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Jul 7, 2022
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European contenders train over the turf for Caesars Turf Triple series

by NYRA Press Office




  • European contenders train over the turf for Caesars Turf Triple series
  • Agartha could live up to staying bloodlines in G1 Belmont Oaks Invitational
  • Sy Dog ready to roll in G1 Belmont Derby; Divine Huntress to $135K Wilton

A number of European shippers trained over the Belmont Park inner turf Thursday in preparation for the 10-furlong first legs of the lucrative Caesars Turf Triple Series.

Nations Pride and Implementation led the turf trainees for colts competing in the 13-horse Grade 1, $1 million Caesars Belmont Derby Invitational for sophomores; while With The Moonlight, Hot Queen and Know Thyselftrained in preparation for the 10-horse Grade 1, $700,000 Belmont Oaks Invitational for 3-year-old fillies.

Pia Brandt, conditioner of Implementation and Hot Queen, was onsite at Belmont to oversee the brief session conducted just after 8 a.m. Eastern.

"Hot Queen really moved well on the grass. Implementation was a little bit tense - he can be like that - but he's much better in the races than in the morning," Brandt said. "So far, they've been behaving. The travel went well. They've been very professional."

Abdullah Almaddah’s Implementation, a homebred son of Constitution, was last-of-4 last out in the Group 3 Prix Paul de Moussac at Chantilly over good-to-soft ground which came after a good third to subsequent Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club [French Derby] and Group 1 Coral-Eclipse-winner Vadeni in the Group 3 Prix de Guiche.

Brandt said the strong-minded Implementation will benefit from being able to sit off the solid early pace expected Saturday.

"The main thing is he has to relax in the beginning of the race. He would pull too much in some races," Brandt said. "In France, we don't have the same pace as you have here, so that's why we think it will suit him here. He can be relaxed and they can come back to him, hopefully. He has ability, but he needs to show it."

Hall of Famer John Velazquez will pilot Implementation from post 1.

Finn Blichfeldt’s Hot Queen, by Recorder, boasts a record of 11-3-3-2 all in her native France. She finished sixth last out over soft ground in Chantilly’s Group 2 Prix de Sandringham. Previously, she was a good third in Longchamp’s Group 3 Prix Vanteaux on April 10, four weeks after taking Saint-Cloud’s Listed Prix La Camargo.

"She's a tough filly. She has a lot of races in her body and lots of experience," Brandt said. "Both horses are quite small, so I think the track here will suit them perfectly. They won't have problems with the bends."

Brandt said a line can be drawn through Hot Queen's most recent outing when leading a quick tempo under Gregory Benoist at Chantilly.

"Something must have happened at the stalls because she took off and he couldn't control her. That was not her," Brandt said.

Brandt said she is hopeful French jockey Stephane Pasquier will be able to rate Hot Queen from post 7.

"We're drawn outside but here they are jumping [out] fast, so she can come in behind them and finish strong," Brandt said.

Glen Hill Farm's Know Thyself, trained by Francis-Henri Graffard, was a good fourth on debut last August behind subsequent Group 1 Poule d’Essai des Pouliches [French 1000 Guineas] winner Mangoustine at Deauville. 

Since then, the daughter of Galileo has finished fourth or better in three stakes, including a fourth in Hot Queen’s Prix La Camargo and finishing one better than that rival as runner-up in the Prix Vanteaux. 

Anthony David, traveling head lad for Graffard, said Know Thyself enjoyed an easy canter Thursday.

"It was just for her to see the track," David said. "She had good action and she is OK.

"She traveled very well," he added. "I'm very happy with her."

Know Thyself enters from a third in the 11-furlong Prix de La Seine behind Hidden Dimples and La Parisienne, with the latter going on to finish second in the Group 1 Prix de Diane [French Oaks] on June 19.

"She made a good performance last race. For me, she has a chance," David said. 

David said Know Thyself could also benefit from a strong pace when emerging from post 8 under Julien Leparoux.

"She has a very good finish and I think it’s [pace] good for her," David said.

Sophie Chretien, traveling assistant for Charlie Appleby, oversaw the training of Althiqa and Summer Romance here last year, running one-two in both the Grade 1 Longines Just a Game at Belmont and the Grade 1 Diana at the Spa.

This year, she has a trio of Appleby runners in her care led by Nations Pride for the Belmont Derby and With The Moonlight for the Belmont Oaks. Also on course this morning was Creative Flair, who will point to the Grade 1, $500,000 Diana on July 16 at Saratoga Race Course.

"They went for a couple furlongs to open their lungs. I'm very happy with them. I just hope we don't get rain," Chretien said.

Nations Pride, by Teofilo, exits an eighth in the 12-furlong Group 1 Epsom Derby on June 4, following a trio of scores at 10-furlongs led by a seven-length romp two starts back over subsequent Derby runner-up Hoo Ya Mal on April 29 in the Newmarket Stakes. 

"He's back to his good distance," Chretien said. "He's doing well."

With The Moonlight, who won the 10-furlong Pretty Polly in May at Newmarket, exits an off-the-board effort in the 12-furlong Group 1 Oaks at Epsom on June 3. 

"I think 10 furlongs is good for her," Chretien said. "She's a big, scopey mama. A galloping filly."

Highclere Thoroughbred Racing’s Royal Patronage, trained by Charles Johnston, finished 16th in the Epsom Derby last out. 

The Wootton Bassett colt defeated subsequent Group 1 2000 Guineas and Group 1 St James’s Palace Stakes winner Coroebus in the Group 2 Royal Lodge last September at Newmarket, one race after upsetting another Godolphin Royal Ascot victor, Group 3 Jersey winner Noble Truth, in August’s Group 3 Acomb at York.

Mark Billingham, traveling assistant for Johnston, said Royal Patronage is in good order since arriving July 1 at Belmont.

"He's settled in very well. He did two days quarantine and ever since he's been out on the dirt track doing regular canters," Billingham said. "He's not overly big, but he's very athletic. I think the firm ground will suit him. At Epsom, he didn't seem to be traveling very well and didn't seem to be enjoying it. Hopefully, dropping back in distance and firmer ground will benefit him."

Joel Rosario will guide Royal Patronage from post 8.

Aidan O'Brien's Caesars Turf Triple contenders Stone Age [Belmont Derby] and Concert Hall [Belmont Oaks] arrived Wednesday and expect to clear quarantine Friday morning to enjoy a bit of light training over the dirt.

"They traveled good and look well. They're in good order," said T.J. Comerford, traveling assistant for O'Brien.

Stone Age was a prominent winner of the Group 3 Derby Trial in May at Leopardstown over 10 furlongs before finishing sixth last out in the 12-furlong Group 1 Epsom Derby on June 4.

Comerford said he expects a strong effort from Stone Age following his Epsom Derby effort.

"He had an off day, but he's better than that. He's a proper mile and a quarter horse," Comerford said.

Comerford traveled Athena here in 2018 to capture the Belmont Oaks just six days after finishing third in the 10-furlong Group 1 Pretty Polly at The Curragh. He will look to pull a similar trick with Concert Hall, who finished a troubled fourth last out in the Pretty Polly on June 26.

“She has a chance,” Comerford said. “That was a good run [last out].”

The Caesars Belmont Derby Invitational will again launch the male division of the Caesars Turf Triple series that encompasses the Grade 1, $1 million Caesars Saratoga Derby Invitational at 1 3/16-miles on August 6 and the Grade 3, $1 million Caesars Jockey Club Derby Invitational at 12 furlongs during the Belmont fall meet.

The Belmont Oaks Invitational commences the female division of the Turf Triple series, which will be followed by the Grade 3, $700,000 Saratoga Oaks at 1 3/16-miles on August 7 and conclude with the Grade 3, $700,000 Jockey Club Oaks at 11 furlongs during the fall.

***

Agartha could live up to staying bloodlines in G1 Belmont Oaks Invitational

Heider Family Stables’ Agartha has yet to race past one mile in 11 lifetime starts, but that will change when the Irish-bred daughter of Caravaggio bursts from the gate in Saturday’s Grade 1, $700,000 Belmont Oaks at 1 1/4 miles at Belmont Park.

Trained by Joseph O’Brien, the son of internationally-acclaimed conditioner Aidan O’Brien, Agartha arrives stateside off a fifth-place finish in the Group 1 Irish 1000 Guineas on May 22 at The Curragh, which came on the heels of two runner-up finishes against Group 3 company at Leopardstown. 

Agartha set the tempo in the Irish 1000 Guineas under pressure from the elder O’Brien-trained Tuesday and maintained position in upper stretch. But the turn of foot from Moyglare Stud’s Homeless Songs proved superior over the County Kildare turf, with Agartha finishing two necks back of third-place returning rival Concert Hall.

“She was doing what was she was supposed to be doing,” said owner Scott Heider. “The filly in second [Tuesday], the rider got a little anxious and pulled the trigger early, therefore Agartha was on the front end. She ran a heck of a good race. The winner was not to be denied that day, but Agartha was not far off running second.”

Heider said the Irish 1000 Guineas effort prompted O’Brien to consider the Belmont Oaks.

“We had a decision to make: do we keep her over there and look for races in Europe, or do we look abroad?” Heider said. “Joseph has had some success in the states, including at Belmont. Even as far back as the week after the 1000 Guineas, he mentioned the Belmont Oaks as one of the possibilities. With the staying blood she has, I thought it would be great to have her come to the states. He has pointed her for this race since then.”

While her sire Caravaggio was known for his speed at shorter distances, Agartha possesses plenty of stamina through her maternal side. Her dam Arya Tara, by Dylan Thomas, was a stakes winner in Ireland going 1 3/4 miles and comes from the same family as The Aga Khan’s Group 1-winning stayers Azamour, Ansar, and Astarabad.

Heider mentioned his curiosity of Agartha’s long-distance capabilities during her juvenile campaign, when she captured the Group 3 Silver Flash at Leopardstown and the Group 2 Debutante at The Curragh, both at seven furlongs. 

“When you look at the family of Agartha, it’s just full of high class Group 1 and Group 2 winners. A vast majority were stayers, so there was a lot of stamina on the page,” Heider said. “The dam was Group 3-placed and was trained by Joseph. She was a true stayer. We always wondered what she could do at ages three and four with the stamina that she possesses. This year, we ran her twice in 1000 Guineas preps and ran second to two filles in each race that went on to be quite accomplished already. She was keeping awfully good company.”

Agartha will remain in the United States following the Belmont Oaks and travel upstate to Saratoga Race Course where O’Brien will have six stalls in his first major presence at a North American racetrack. 

“It’ll be exciting not only for us but for Saratoga race fans to have Joseph have a presence there with stakes horses,” Heider said. “We have a lot of faith in young Joseph. We just need to get lucky.”

O’Brien has previously found stateside prosperity with 2019 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf victress Iridessa; last year’s Grade 2 Belmont Gold Cup-winner Baron Samedi; as well as State of Rest, who captured last year’s Saratoga Derby Invitational ahead of a score in the Group 1 Cox’s Plate at Moonee Valley in Australia and a last out win in the Group 1 Prince of Wales at Royal Ascot. 

“We love watching Joseph work. He’s some kind of horseman,” Heider said. “The apple did not fall far from the tree. He’s had some success here. The Breeders’ Cup is back at Keeneland this year, so he’s got his eye on that. We’ve been with Joseph five years now. He’s not afraid to ship and move around. State of Rest has been a prime example of that going between Europe, Australia, New York, Ireland. He’s been fantastic at handicapping these races and picking spots. We’re excited and cautiously optimistic about the Belmont Oaks.”

Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, who piloted State of Rest to victory in the Saratoga Derby, will pick up the mount from post 9 at 10-1 morning line odds. 

***

Sy Dog ready to roll in G1 Belmont Derby; Divine Huntress to $135K Wilton

Trainer Graham Motion will hope to see Head of Plains Partners’ graded stakes-winner Sy Dog score the first Grade 1 victory of his career in Saturday’s $1 million Caesars Belmont Derby Invitational at Belmont Park. 

Sy Dog, by Slumber, arrives at the Belmont Derby from a third-place finish in the Grade 2 American Turf on May 7 at Churchill Downs where he was defeated just 2 1/4 lengths by returning foe Stolen Base after closing from ninth-of-10 under Irad Ortiz, Jr. It was the first loss for the dark bay, who was undefeated through his first three starts that included a gutsy triumph in the Grade 3 Transylvania in April at Keeneland. 

“We gave him plenty of time after his last race in order to point for the Belmont Derby,” said Motion. “I wasn’t crazy about running him back [in the American Turf] so quickly after the race at Keeneland. It was either that or we had to wait a couple of months. Irad left him alone early and I thought he made a really game effort to come running at the end. He was kind of unlucky not to get there. I think it was a solid effort over a turf course that’s been a little tricky.”

The 1 1/4-mile Belmont Derby will be the farthest Sy Dog has run in his career, and Motion said he believes the distance should suit him. 

“I think that’s what he wants. It’s what the stallion did,” Motion said of Slumber, who won the 10-furlong Grade 1 Manhattan at Belmont in 2015. “He acts like a horse that wants to. This is going to be a huge test – it’s a very good race.” 

The pace of the Belmont Derby could set up to Sy Dog’s liking with front-running Grade 2 Pennine Ridge winner Emmanuel and the prominent Classic Causeway looking to be the likely pacesetters. 

With Irad Ortiz, Jr. slated to ride Emmanuel in the Belmont Derby, Motion said he is hopeful Manny Franco will be able to work out a trip from post 7.

“There’s going to be a legitimate pace in there,” Motion said. “Manny is a good replacement and hopefully he gives a good account of himself.” 

The French-bred Royal Patronage will find himself in Motion’s barn once he completes his run in the Belmont Derby for trainer Charles Johnston. A bay Wootton Bassett colt, Royal Patronage posted wins in the Group 3 Acomb in August at York and Group 2 Royal Lodge in September at Newmarket. He enters the Belmont Derby from a distant off-the-board finish in the Group 1 Derby in June at Epsom. 

Motion said owner Highclere Thoroughbred Racing reached out to him about taking over training duties when they decided to give Royal Patronage an extended American campaign beyond the Belmont Derby. 

“After he runs, he’s coming back to Fair Hill with us,” Motion said. “I know the people at Highclere a little bit and they approached me when I was at Ascot and asked if I would be interested in taking him. He’s run plenty, so we’ve discussed possibly giving him a little break after this. But we’ll see how he feels after. He’s run some serious races and he’s a classy horse.” 

Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Long Valley Stables’ Divine Huntress will make her next start in the $135,000 Wilton on July 14 at Saratoga Race Course out of the newly-revived one-mile Wilson chute. She finished second last out to Matareya in the one-mile Grade 1 Acorn on June 11 at Belmont. 

The daughter of Diving Rod will get class relief after starting in four consecutive graded stakes, beginning with the Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra in February at Fair Grounds Race Course and most recently in the Acorn. She kicked off her sophomore campaign with an eye-catching 12 3/4-length romp in a first-level allowance at Parx Racing in January before her string of graded stakes starts. 

“It wasn’t really the race I was planning on, but it came up a very small field for a Grade 1 and I thought it was a huge opportunity,” Motion said of the Acorn. “She ran a game race and got a piece of it. We’ll probably come back in the Wilton. I think going a mile is more her trip.” 

Motion enjoyed a Grade 1 victory at Belmont this spring with Man o’ War victor Highland Chief, who stunned the field at odds of 19-1 in his second stateside outing. He followed with a good fourth-place finish in the Grade 1 Resorts World Casino Manhattan on June 11 going 1 1/4 miles and was just bested out of show honors by dual Grade 1-winner Gufo. 

The Gleneagles bay overcame a bumpy start and a three-wide trip around the final turn to run on gamely under Trevor McCarthy, who won his first career Grade 1 aboard Highland Chief in the Man o’ War. 

Motion said Highland Chief’s run in the Manhattan was better than it may appear on paper. 

“Coming back a month after the Man o’ War was not ideal, but again, we would have had to wait two months,” said Motion. 

Motion said Highland Chief could start in either the Grade 1 United Nations on July 23 at Monmouth Park or the Grade 2 Bowling Green at Saratoga on July 31, both at 1 3/8 miles, with the Grade 1, $750,000 Resorts World Casino Sword Dancer on August 27 as the main summer goal. 

“I’m a little torn between the United Nations and Bowling Green, but I think we’ll probably wind up coming to Saratoga,” Motion said. “I think he’ll appreciate a mile and three-eighths and a mile and a half more than the mile and a quarter. It’s more what he wants to do.” 

Motion also started the Exosphere gelding Easter to a fourth-place finish behind Highland Chief in the Man o’ War. Easter returned with a game runner-up effort in allowance company on June 30 at Belmont, closing from last-of-9 to come up 3 1/4-lengths shy of the Chad Brown trainee Balthus in the 1 3/8-mile test. 

Motion said that Easter could be more effective cutting back in distance. 

“I thought he ran really well. Obviously, Chad’s horse has got a real future, so I was very happy with his effort,” Motion said. “I would say we’ll take advantage of that allowance condition next. I’m not convinced he needs to go that far, so if there’s a mile and an eighth race, that would be ideal for him.” 

Owned by Madaket Stables, Easter earned a stakes placing in his native France at Saint Cloud when second in the Prix Omnium II last year. His other start this year was a third going 1 1/16 miles over firm Aqueduct turf in April for his American debut.


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NYRA Press Office

Trainer Ken McPeek has garnered plenty of knowledge and experience since starting his first runner in 1985. He’s known for his fearlessness when taking a gamble with his horses, like when he sent out Sarava to a shocking 70-1 victory in the 2002 Belmont Stakes for the dark bay’s first try against graded company, and more recently, scored a Grade 1 Preakness victory with upset filly Swiss Skydiver in 2020.