September 18, 2021

Midnight Bisou stays hot in Molly Pitcher; War Story fights back in Monmouth Cup

Midnight Bisou and jockey Mike Smith capture the Molly Pitcher Stakes (G3) at Monmouth Park on July 20, 2019 (c) Equi-Photo/Ryan Denver

Following an afternoon-long siesta due to the heat, the revised Haskell (G1) undercard resumed at a steamy Monmouth Park Saturday. Neither the conditions nor a momentary trap in the pocket could make Midnight Bisou wilt, as the outstanding distaffer extended her winning streak to five in the Molly Pitcher (G3).

The 1-20 favorite faced only four rivals, after Chad Brown scratched both Electric Forest (who’s in Sunday’s Shuvee [G3] at Saratoga) and Pacific Wind, and the Todd Pletcher-trained Varanasi also came out. Coach Rocks took charge early, attended by Cosmic Burst, and Hall of Famer Mike Smith had Midnight Bisou parked just behind them on the inside.

Breaking Bread moved up to pocket Midnight Bisou, who was clearly full of run but needed room turning for home. Fans didn’t have much cause for concern, however. Coach Rocks left just enough of an opening upon straightening.

While Smith had the option of tipping outside since both Cosmic Burst and Breaking Bread had dropped back at that point, he stuck to the rail, and Midnight Bisou gamely plowed through to assert her class by a cozy length. Now nine-for-nine at 1 1/16 miles, the Steve Asmussen filly clocked 1:43.55.

Coach Rocks, the 6-1 second choice, was easily best of the rest to complete the logical exacta. Another 5 1/4 lengths back in third came the 13-1 third pick, Cosmic Burst, and the 21-1 Breaking Bread and 22-1 Sun Studio completed the order aligning with the odds.

Midnight Bisou was using the Molly Pitcher as a prep for the August 24 Personal Ensign (G1) at Saratoga, a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1). The daughter of Midnight Lute already owns a free berth thanks to her score in the Ogden Phipps (G1) on Belmont Day, a highlight of her unbeaten 2019 that also comprises the Houston Ladies Classic (G3), Azeri (G2), and Apple Blossom (G1).

One of the top sophomore fillies of 2018, Midnight Bisou captured the Cotillion (G1) (via the disqualification of Monomoy Girl), Santa Anita Oaks (G1), Mother Goose (G2), Santa Ynez (G2), and Santa Ysabel (G3). Her Achilles heel so far has been distance. Runner-up in the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1), she checked in third in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, Kentucky Oaks (G1), and Alabama (G1). The Personal Ensign, and a projected clash with Elate at a more suitable trip for that rival, will tell us whether she can stay a bit farther at four.

Midnight Bisou – who races for the partnership of Bloom Racing Stable, Madaket Stables, and Allen Racing – has compiled a mark of 16-10-3-3, $2,870,000. The dark bay was bred by Woodford Thoroughbreds in Kentucky, and after RNA’ing for $19,000 as a Keeneland September yearling, went to Jeff Bloom for $80,000 as an OBS April two-year-old.

War Story and jockey Luis Saez prevail over Bal Harbour and Mike Smith in the Monmouth Cup (G3) at Monmouth Park on July 20, 2019 (c) Equi-Photo/Ryan Denver

The $199,000 Monmouth Cup (G3) served up a 7-1 upset when War Story outdueled Bal Harbour, the pair pulling a full 12 lengths clear of 4-5 favorite Coal Front.

Winless since the 2018 Challenger, the Grade 2 veteran was coming off a clunker in the Brooklyn (G2), a race he’d won in 2017 and placed second in a year ago. But the Jorge Navarro charge rediscovered his best form under a forward ride by Luis Saez. War Story pressed front-running Coal Front early, and the favorite couldn’t take the heat by the time they reached the far turn.

Swinging for home, though, Coal Front’s stablemate from the Pletcher barn, Bal Harbour, appeared to be the beneficiary as he ranged up menacingly and grabbed a slim lead. War Story hung tough for the length of the stretch, but Bal Harbour still hinted he’d have enough to prevail – until the final yards. The nearer the wire, the harder War Story fought and the more he found, ultimately forcing his head in front.

The battle produced a fast time for 1 1/8 miles, 1:47.65, not far off Spend a Buck’s 1:46.80 track record. A weary Coal Front salvaged third by a half-length from Moon Gate Warrior, a 38-1 shot on the 50th anniversary of the historic moon landing. Lemonade Thursday, on the leader’s heels early, faded to fifth, beating only the pulled-up Zanotti (who walked off according to the chart). Monongahela was a vet scratch.

Imaginary Stables and Glenn Ellis’s War Story now brandishes a bankroll of $2,885,305 from his 35-7-6-5, reflecting a victory in the 2016 Queen’s County along with the aforementioned Brooklyn and Challenger. The seven-year-old has amassed 11 stakes placings, notably the 2015 Louisiana Derby (G2), Risen Star (G2), and Lecomte (G3) and the last three editions of the lucrative Charles Town Classic (G2).

The son of Northern Afleet and the Pulpit mare Belle Watling, a half-brother to Grade 2 winner and multiple Grade 1-placed Land Over Sea, was bred in Kentucky by Jack Swain III. An auction veteran, he last sold for $51,000 as a Fasig-Tipton Midlantic juvenile, but famously RNA’d for $545,000 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky’s Summer Selected Horses of Racing Age Sale in 2015.

The stakes-only evening action began with the $142,500 Oceanport (G3), culminating in a climactic photo finish between the 8-5 Just Howard and 4-5 favorite Divisidero. The second choice got first run, refused to let Divisidero by, and kept his head in front at the wire. Trained by Graham Motion and ridden by Trevor McCarthy, Just Howard negotiated 1 1/16 miles on the firm course in 1:42.62.

Divisidero’s jockey, Jevian Toledo, claimed foul against McCarthy, but the stewards disallowed it and let the original order stand. The more obvious difficulty was Divisidero’s bobbling at the break and getting slowly. Although a late runner in any event, being unbalanced at the start didn’t help.

Early leader Bird’s Eye View and his shadow, Dover Cliffs, rounded out the result in the scratch-reduced field. Pizmo Time was the first to withdraw, and Projected was a key withdrawal later in the afternoon.

Bred by Howard Bender in Maryland and purchased by Skeedattle Stable for $37,000 at Keeneland September, Just Howard advanced his record to 20-6-2-4, $465,405. The five-year-old son of English Channel was earning his first stakes win since his sophomore campaign in 2017, when landing the Commonwealth Derby (G3) along with the restricted Find S. and Caveat S. But he had placed in the past two runnings of the Dixie (G2) and exited a third in the Prince George’s County to Doctor Mounty and Divisidero.

McCarthy engineered the theft of the other graded turf stakes, the $135,000 Matchmaker (G3), aboard Lael Stables’ I’m So Fancy. That was the cleverest strategy once the field was reduced to three, and devoid of pace players Valedictorian and Dark Artist.

Although 2-5 favorite Competitionofideas lay close in second, she could not overcome the controlling speed once the crawl turned into a mad dash for home. The 9-5 I’m So Fancy fended her off by a head in 1:51.11. Brazilian import Touriga was a sneakily-good third, despite being last, considering she didn’t have the smoothest passage in this U.S. debut. All three competitors will receive a complimentary visit to a WinStar stallion, with the Kentucky nursery offering a season to Yoshida, Audible, and Paynter.

In addition to the aforementioned withdrawals, My Sistersledge and Xenobia also stayed in the barn.

Irish import I’m So Fancy, who ventured stateside after selling for 500,000 guineas ($672,735) at Tattersalls December, has won two straight for Arnaud Delacour. The Rajj mare was fourth in the Gallorette (G3) on Preakness Day in her American premiere, then progressed to take the Big Dreyfus handily at Laurel. During her Irish career for Jessica Harrington, I’m So Fancy garnered last year’s Snow Fairy (G3), Celebration, and Silver S., and her handful of stakes placings include the Kilboy Estate (G2) (to Magical) and the Blandford (G2). Her scorecard stands at 24-6-3-3, $383,239.

In the $78,000 Wolf Hill, Lucky Man Racing’s Justaholic outkicked Fig Jelly to announce his presence in the turf sprint division. The career high was widely expected for the 3-2 favorite, who worked out a stalking trip with Jose Ferrer and drove a length clear in 1:01.37 for 5 1/2 furlongs.

Justaholic is now two-for-two since joining trainer Thomas Clark for 2019, both wins coming in turf sprints. Previously with Keith Nations, the Justin Phillip colt was stakes-caliber at three with a neck second in the Tom Ridge over Presque Isle’s Tapeta and a third in the Pegasus on the Monmouth dirt. The four-year-old promises to build upon his resume of 8-4-2-1, $139,000.