May 31, 2023

Sistercharlie, Wicked Whisper, Four Wheel Drive secure Breeders’ Cup berths at Belmont

Sistercharlie extended her winning streak to six, all Grade 1s, in the Flower Bowl (NYRA/Coglianese Photography/Elsa Lorieul)

by J. Keeler Johnson

The sensational Sistercharlie recorded her sixth consecutive Grade 1 triumph on a busy Sunday of Breeders’ Cup preps races at Belmont Park, rallying to a comfortable victory in the $500,000 Flower Bowl Stakes (G1).

The champion grass mare of 2018, Sistercharlie employed her usual late-running tactics in the 1 1/4-mile turf test. With regular rider John Velazquez in the saddle, Sistercharlie settled as many as 14 1/2 lengths behind slow fractions of :24.21, :49.17, and 1:15.31 posted by stablemate Thais, but nevertheless produced a strong late charge in the stretch to prevail by three-quarters of length over fellow late runner Mrs. Sippy.

Sistercharlie sprinted the final quarter-mile in approximately :22 flat to stop the timer in 2:02.21 over a firm inner turf course. Thais held on for third place.

“We’re very lucky to have her. She did everything she needed to do,” winning trainer Chad Brown told the New York Racing Association. “She was 0-for-2 at Belmont going in. Even though it was only by short margins both times to two other of our nice horses, she was nevertheless winless here. The case could be made that this isn’t her favorite course, but she got the job done.”

Velazquez explained the slow pace made things difficult for Sistercharlie.

“I didn’t feel like they were going very fast in front,” he said. “The two horses in front of me kept slowing down and obviously (Thais) just opened up. (Sistercharlie) was on the bridle and she’s never on the bridle. I tried to leave her where she was comfortable and let her go from there.”

The victory secured Sistercharlie a “Win and You’re In” berth to the November 2 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1), a race Sistercharlie won during her championship season. By adding the Flower Bowl to a 2019 resume that already includes victories in the Diana Stakes (G1) and Beverly D. Stakes (G1), Sistercharlie is well on her way to securing another championship title.

“We’re pretty confident (in the Breeders’ Cup) as long as she stays healthy,” Brown said. “I don’t think we’ve reached the bottom of her. Some of the setbacks that she’s had have been a bit disappointing, but it’s kept her fresh so it really goes both ways.”

Later in the afternoon, Wicked Whisper put on a front-running clinic in the $400,000 Frizette Stakes (G1), landing a “Win and You’re In” ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1).

Entering off a 6 1/4-length maiden score at Saratoga, Wicked Whisper never gave her half-dozen rivals a chance in the Frizette. Sent straight to the lead by jockey Joel Rosario, the Steve Asmussen-trained daughter of Liam’s Map posted fractions of :22.91, :46.49, and 1:11.12 before easily turning back a challenge from Spinaway Stakes (G1) runner-up Frank’s Rockette to win by 2 3/4 lengths.

Wicked Whisper completed the one-mile race in 1:35.92.

“Every time I asked her, she was there for me,” Rosario said. “It was her first time going a mile, so you just want something for the last part. She responded and just kept going. The more I asked, the more she was going. She looks like she’s real spirited and looking around and enjoying herself.”

Toby Sheets, assistant to Asmussen, did not immediately confirm Wicked Whisper as a prospective starter for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. “We’re going to enjoy the moment and go from there and take it one step at a time.”

Also shining on the Belmont card was Four Wheel Drive, who secured a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2) by virtue of his triumph in the $150,000 Futurity Stakes (G3). Sent off as the odds-on favorite against five rivals, the son of American Pharoah settled a few lengths behind fast fractions of :21.62 and :44.33 set by Jack and Noah before taking command in the stretch and pulling clear to win by three lengths in 1:08.07. Freewheeler got up for second.

“I worked him before this race and I put him behind horses,” winning jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. said “He always worked good like that and relaxed. When I asked him, he would take off like an older horse. He has a good mind. So [today], I didn’t panic. I just let him break wherever he is comfortable and then go from there because I know he didn’t have to be on the lead. He relaxed well and when I asked, he turned on.”

Conditioned by Wesley Ward, a master at training juvenile turf sprinters, Four Wheel Drive brought his record to a perfect two-for-two. He opened his career with a decisive victory in the Rosie’s Stakes at Colonial Downs and now looms as one of the favorites for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint.