(Aspen Grove headlines Friday’s G3 Saratoga Oaks Invitational / Photo by Chelsea Durand & Courtesy of NYRA)
From the NYRA Media Team:
Grade 1 Fasig-Tipton Belmont Oaks Invitational victress Aspen Grove, bred and co-owned by Glen Hill Farm with Mrs. John Magnier, will look to double up on graded scores in Friday’s Grade 3, $400,000 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Oaks Invitational, a 1 3/16-mile Mellon turf test for sophomore fillies, at Saratoga Race Course.
The Saratoga Oaks is the middle 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 concludes with the 11-furlong Grade 3, $350,000 Fasig-Tipton Jockey Club Oaks Invitational on September 16 at Belmont at the Big A.
Trained by James “Fozzy” Stack, Aspen Grove took the opening leg of the Turf Triple series with a determined three-quarter-length triumph in the Belmont Oaks, rallying from 4 1/2 lengths under returning pilot Oisin Murphy to collar the pace-setting Prerequisite in the final stages and complete the course in a final time of 2:04.09. She garnered an 86 Beyer Speed Figure for the effort, which was her first start outside of Europe.
“She seems like she’s done well since her last race,” said Craig Bernick of Glen Hill Farm. “You always worry when they come over how they’re going to adapt, but she obviously did fine at Belmont and it’s gone according to plan in her training since she’s been there. We’re looking forward to running her again.”
Bernick said he is hopeful a quicker tempo will develop on Friday.
“I thought she did well in that last race because it was such a slow pace and there were a lot of horses in front of her,” Bernick said. “She did well with that setup. At Saratoga, the race is a little shorter and usually they go a little quicker. Hopefully, there’s a truer pace because it’s always a better race when there’s a good gallop.”
Prior to the Belmont Oaks, Aspen Grove was a Group 3 winner in the Newtownanner Stud Irish EBF in August at The Curragh when ridden by the now-retired Mark Enright. The veteran jockey has helped care for the filly in her travels, and made the journey to both Belmont and Saratoga to help her settle and prepare for her American endeavors.
Bernick praised the work of Enright in managing her care as he assists the Irish-based Stack.
“Mark Enright traveled with the filly and the thought was if she won, Mark would stay with her and handle her for Fozzy in New York for an American campaign,” said Bernick. “Mark has been with her the whole time and she’s had a good preparation, so hopefully she’ll be able to do it again.”
Murphy will look to engineer a winning ride from post 10.
Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse holds a strong hand in Belmont Oaks third-place finisher Papilio [post 7, Javier Castellano] and graded stakes-winner Solo Album [post 1, Jose Ortiz].
D.J. Stable, Medallion Racing, Barry Fowler and Parkland Thoroughbreds’ Papilio was trained by Stack for her first five races in Ireland, including a close runner-up effort in the Churchill in August at Tipperary. She made her first outing for Casse with a narrow head defeat in the Grade 3 Herecomesthebride in March at Gulfstream Park and followed with her first graded triumph by a neck in the Grade 2 Appalachian in April at Keeneland.
“She’s kind of unassuming,” said Casse. “But since we got her on the turf down at Palm Meadows, my assistant Nick Tomlinson said, ‘This one’s pretty good.’ We had a pretty good idea before we even ran.”
Papilio entered the Belmont Oaks from close efforts in graded events at Churchill Downs when fourth in the Grade 2 Edgewood and second in the Grade 3 Regret. She stumbled badly at the start of the Oaks, causing Hall of Fame rider Javier Castellano to lose an iron and considerable position heading into the first turn. Despite her troubles, Papilio rallied strongly in the final stages to finish third just one length back of Aspen Grove.
“She stumbled so hard and then the pace wasn’t extremely fast,” said Casse. “She proved a lot to me that day. It’s one thing when you close into a fast pace, but when you have the ability to run past horses like she did around the turn – she had a tremendous turn of foot. She could wind up being a very good horse.”
Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Gary Barber and Steven Rocco’s Solo Album took six tries to break her maiden, but passed her first test against winners with flying colors when posting a dominant 6 1/4-length romp in the Grade 3 Selene on July 1 over Tapeta at Woodbine. There, she pounced from sixth-of-9 to coast home under Sahin Civaci and earn a field-best 92 Beyer.
Solo Album has earned both her wins over the Tapeta at Woodbine, and finished off-the-board in her lone outings on dirt and turf. Casse had mulled over a return to dirt for Solo Album in the Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama on August 19 at the Spa due to its 10-furlong distance, but decided to race the daughter of Curlin on the lawn after a lackluster five-furlong breeze in 1:01.33 over the Spa’s main track Wednesday.
“I was considering the Alabama, but I worked her on the dirt and I’m just hoping she’s Tapeta and turf,” said Casse. “She definitely is Tapeta. We’ll see. She’ll enjoy the distance of the Oaks.”
Trainer Joseph O’Brien also brings a pair of contenders in European invaders American Sonja [post 8, Joel Rosario] and Caroline Street [post 2, Tyler Gaffalione], who both make their U.S. debut.
Mark Dobbin’s American Sonja finished a game third in the Group 3 Darley Irish EBF Brownstown on July 12 sprinting seven furlongs over good footing at Fairyhouse. The daughter of Tasleet stretches out considerably after making 5-of-7 lifetime outings at sprint distances, her farthest races coming in a pair of one-mile events when winning the Prix Volterra in June at Longchamp and finishing a close fourth in the Group 3 Cornelscourt in May at Leopardstown.
Marc Detampel and Michael Buckley’s Caroline Street enters from a distant off-the-board effort in the Group 1 Prix de Diane Longines traveling 1 5/16 miles over good-to-soft footing in June at Chantilly. The No Nay Never dark bay scored two starts back in the 10-furlong Group 3 Blue Wind at Naas and finished a game second to the well-regarded Auguste Rodin in the Group 3 KPMG Champions Juvenile in September at Leopardstown.
Courtlandt Farm’s Allamericanbeauty looks to return to the win column for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey on the heels of a troubled fifth-place finish in the Grade 2 Wonder Again on June 11 at Belmont. The daughter of Into Mischief was forced to steady heading into the first turn of the nine-furlong route and could not make up enough ground late to reel in the victorious Prerequisite.
McGaughey said some immaturity may have contributed to Allamericanbeauty’s traffic troubles last out, prompting him to add blinkers for Friday’s engagement.
“I thought her last race was pretty good,” said McGaughey. “She’s still a little green and was looking around a little bit. I put blinkers on her and I think that – and racing – will help. In the morning, she can still be a little bit green and get to looking at things. I think the blinkers and the distance will help her.”
Allamericanbeauty was a winner two starts back in a first-level allowance at Keeneland where she rallied from 10th-of-11 to land a determined half-length victory under Frankie Dettori. Her other try at graded level was an even fifth-place finish in the Grade 3 Florida Oaks in March at Tampa Bay Downs.
Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez picks up the mount from post 5.
Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Madaket Stables’ Selenaia streaks in off three victories for conditioner Jonathan Thomas, including a last-out score in the Grade 3 Honeymoon on June 10 at Santa Anita Park. The daughter of Sea the Moon graduated at second asking in September and followed with a tidy 1 3/4-length allowance score eight months later at Horseshoe Indianapolis ahead of her stakes debut in the Honeymoon.
Thomas said Selenaia’s positive works off the layoff and her allowance coup prompted him to try her in stakes company in the Honeymoon, where she bested seven rivals by 3 1/4 lengths under Joe Bravo.
“She’s kind of been touting herself for the last couple of months and she put a couple of very good works together and it gave us enough confidence to put her on a plane and go to Santa Anita,” said Thomas. “Thankfully, she showed up. I like the fact that she’s got the ability to rate and finish it.”
Irad Ortiz, Jr. has been tasked with the ride from post 9.
Completing the talented field are Group 1-placed Elusive Princess [post 3, Flavien Prat] for conditioner Jean-Philippe Dubois; the Phil Bauer-trained stakes-winner Xigera [post 4, Julien Leparoux]; the multiple graded stakes-placed Saffie Joseph, Jr. trainee Honor D Lady [post 6, Manny Franco]; and two-time winner Strikingly Spun [post 11, Luis Saez] for trainer Joe Sharp.
The Saratoga Oaks is slated as Race 7 on Friday’s 11-race program, which also features the Grade 2, $500,000 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame in Race 8. First post is 1:10 p.m. Eastern.
Saratoga Live will present live coverage and analysis of the Saratoga Race Course summer meet on the networks of FOX Sports. For the broadcast schedule and channel finder, visit https://www.nyra.com/saratoga/racing/tv-schedule/.