(War Like Goddess at Keeneland / Coady Media)

From the NYRA Media Team / Michael Adolphson:

Multiple Grade 1 winners War Like Goddess, Fev Rover and Didia top a classy renewal of Friday’s Grade 1, $750,000 New York presented by Rivers Casino, a 1 3/16-miles Mellon turf test for older fillies and mares, on Day Two of the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival at Saratoga Race Course.

With 12 Grade 1 wins or placings among them, the talented trio lead a competitive field of 13 that includes no less than a dozen graded-stakes winners and smart form on three continents.

Unraced since a 4 1/4-length seventh in a salty Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf renewal in November, George Krikorian’s Bill Mott-trained War Like Goddess [post 10, Junior Alvarado, 124 pounds] was never better than when successfully defending her Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic title, also against males, one effort prior.

Beaten favorite when sixth in last year’s New York, the 7-year-old daughter of English Channel owns a Saratoga record of 5-3-2-0 and seasonal bow mark of 3-for-4. Still, the 11-time victress must win at shorter than 11 furlongs for the first time since her nine-furlong debut in September 2020. She seeks to land her trainer a fourth New York and first since Riposte in 2014.

“She’s aged like fine wine,” Mott said. “When they get to this age, it’s one race at a time. As long as she’s willing to do it and she’s sound, we’ll continue on through the end of the year. Junior has won on her and he knows her now, which is good.”

A top-class performer all four of her seasons thus far, Tracy Farmer’s Mark Casse-conditioned Fev Rover [post 6, Javier Castellano, 124 pounds] also returns after a post-World Championships hiatus, having disappointed when 11th-of-12 in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf.

The 6-year-old daughter of Gutaifan won the Grade 2 Nassau, Grade 1 Beverly D. and Grade 1 E. P. Taylor last year but was unable to string together consecutive victories among her six races. Her lone Saratoga run was a third in last summer’s Grade 1 Diana behind the Chad Brown-trained pair of Whitebeam and In Italian.

“Her wins in the Beverly D. and E. P. Taylor were big races,” Casse said. “Her race at Saratoga in the Diana, she just got a little unlucky. I was disappointed with her effort in the Breeders’ Cup—she just didn’t show up. I don’t know why; she had trained really well into it. She’s training very well. She loves to train on the [Woodbine Racetrack] synthetic.”

Merriebelle Stables and Resolute Racing’s Ignacio Correas-trained Didia [post 3, Jose Ortiz, 122 pounds] brings ample class into the New York, having finished second in last year’s edition and third in the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley last out.

A dual Grade 1 winner in Argentina, she was a disappointing 10th in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf, an effort sandwiched by a pair of Grade 2 victories, including the Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf Invitational in January and Rodeo Drive in October.

“She’s doing great, and she shipped very well,” Correas said. “I think it’s a bigger field this year and there will be more pace, hopefully. Last time at Keeneland, the turf was a little soft for her and I don’t think she enjoyed it. She put forth a good effort to be third against very good fillies, but more than anything, to me, it was the surface. I think she’s the same or better than last year and could even improve again as the season goes, hopefully peaking with the Breeders’ Cup.”

Brown seeks his sixth New York in 10 editions when he saddles Klaravich Stables’ Grade 1 winner McKulick [post 1, Irad Ortiz, Jr., 122 pounds] and Grade 3-winning rising talent Royalty Interest [post 12, Eric Cancel, 120 pounds].

Seth Klarman, principal of Klaravich, won the race last year with Marketsegmentation. McKulick, who was third that day, has flourished at The Spa, including a debut victory in August 2021, taking the Grade 2 Glens Falls last summer and a pair of graded placings. The six-time winner from 16 starts enters off a fourth as favorite in the Grade 3 Sheepshead Bay behind front-running Royalty Interest at the Big A on May 3.

Brown said he was puzzled by the Sheepshead Bay effort from McKulick, who kickstarted her current campaign with a half-length win over returning rival Surprisingly in the 12-furlong Grade 3 Orchid on March 30 at Gulfstream Park.

“She’s been a pretty consistent horse for us and started her season off well, but she just didn’t fire last time,” Brown said. “I know the pacemaker, Royalty Interest, made all the fractions and won—which was nice to see—but she was initially in there to hope to get a piece, not be a rabbit. Still, I don’t know what happened [with McKulick]. She came out of the race pretty good, had a great work yesterday and has shown an affinity for Saratoga, so I don’t think she has any excuses here.

“The distance may be a little tight for her, but she’s won here when she was younger and maybe what she needs is a little more pace and a two-turn race,” added Brown. “Her kick might get diluted going three turns. I want to switch it up with her a little bit. She’s better with [softer ground] and with the forecast, it’s hard to imagine there won’t be at least some moisture in the ground.”

Brown said Royalty Interest, a 4-year-old Le Havre filly, is on the up.

“She is one of those horses who has speed, and we can use her to make the pace, but she’s also got enough quality about her and staying power in her pedigree to really give you more when they start coming at her heels,” Brown said.

Overseas trainers Joseph O’Brien and Charlie Appleby are proven commodities in New York Grade 1s, especially at Saratoga, and each present strong respective contenders in American Sonja [post 5, Frankie Dettori, 120 pounds] and English Rose [post 2, William Buick, 122 pounds].

Owned by Mark Dobbin, the former has been consistent for O’Brien, placing fourth or better in all 12 runs, including a strong last-out victory over soft ground in late April’s Group 3 Prix Allez France at Paris-Longchamp. She was a respectable second in last year’s boggy Grade 3 Saratoga Oaks Invitational renewal.

“I’m looking forward to running American Sonja, as she’s run well at the track before,” said O’Brien, whose father Aidan trained his 10th Group 1 Epsom Derby winner on Saturday with City of Troy. “She’s come back this year better than ever and takes her racing very well. We’re hopeful for a good run.”

A 4-year-old blue-blooded Godolphin homebred by Frankel out of Group 1 winner Sobetsu, English Rose makes her second stateside start after a 1 1/2-length second as the 8/5 favorite in the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley.

The three-time winner was impressive when taking February’s Group 2 Balanchine at Meydan over nine furlongs. An improving sort, her Racing Post Ratings have ascended with each of her five starts.

“English Rose had a nice solid first run at Keeneland in the Jenny Wiley,” Appleby said. “She has good form this winter in Dubai, winning the Balanchine.”

Chris Connett, Appleby’s assistant and head traveling lad, added: “She’s a versatile filly who can go a mile or stretch out. The race down at Keeneland, she was a little bit keen, but I think that’s down to being at a new place, new track and new style of racing. Hopefully, now she is settled into the American ways and we’ll see her relaxing into the race and really be able to finish.”

Glen Hill Farm and Mrs. John Magnier’s Aspen Grove [post 4, Tyler Gaffalione, 124 pounds] returns to New York for the first time since a pair of 2023 efforts that begat a Grade 1 Belmont Oaks Invitational victory in early July and a fifth against males in the Saratoga Derby Invitational four weeks later.

Three winless subsequent starts have yielded a pair of placings, including a respectable second in her seasonal debut, the Grade 2 Hillsborough at Tampa Bay Downs for trainer Jack Sisterson.

“The Hillsborough didn’t really set up for her, but she ran a good race considering that,” Sisterson said. “It was like a French-run race. They went so slow early and sprinted home. I’m very pleased with the way she’s trained from 3-to-4. You’re always curious off a layoff if they’ve trained on, but she’s done that.”

Repole Stable’s Todd Pletcher-trained Surprisingly [Flavien Prat, post 13, 120 pounds] seeks a first victory in her fourth start since joining the yard of her Hall of Fame conditioner, previously running 12 times for Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, including a victory in the 2023 Grade 3 Endeavour. Second in both McKulick’s Orchid and Didia’s Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf Invitational, she exits an unlucky run when seventh in the Grade 3 Modesty on May 3 at Churchill Downs.

“She is coming along great after the [Modesty],” Pletcher said. “Unfortunately, we had a really bad trip. She didn’t jump well and got steadied a couple times going by the stands the first time. The pace was very slow and it was one of those things where nothing went right in the race. We need a better trip, and she needs to break more alertly and put herself in a better position. I think she can definitely rebound. Trip handicappers would draw a line through that last one, I think.”

Dual New York winner Graham Motion enters Augustin Stable and Catherine Park’s Sparkle Blue [Jorge Ruiz, post 9, 122 pounds], a six-time winner from 16 starts who was second in the Modesty and won the aforementioned Hillsborough. Making her Saratoga debut, she hopes to give George Strawbridge’s Augustin Stables its first New York since Annie Edge in 1984.

“I was a little surprised how far back we ended up the other day [in the Modesty], but Jorge rides her very well,” Motion said. “At Tampa [in the Hillsborough], there was no pace in the race at all, so it’s not a surprise she ended up on the lead. I left that up to Jorge, but we thought she might be there in a paceless race. She’s very adaptable and I think the added distance will only help her on Friday. It’s a Grade 1 and we’re taking a shot.”

Motion pupil Mean Mary won both her New York renewals [2020-21] in wire-to-wire fashion.

Twice Grade 1-placed Be Your Best [Kendrick Carmouche, post 8, 118 pounds], winner of the Listed P. G. Johnson over the Saratoga green in 2022, enters off a fourth in the Grade 2 Buena Vista on March 3 at Santa Anita.

Winless since her Spa tally, she has put forth strong efforts in top company, including a second in December’s Grade 1 American Oaks. Horacio De Paz trains for Michael J. Ryan.

John D. Gunther and Eurowest Bloodstock Services’ Star Fortress [Luis Saez, post 11, 120 pounds] was a rallying head short of Royalty Interest in the Sheepshead Bay.

Conditioned by Cherie DeVaux, she has made four unsuccessful stateside starts since her 10-length drubbing of November’s Grade 3 Cardinal at Churchill Downs, all of which followed a two-season, seven-start English campaign that yielded a sole victory.

Rounding out the field is Neecie Marie [Joel Rosario, post 7, 120 pounds], who enters in top form, having landed her first graded stakes in the Grade 3 Beaugay last out at the Big A and earning a career-best 93 Beyer Speed Figure in the process.

Second in the Grade 2 Sands Point and Grade 3 Jockey Club Oaks Invitational last year, the Pennsylvania-based Butch Reid, Jr. pupil and daughter of 2013 Grade 1 Whitney winner Cross Traffic makes her Saratoga debut.

The Grade 1, $750,000 New York presented by Rivers Casino is tabbed as Race 11 on Friday’s 12-race card which co-features the Grade 1, $500,000 Just a Game in Race 10, the Grade 1, $500,000 DK Horse Acorn in Race 12, and the Grade 2, $200,000 Intercontinental presented by MTV Solutions in Race 9. First post is 12:20 p.m. Eastern.

America’s Day at the Races will present daily coverage and analysis of the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival at Saratoga Race Course on the networks of FOX Sports. For the complete broadcast schedule, visit https://www.belmontstakes.com/event-info/tv-schedu….