The 2017 Belmont Stakes Racing Festival kicks off Thursday with a three-stakes card highlighted by the $250,000 Intercontinental (G3) and the $200,000 Wonder Again (G3), and trainer Chad Brown is eligible to sweep both turf tests.
The 1 1/8-mile Wonder Again, a stepping stone to the July 8 Belmont Oaks (G1), is scheduled to go off as the 3RD race at 3:03 p.m. (EDT). Brown has quantity, with three of the seven entrants, and quality, exemplified by Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) victress New Money Honey. Although a disappointing sixth to La Coronel in her comeback in the April 13 Appalachian (G3) at Keeneland, the well-bred daughter of Medaglia d’Oro promises to rebound back on her home course. New Money Honey dominated the Miss Grillo (G3) at Belmont en route to Breeders’ Cup glory at Santa Anita, and she’s been training forwardly for this second start off the layoff. The 123-pound highweight keeps Javier Castellano in the saddle.
Brown also has a recent recruit in Fifty Five. Acquired by Peter Brant after her upset of Royal Ascot-bound La Coronel in the Florida Oaks (G3), the New York-bred was along for third in the April 23 Memories of Silver in her first start for the barn. Jose Ortiz, aboard for her past two, retains the mount. Rounding out the Brown trio is Enchanting Kitten, a Ramsey homebred who was runner-up to Victory to Victory in a first-level Keeneland allowance. She gets in with a feathery 115 pounds, including new pilot Irad Ortiz Jr.
Mark Casse, trainer of La Coronel and Victory to Victory, calls up two others from his deep bench in this spot. Dream Dancing, winner of the March 4 Herecomesthebride (G3) at Gulfstream Park, has since finished fourth in the Appalachian and a close second to La Coronel in the Edgewood (G3) on Kentucky Oaks Day. Corporate Queen has been plying her trade on the dirt, most recently rallying from last for third in the Black-Eyed Susan (G2). But being by Colonel John, she could enjoy a surface switch. Joel Rosario sticks with Corporate Queen, and Dream Dancing continues her long-term partnership with Julien Leparoux.
The Leah Gyarmati-trained Coasted, who romped by six lengths over Dream Dancing in her Saratoga maiden win, made it two straight at the Spa in the P.G. Johnson. Since then, she’s found it tougher to reach the winner’s circle while often putting up good efforts in defeat. Beaten just a half-length by New Money Honey in the Breeders’ Cup, Coasted missed by a neck to Dream Dancing in the Herecomesthebride. She threw in a clunker when a non-threatening 10th in the Appalachian, but may become the early leader by default in a paceless race. Jose Lezcano could seize the initiative from the rail on the inner turf.
The seventh entrant is the main track-only Bonita Bianca. Easily unbeaten in her three starts versus state-breds, the Rudy Rodriguez filly suffered her only loss when third in the Demoiselle (G2). The daughter of Curlin and Grade 1 winner Friendly Michelle has not raced since romping in the East View last December.
Older fillies and mares will contest the Intercontinental over seven furlongs on the Widener course, where undefeated Take These Chains steps up to stakes company for Brown. By Fastnet Rock and out of Grade 3 heroine Take the Ribbon, the Gunther/Eurowest homebred routed them in a course-and-distance allowance in her April 28 return. Castellano, who has ridden her in all three starts, will be back at the helm from post 9. Stablemate Conquest Babayaga joined the Brown barn after selling for $210,000 as part of the Conquest Stables dispersal at Keeneland November, and the Uncle Mo filly has gone two-for-two for her new connections. Conquest Babayaga also won her lone turf start for previous trainer Casse, so she’s perfect on the lawn. Rosario hopes to keep her streak alive.
Casse is still represented by multiple stakes scorer Mississippi Delta, who was only sixth in last year’s Intercontinental, but comes off a second to Celestine in the Honey Fox (G2) and a fourth in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (G2). Another Honey Fox alum, fourth-placer Josdesanimaux, likewise shortens up a bit for Ralph Nicks. She was formerly trained by both Casse and Brown.
Nobody’s Fault brings a high standard of form in turf sprints. Best of the rest to Lady Aurelia in the Giant’s Causeway, she came right back to take the Unbridled Sidney at Churchill. Rapid Rhythm, successful in the Battle of New Orleans and Mardi Gras at Fair Grounds this winter, was last seen sixth in the Giant’s Causeway.
Two prime contenders prepped in the six-furlong License Fee – the speedy Portmagee, who went wire to wire for Christophe Clement, and Janney homebred Fair Point, an even fourth in her reappearance. As the Sen. Ken Maddy (G3) winner in her prior start last November, Fair Point is sure to move forward here for Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey. This distance suits her to a tee as well.
Outsider Art has been a frequent stakes bridesmaid for Hall of Famer Jonathan Sheppard, while Lady Valeur, fresh off a victory in the Golden Poppy at Golden Gate, and Perfect Pic ship in from Santa Anita.
In between the two turf stakes, the $150,000 Astoria features precocious juvenile fillies. Todd Pletcher sends out two debut winners – Sumaya US Stable’s Sugar Queen, a $285,000 OBS March purchase who rolled as the 4-5 favorite here May 3, and One Last Cast, co-bred and owned with his father, J.J., who won at Aqueduct. Both are by former Pletcher notables in Gemologist (Sugar Queen) and Algorithms (One Last Cast).
Two more are New York-based. Best Performance, a $300,000 graduate of the Fasig-Tipton Florida Sale, rallied from just off the pace to win first out at this track. The Broken Vow filly is trained by Clement for West Point Thoroughbreds and Tango Uniform Racing. The Jeremiah Englehart-trained I Still Miss You moves to open company after dispatching New York-bred maidens.
Zodacious is also likely to attract support, not so much for her $50,000 maiden claiming score at Churchill as for her connections. She’s a daughter of Bodemeister and juvenile stakes winner Proud Zoe from the barn of Wesley Ward.
Waki Patriot, a troubled fourth in the Kentucky Juvenile on Oaks Day, is the lone contender with experience against winners. The John Hancock runner is also the most seasoned with three starts under her belt, including a Keeneland maiden romp that boosted the profile of freshman sire Awesome Patriot.
Di Maria, the first winner for freshman sire Data Link, now switches to James Ryerson after her Gulfstream unveiling, and Contrarity seeks to improve from her victorious debut at Laurel.