Trainer Chad Brown, a five-time winner of the $500,000 Belmont Oaks (G1), will field a strong pair in Saturday’s renewal of the 1 1/4-mile grass test for three-year-old fillies.
Both Aspray and Prerequisite enter the Oaks having run three times previously. Aspray is the only unbeaten of the two, most recently overcoming an 11-length deficit to prove best by a half-length in the Hilltop S. at Pimlico on Preakness weekend.
Prerequisite dropped her debut at Gulfstream in early April, but rebounded to break her maiden at Belmont before posting a 7-1 upset in the Wonder Again (G3) in wire-to-wire fashion by a neck over Be Your Best.
Trainer Graham Motion also has a strong-looking pair, led by Mission of Joy. The daughter of Kitten’s Joy is 2-for-3 in stakes company this season, having taken the Florida Oaks (G3) and the Regret (G3) over Appalachian (G2) winner Papilio.
Speirling Beag is a new edition to the Motion barn. Based in Ireland at two, Speirling Beag captured the Eyrefield (G3) at Leopardstown in her season finale last term but was only fifth in the Prix Penelope (G3) at Saint-Cloud in her only outing this season on April 1.
The only other European invader for the Oaks is Aspen Grove, a Group 3 winner in Ireland last season who found Group 1 level in France and England too tough in recent outings.
“The trainer (Fozzy Stack) has always thought she would be a 10-furlong horse this year. This race is a natural place to try,” co-owner Craig Bernick said of Aspen Grove. “I guess we’ll find out if she’s a Grade 1 or a Grade 3 horse on Saturday. There’s things to like about her and we’re fortunate to have Oisin Murphy to ride her as well.”
The other feature for three-year-old fillies on Saturday, the $175,000 Victory Ride (G3) over 6 1/2 furlongs on the main track, has come up a barnburner. Red Carpet Ready and Maple Leaf Mel have collectively won eight of nine starts, with the former having taken the Forward Gal (G3) and Eight Belles (G2) earlier this season.
“I think six and a half [furlongs] will actually suit her better,” said trainer Rusty Arnold. “When she ran in the (seven-furlong) Eight Belles, she opened up a clear lead at the sixteenth pole and hung on in the end, but I think that’s the end of how far she wants to go – six and a half won’t be an issue.”
Maple Leaf Mel, owned by Hall of Fame NFL coach Bill Parcells, improved her record to 4-for-4 with a victory over Topsy in the Miss Preakness (G3) at Pimlico last time. Also entering unbeaten is the thrice-raced Dazzling Blue, who captured the Letellier Memorial at Fair Grounds in December and was an emphatic winner of her allowance comeback at Churchill on May 19.
Interpolate and Downtown Mischief were both open stakes winners at Aqueduct over the winter, with Interpolate a neck second to Key of Life in the Beaumont (G2) at Keeneland when last seen in mid-April.