeah Park, as well as in the racing office at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. She then spent six years in Lexington, KY, at BRISnet.com where she helped create and develop the company’s popular newsletters, Handicapper’s Edge and Bloodstock Journal.

After returning to California, she served six years as the Southern California news correspondent for BloodHorse, assisted in the publicity department at Santa Anita Park and and was a contributor to many other racing publications, including HorsePlayer Magazine and Trainer Magazine. She then spent seven years at HRTV and HRTV.com in various roles as researcher, programming assistant, producer and social media and marketing manager. She has also walked hots and groomed runners, worked the elite sales in Kentucky for top-class consignors and volunteers for several race horse retirement organizations, including CARMA.

Margaret’s very first Breeders’ Cup was at Hollywood Park in 1984 and she has attended more than half of the Breeders’ Cups since. She counts Holy Bull as her favorite horse of all time. She lives in Pasadena with her longtime beau, Tony, three Australian Shepherds and one Golden Retriever.