February 22, 2024

Con Lima must deal with Creative Flair, Rocky Sky in Saratoga Oaks

Con Lima wins the Wonder Again Stakes (Chelsea Durand/Coglianese Photos)

Belmont Oaks (G1) winner Santa Barbara is awaiting the Aug. 14 Beverly D. S. (G1), but her form is well represented in Sunday’s $700,000 Saratoga Oaks (G3). Con Lima, who nearly wired the Belmont Oaks, renews rivalry with the respective third through fifth-placers while facing a few newcomers to the series. Most interesting in that category are Godolphin’s British shipper Creative Flair and Chad Brown’s Irish recruit Rocky Sky.

Saratoga Oaks – Race 9 (5:39 p.m. ET)

Con Lima, never worse than second in seven turf starts, has maintained her form all season. Busy at Gulfstream Park early in the year, she captured the Herecomesthebride (G3) (via disqualification) as well as the Ginger Brew and Honey Ryder. The Todd Pletcher trainee continued her productivity at Belmont Park, taking the June 3 Wonder Again (G3) before beating all but Santa Barbara in the July 10 Belmont Oaks.

Pletcher believes that Con Lima’s aptitude for Gulfstream bodes well for her at the Spa.

“It’s not obvious in her pedigree, but obviously she’s performed well over the grass,” the incoming Hall of Famer told NYRA publicity. “She appreciates the tighter turns at Saratoga like she did at Gulfstream. She’s doing well and we’re looking forward to trying it again. She just continues to step up. She’s been super consistent and gives a good effort every time.

“She seemed to really like Gulfstream, which is a tighter course, so maybe that will work in her favor here. If she continues to run her races the way she has been, she should be able to get one of (these).”

Con Lima’s tactical speed is also a plus in the 1 3/16-mile test. Jockey Flavien Prat figures to have her forwardly placed from post 5.

Higher Truth, third most of the way in the Belmont Oaks, rallied to miss second by just a nose. Considering that was her stakes debut for Brown, the Irish-bred daughter of Galileo is entitled to keep progressing.

“She got a great trip and was right there. I was proud of her effort,” Brown said. “She’s a horse that continues to improve, so we should be in good shape. Moving forward as far as her development, I really like what I see. She’s a distance horse, absolutely.”

Gam’s Mission and Plum Ali were beaten a couple of lengths in fourth and fifth, respectively, with an unfavorable race shape in the Belmont Oaks. The closers would appreciate the possibility of more pace support at the Spa. Two back, Gam’s Mission swept to victory in the Regret S. (G3), and Grade 2 veteran Plum Ali was a hard-charging second, just a half-length shy of Con Lima, in the Wonder Again.

Creative Flair promises to be part of that pace in her first stateside tilt. The Charlie Appleby trainee was a frontrunning winner of the June 10 Abingdon S. at Newbury before almost wiring the July 18 Prix Chloe (G3). Nabbed in the final strides when third at Chantilly, Creative Flair might hang on longer here with Mike Smith.

“She ran a huge race last time,” Appleby assistant Chris Connett said. “It looked like she was really going to go and win that, and she just got collared near the line. She will wear a hood to run in, but she’s always worn that and we won’t change anything now. She’ll sit on or near the pace and she sees the trip pretty well. Her form is solid, and she should take a bit of beating.”

Fellow U.S. debutante Rocky Sky raced prominently in her 33-1 upset of the April 25 Salsabil S. at Navan. Thereafter privately purchased by Peter Brant, the Irish import was under consideration for the Belmont Oaks, but Brown preferred to give her more time.

“We’ve had her for a little while now,” Brown said. “She seems to be really adapting to the program. The last couple works were the best I’ve seen from her. She’s an exciting prospect. She’s doing everything right. We momentarily thought about the Belmont Oaks. It was just too soon for her. I wanted more time with her and I think it was the right decision. I really like where I’m at now with her.”

Irad Ortiz picks up the mount on Rocky Sky in post 6, while brother Jose guides stablemate Higher Truth on the rail.

Irish shipper Messidor represents trainer Joseph O’Brien. Twice a winner on Dundalk’s Polytrack, she has placed third in the Patton S. as well as in Royal Ascot’s Sandringham H. Hall of Famer John Velazquez takes the ride.

Rounding out the eight-strong field is Maryland-based Out of Sorts, who steps up in class from her last-to-first triumph in the Christiana at Delaware Park.

De La Rose S. – Race 7 (4:29 p.m. ET)

Brown is also double-handed in the $120,000 De La Rose S. over one mile on the inner turf. Defending champion Viadera was last seen landing the Nov. 29 Matriarch (G1), and Regal Glory was most recently a tough-trip fourth in the Just a Game S. (G1).

Viadera puts a three-race winning streak on the line, dating back to last summer’s De La Rose. Up by a neck in time here a year ago, the Juddmonte homebred cut it as close in the Noble Damsel (G3) and even closer in a Matriarch thriller. The five-year-old finally makes her seasonal reappearance, after having the July 3 Perfect Sting transferred to the main track.

“It’s been a little frustrating with her getting such a late start to the year, she’s been ready to run for quite a while,” Brown said. “Her race was rained off the turf a month ago. Here we are getting started a little later to the races, but hopefully she has a good second half of the season.”

Stablemate Regal Glory is 2-for-2 over the course, turning the Lake George (G3)/Lake Placid (G2) double (the latter in a dead-heat) in 2019. The Animal Kingdom mare added the 2020 Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf (G3) and April 11 Plenty of Grace to her resume before encountering trouble in the Just a Game.

“She had a horrendous trip in there, a real nightmare,” Brown said. “She broke badly and just had a real rough trip. She seems to have come out of it well. She’s definitely shown an affinity for the course.”

Other contenders include Hendy Woods, fourth in the Mint Julep (G3) in her latest; Raven’s Cry, exiting a fourth as the favorite in the Indiana General Assembly Distaff; Shifty She, winner of two straight stakes at Gulfstream; Phipps homebred Star Command who makes her stakes debut; and veteran Belle Laura.