by Keith McCalmont
Godolphin’s Irish homebred Eternal Hope, patiently handled by Jamie Spencer, arrived in the final jumps to capture Saturday’s Grade 3, $350,000 Fasig-Tipton Jockey Club Oaks Invitational, an 11-furlong inner turf test for sophomore fillies, at Belmont at the Big A.
Trained by Charlie Appleby, the Teofilo chestnut rallied wide from last-of-7 as the even-money favorite to post a neck score over 14-1 shot Neecie Marie, who had dove to the rail with an impressive inside rush under Abner Adorno.
“She struggled a lot from the three-eighths to the straight. Once it straightened up, she was able to get balanced, then she surged up,” Spencer said. “It’s a difficult track and there’s not a track in Europe as tight as this. It’s really fast ground, so it’s a speed test. I think you can up her performance based on what happened today.”
Eternal Hope was off slow and settled at the back of the pack as the Junior Alvarado-piloted Stephanie’s Charm, the longest shot on the board at 52-1, opened up an ambitious 12-length lead through splits of 24.12 seconds and 47.52 over the firm footing with Quarrel tracking from second position.
Quarrel took over from a tiring Stephanie’s Charm late in the final turn as Highland Grace launched her bid from third with Neecie Marie and Eternal Hope getting into gear from the rear of the field. Spencer guided Eternal Hope to the outside through the turn and had clear sailing traveling six-wide for the stretch drive, while Abner Adorno took a ground-saving path with Neecie Marie, surging to the inside of the fading Quarrel.
The two foes dueled from the sixteenth pole to the wire, but there was no denying Eternal Hope, who gained ground with every stride and secured the narrow win in a final time of 2:16.47. It was one length back to the closing Speirling Beag in third with Highland Grace, Quarrel, Stephanie’s Charm and Last Call rounding out the order of finish.
Spencer said he changed plans from a close, stalking trip after breaking a step slow.
“She was good in the gate, but when the attendant came in with the number seven [Speirling Beag] and stood beside her, she was looking at him rather than when the gates opened and missed a beat,” Spencer said. “The pace was fine and I was always kind of only two or three lengths off the ones I wanted to be close to anyways, so it worked out good.”
Adorno said Neecie Marie fought gamely to the finish.
“She went inside and there wasn’t anything else I could have done. She just kept on going and she got beat by a very nice horse,” Adorno said. “I got my spot on the rail and I knew she was running, but I knew someone else was coming with her. It is what it is.”
Eternal Hope captured the 12-furlong Oaks Trial over the Lingfield synthetic in May ahead of a distant seventh in the Group 1 Epsom Oaks in June. She arrived from a strong third-place finish in the 10-furlong Group 2 Prix Alec Head over soft going on August 20 at Deauville, finishing 1 1/2-lengths back of the victorious Group 1-winner Jannah Rose. The runner-up of that event, Lumiere Rock, came back to win the Group 2 Blandford on Sunday at The Curragh.
Eternal Hope’s victory was bookended within minutes by a pair of Grade 1 efforts from Appleby-trained Godolphin homebreds at Woodbine where Dazzling Star was a troubled third in the Natalma followed by a dominant score from Master of the Seas in the Woodbine Mile.
“Very happy to get the win on the board,” said Chris Connett, traveling assistant for Appleby. “Jamie came back and said the ground is a bit on the quick side for her, so it was nice that she was able to put forth a performance on ground that’s probably not ideal for her.
“Ideally, we’d be in the box seat right off the pace and start making a run a little earlier,” Connett added. “But she was a bit tardy and Jamie lost a bit of ground going wide, but he needed to get her rolling because it’s quite sharp around here. When she straightened up and leveled out, she ran to the line so that was good.”
Michael Milam’s Pennsylvania-bred Neecie Marie, trained by Butch Reid, Jr., entered from a rallying 2 1/4-length score in the state-bred Mrs. Penny on August 21 at Parx. She is out of the Ontario-bred Posse mare Lode Lady, who is a half-sister to 2022 Grade 1 Kentucky Derby-winner Rich Strike and Grade 2-winning turfer Llanarmon.
“She proved that she belonged at this level, it’s big,” Reid, Jr. said. “It was a little shorter field, and she was able to save ground on all three turns. Abner did a fantastic job. It was just a question of a mile and three-eighths but I don’t think there’s any limit to how far she can go. She really gave us a thrill there for a little while.”
The Jockey Club Oaks is the final leg of the Fasig-Tipton Fillies Turf Triple series, which began with Aspen Grove’s victory in the 10-furlong Grade 1, $500,000 Fasig-Tipton Belmont Oaks Invitational on July 8 at Belmont Park and saw Elusive Princess capture the middle leg in the 1 3/16-mile Grade 1, $400,000 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Oaks Invitational on August 4 at Saratoga Race Course.
Eternal Hope, who returned $4 for a $2 win bet, is out of the Dubawi mare Voice of Truth, who is a half-sister to multiple group-winner and sire Rio de La Plata. She banked $192,500 in victory while improving her record to 6-3-0-2.
Live racing resumes Sunday at Belmont at the Big A with a nine-race card. First post is 1:05 p.m. Eastern.
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