May 25, 2024

Santa Barbara heads eight in Belmont Oaks

Athena winning the 2018 Belmont Oaks with Ryan Moore (Photo by NYRA/Coglianese/Susie Raisher)

Runner-up in the June 27 Pretty Polly (G1) at the Curragh, Santa Barbara will make her fourth consecutive Grade/Group 1 start when she lines up for Saturday’s $700,000 Belmont Oaks. The classy Coolmore homebred is one of three international raiders in the 1 1/4-mile turf affair for three-year-old fillies.

Aidan O’Brien, who teamed with Coolmore to win the 2018 Belmont Oaks with Athena, trains Santa Barbara, and go-to rider Ryan Moore will be to guide. The same connections also have the probable Belmont Derby (G1) favorite, Bolshoi Ballet, two races later on the program.

The Belmont Oaks kicks off the Turf Triple series for fillies in New York. It’s followed by the $700,000 Saratoga Oaks (G1) on Aug. 8 and $700,000 Jockey Club Oaks (G1) at Belmont Park on Sept. 18.

Santa Barbara, an Irish-bred daughter of Camelot, opened 2021 with a close fourth in the English 1000 Guineas (G1). She didn’t handle the soft ground in the Epsom Oaks (G1) next out, but rebounded with a commendable neck second to four-year-old rival Thundering Nights in the 1 1/4-mile Pretty Polly.

Cirona ships in from France for conditioner Christophe Ferland. A neck second in the Prix Saint-Alary (G1) at Longchamp two back, the Group 3 winner will add the services of Jose Lezcano. Nazuna, runner-up in the June 5 Princess Elizabeth (G3) at Epsom, will make her second start of the year for Roger Varian. John Velazquez picks up the mount.

A total of eight fillies are entered. Gam’s Mission, who stretched her win streak to three when taking the May 29 Regret (G3) at Churchill Downs, will try to continue her ascension in the three-year-old filly turf ranks. Cherie DeVaux trains the daughter of Noble Mission for owner/breeder Lazy F Ranch.

Con Lima and Plum Ali, 1-2 in the June 3 Wonder Again (G3) at Belmont Park, are also part of the domestic contingent. Higher Truth, who has won two straight for five-time Belmont Oaks winner Chad Brown, will make her stakes debut, and Regret runner-up Spanish Loveaffair rounds out the field.