From the NYRA Media Team:

Arindel homebred Key Biscayne will look to continue her improving speed figures when she makes her Grade 1 debut in Saturday’s $250,000 Belmont Oaks Invitational, a 10-furlong inner turf test for sophomore fillies at Belmont Park.

The Belmont Oaks Invitational is the first of seven Grade 1 events during the 27-day fall meet, which kicks off on Friday and runs through Sunday, November 1.

Trained by Juan Alvarado, the Brethren chestnut is listed at 8-1 odds on the morning line, the longest shot on the board in a compact but talented field of five.

Alvarado said Key Biscayne, the field’s most experienced runner with a record of 10-2-2-2, is maturing with each start.

“She’s doing very well. The longer the distance the better for her,” said Alvarado. “Now that she’s 3-years-old coming on 4-years-old, she’s developing a more athletic body. Now, she looks like a 3-year-old and not like a baby. She’s getting stronger with more races.”

The Florida-bred captured a restricted off-the-turf maiden event in May at Gulfstream Park that garnered a 56 Beyer Speed Figure and followed up three weeks later at the Hallandale Beach oval with a smart 1 1/2-length score in a one-mile optional-claiming event for state-breds that earned a 76 Beyer over a turf course rated good.

Following a fourth in an open optional-claiming turf event in June at Gulfstream, Key Biscayne shipped to Saratoga in the care of assistant trainer Heather Smullen for a productive summer campaign that included a rallying fourth in the Grade 2 Lake Placid, defeated 1 3/4 lengths to Speaktomeofsummer in the nine-furlong turf tilt on July 19.

Last out, Key Biscayne earned a career-best 83 Beyer when closing for third in the Saratoga Oaks Invitational when three lengths back of Belmont Oaks rival Antoinette over a distance of 1 3/16-miles on the Spa turf on August 16.

Key Biscayne worked a bulled five-eighths in 1:00.20 on September 13 on the Belmont inner turf in her final Belmont Oaks prep.

“She handled the turf nicely,” said Smullen. “It doesn’t seem to matter if the turf has a little bit of give in it or if it’s firm. She runs over whatever you ask her to which is convenient if we get more rain today.

“She’s done really well here,” added Smullen. “She enjoyed Saratoga where it was nice and quiet and Belmont is the same, it’s big and open and quiet. She seems to have put on weight and matured and is doing really well. Hopefully, we’ll get a bit of luck tomorrow.”

Alvarado said returning rider Manny Franco will likely need to have Key Biscayne closer to the pace on Saturday to be effective, a racing style the filly hasn’t utilized since competing with blinkers on earlier in her career at Gulfstream in maiden turf sprints.

“This filly will need to be a bit closer to the pace with five horses in the race and if she closes strongly, she can do it. A stronger pace would be better for her,” said Alvarado. “It’s good to have Manny back aboard. She has a big chance.”

Smullen noted that the removal of blinkers and addition of cheek pieces brought consistency to the filly’s performances.

“With the blinkers, she used to run off and stop,” said Smullen. “We put cheek pieces on her because I felt it kept her a little more focused without getting as aggressive as the blinkers do.

“A lot depends on the pace,” continued Smullen with regard to Saturday’s test. “If they go around there in 24, she’ll be up close to the pace and if they go in 22, she’ll be three to four lengths off of it. There’s two horses in there that look like they might want to go together, so she could sit third but you have to wait and see how they break.”

Smullen said Key Biscayne has matured over the summer.

“I brought her up to Saratoga and I’ve been the one galloping her up until now. Mentally, she’s going in the right direction,” said Smullen. “She’s turning into an older horse. She was very immature early on and a little bit erratic, but she seems to have leveled out nicely now.”

Smullen and Franco have proven to be a winning combination at the highest level in New York with the Barclay Tagg-trained Tiz the Law. Smullen was aboard the Grade 1 Runhappy Travers winner for many of his morning breezes with Franco taking over in the irons in the afternoon.

Smullen said she has every confidence Franco will be able provide a winning trip.

“Manny has ridden her the last two starts and he know she has a long, sustained run,” said Smullen. “She doesn’t have a fast quarter of a mile, she’s a driver and he knows where that puts him now. Manny is a very good rider and does a great job with both turf and dirt horses.”

Key Biscayne will emerge from post 3 on Saturday in a field that includes Setting the Mood [post 1, Luis Saez], Magic Attitude [post 2, Javier Castellano], Neige Blanche [post 4, Jose Lezcano], and Antoinette [post 5, John Velazquez].

The Belmont Oaks Invitational is slated as Race 5 on Saturday’s 10-race program, which offers a first post of 1:00 p.m. Eastern. America’s Day at the Races will present daily television coverage of the 27-day fall meet on FOX Sports and MSG Networks. For the complete America’s Day at the Races broadcast schedule, and additional programming information, visit https://www.nyra.com/belmont/racing/tv-schedule.


Setting the Mood seeks breakthrough victory in Belmont Oaks (G1)

Paul Pompa Jr.’s Setting the Mood will make a steep step up in class when she takes on stakes action for the first time in Saturday’s Grade 1 Belmont Oaks.

Trained by Todd Pletcher, Setting the Mood arrives at her stakes debut off a second place finish in a Saratoga allowance event going 1 3/8 miles over the inner turf, where she was brushed coming out of the gate, controlled the pace throughout most of the journey but was a head short of victory to Cap de Creus. The sophomore daughter of second-crop stallion Lea displayed stalking tactics in her prior effort going 1 ¼ miles at Belmont Park, sitting third before taking command in the stretch, but was passed by Hungry Kitten.

Still in search of her first triumph on grass, Setting the Mood broke her maiden in an off-the-turf event at Gulfstream Park in May.

“She’s definitely a long distance filly,” Pompa, Jr. said. “She ran well in her last start. It’s a short field, so it made sense for Todd to put her in there. We’ll see how much talent she has.”

Setting the Mood will be squaring off against recent Saratoga Oaks-winner Antionette as well as Group 1-placed European invader Magic Attitude.

“There is a first time European in there, but it’s a short field,” Pompa, Jr. said. “Todd and I talked about it and sometimes you just have to take a shot. If she hits the board, she has a Grade 1 placing on her resume. If she gets lucky, she wins the whole thing.”

Setting the Mood will break from the rail under jockey Luis Saez, who will attempt to replicate his winning form from Saratoga, where he rode nine stakes winners and finished fourth in the standings with 45 wins.

“She had the rail the last time and she got bottled up, so we’ll have to be a little more aggressive,” said Pompa, Jr. “He’s a top rider and a good human being. He always does well on my horses.

Last Saturday, Pompa, Jr.’s multiple graded stakes winner Regal Glory added another high level stakes win to her ledger when taking the Grade 1 Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf on September 16. The Chad Brown-trained daughter of Animal Kingdom notched her first victory since dead-heating with Varenka in last year’s Grade 2 Lake Placid at Saratoga.

While Regal Glory successfully scored another stakes win, Turned Aside was fifth as the beaten favorite in the Grade 3 Franklin-Simpson on September 16 at Kentucky Downs.

“Regal Glory can run on anything and she’s a classy filly,” Pompa, Jr said. “Turned Aside didn’t like the track at all. Going downhill, he was out of his element and he still only lost by 2 ½ lengths. When you go to Kentucky Downs, some horses love it and other don’t like it. He was the favorite and the second and third choices ran at the back.”

Pompa, Jr. said he would regroup with trainer Linda Rice regarding a next start for Turned Aside, who won the Grade 3 Quick Call at Saratoga in his previous start.

“We’ll see how he comes it and we’ll speak to Linda and pick a spot for him,” Pompa, Jr. said. “One thing is that if he comes out it well, he probably gained a lot of fitness going up and down those hills.”


Sweet Bye and Bye on target for Noble Damsel (G3)

Joseph M. Imbesi’s Sweet Bye and Bye earned a career-best 94 Beyer Speed Figure for her win by a neck in a one-mile turf contest for optional claimers on August 26 at Saratoga. That effort inspired trainer Tony Dutrow to return the 5-year-old Sky Mesa mare to stakes company, where she will target the Grade 3, $100,000 Noble Damsel going the same distance over Belmont Park’s Widener turf course a week from Saturday.

Sweet Bye and Bye ran third in the Caress on August 1 at Saratoga, rallying from sixth in the 10-horse field to finish just a half-length behind winner Cariba in the 5 ½-furlong sprint. After stretching her out, Dutrow said he was encouraged to keep the Pennsylvania homebred at the same distance for a return to stakes company.

Last month, Sweet Bye and Bye edged the Chad Brown-trained Blowout by a neck in an exciting finish to the wire, just getting the better of the English-bred who had finished second or third in four graded stakes races. Coming in third was stakes-winner Catch a Bid.

“We’re very happy with how she’s doing,” Dutrow said. “We didn’t like the 5 ½ furlongs, but it was time to get her started. Then, when the race filled at the end of August, it was good for us. We were fortunate to get that race to fill, we just didn’t know it would be that tough. We didn’t know it was going to be like a stakes race, so when she ran so well there, it gave us confidence to go forward to the Noble Damsel.”

Sweet Bye and Bye started her career with Dutrow, running third in her debut in July 2017 at the Spa. She was then transferred to the Pennsylvania-based Steve Klesaris, who conditioned her to six wins while racing predominantly at Parx. Among her best efforts included a second-place finish in the Grade 3 Athenia last October over the Belmont turf.

“I think the connections did the right thing by taking her in her 3-year-old year to Parx and getting her career going and winning some nice Pennsylvania-bred races,” Dutrow said. “Steve Klesaris has been a good friend for many years and I think he did a fantastic job with her. The owner-breeder, Joseph Imbesi, gave her back to us at the beginning of this year to hopefully win a graded stakes with her.”

Sweet Bye and Bye has consistently hit the board, with a 7-3-3 record in 16 career starts and earnings of $408,550. She started her 3-year-old year with five consecutive victories at Parx in 2018 and has handled open company as well, winning at 1 1/16 miles at Belmont in September 2019 and running second in her other two appearances at the Elmont-based track.

“We feel that she’s deserving to face some very good horses,” Dutrow said. “We’ll see how it goes. But she couldn’t be doing much better. She’s run some big races on the Belmont turf course, so of course we’re looking forward to running her in the Noble Damsel.”

Blowout is listed as a probable for the Noble Damsel, as well as Atomic Blonde, Chaleur, Feel Glorious, Getmotherarose, Lucky Stride and Noor Sahara.


Future plans for Ballagh Rocks, Arklow still to be determined

Owner Jerry Crawford of Donegal Racing said he was pleasantly surprised with the upset effort posted by Ballagh Rocks in the Lure on Closing Day at Saratoga Race Course, where he defeated a compact field which included three other stakes winners on September 7.

Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, the son of Stormy Atlantic tracked the pace in second and drew off in the stretch to a 2 ¼ length victory under Junior Alvarado, collecting his seventh victory in 24 lifetime starts.

The veteran 7-year-old won the Grade 3 Poker over the Widener turf at Belmont in June 2017 and raced for a $62,500 tag in his two starts prior to the Lure, both of which were runner-up placings against optional claiming company.

“I think he surprised both Bill and myself,” Crawford said. “We actually gave some thought of scratching because the race was pretty tough. He got a perfect trip, a great ride and when he stalked the horse in front of him and took off, the others weren’t able to close much ground.”

Crawford said he was unsure as to where Ballagh Rocks would make his next start.

“Bill and I started that conversation [Wednesday] and we aren’t sure yet,” Crawford said.

Owned by Donegal Racing and Madaket Stable, Ballagh Rocks is out of the Sadler’s Wells mare Bells Are Ringing – a half-sister to the late prolific stallion Unbridled’s Song.

The fun continued the following week for Crawford, when Arklow successfully notched a repeat win in the Grade 3 Kentucky Turf Cup on September 12 at Kentucky Downs besting last year’s winner Zulu Alpha. Trained by Brad Cox, the 6-year-old son of Arch, who won last year’s Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont Park, won the 2018 Kentucky Turf Cup, and sported blinkers for the 12-furlong event, which Crawford said was highly instrumental.

“The addition of blinkers really made all the difference and I give Brad credit for that,” Crawford said. “Coming into the race, I thought Zulu Alpha was the best distance turf horse in North America but given the result we belong in the same conversations.”

Crawford said Arklow could train up to the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf on November 7 at Keeneland.

“For the last three days we’ve been talking about that,” Crawford said. “We haven’t made a final decision. If we had to decide today, he might train up to the Breeders’ Cup.”

Owned by Donegal Racing in partnership with Peter Coneway and Joseph Bulger, Arklow has won four graded stakes in a 29-race career while amassing lifetime earnings of $2,466,116.

Crawford said he takes pride in owning two seasoned veterans that are still competing at a high level.

“I love it. I think it’s great for racing. It’s a little easier to do with turf runners than dirt runners,’ said Crawford. “It’s great for the sport and good for fans to get to know horses and watching them continue to run well.”

Crawford also spoke of Shamrocket, who was recently third in the Dueling Grounds Derby at Kentucky Downs for trainer Christophe Clement. The consistent son of Tonalist, who broke his maiden at Belmont Park going a mile and a quarter on the turf, could target the Grade 1, $300,000 Hollywood Derby on November 29 at Del Mar.

“He had a little bit of a slight bone bruise on his left front, so we’ve given him a few days,” Crawford said. “He’s all clear from the vets to return to racing. It might be tough to find the right race for him, but the Hollywood Derby is a possibility.”


Cross Country Pick 5 returns on Saturday

The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) will host the first Cross Country Pick 5 of the Belmont Park fall meet on Saturday, teaming with Monmouth Park and Woodbine Racetrack, which will be hosting its lucrative Woodbine Mile Day card.

Live coverage will be available with America’s Day at the Races on FOX Sports and MSG Networks. Free Equibase past performances for the Cross Country Pick 5 sequence are now available for download at https://www.nyra.com/belmont/racing/cross-country-wagers.

The multi-race sequence kicks off in Race 7 at Belmont Park [4:08 p.m. Eastern] with a full field of maiden juvenile fillies traveling one-mile on the Widener turf.

The second leg, Race 7 from Woodbine at 4:27 p.m., is the Grade 3, $125,000 Singspiel going 1 1/4 miles on the turf for 3-year-olds and up. A field of 10 is led by multiple graded-stakes winner Tiz a Slam.

Monmouth will host the third leg with a 1 3/8-mile turf route in Race 10 at 4:41 p.m. A full field of 12, with two also-eligibles, will feature in the starter handicap for 3-year-olds and up.

Action returns to Belmont for the penultimate leg [Race 9, 5:14 p.m.], a seven-furlong turf sprint for New York-breds that boasts a field of 10.

The Grade 1, $1 million Woodbine Mile will conclude the wager in Race 9 at 5:39 p.m. with War of Will, the 2019 Grade 1 Preakness winner, looking to win a second Grade 1 on turf in addition to his victory in an American Classic. The Woodbine Mile is a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Mile in November at Keeneland.

The minimum bet for the multi-track, multi-race wager is 50 cents. Wagering on the Cross Country Pick 5 is also available on ADW platforms and at simulcast facilities across the country. Every week will feature a mandatory payout of the net pool.

The Cross Country Pick 5 will continue each Saturday throughout the year. For more information, visit NYRABets.com.

Cross Country Pick 5 – Saturday, September 19:
Leg 1 – Belmont, Race 7: (4:08 p.m.)
Leg 2 – Woodbine, Race 7: G3 Singspiel (4:27 p.m.)
Leg 3 – Monmouth, Race 10: (4:41 p.m.)
Leg 4 – Belmont, Race 9: (5:14 p.m.)
Leg 5 – Woodbine, Race 9: G1 Woodbine Mile (5:39 p.m.)