The Belmont Stakes Racing Festival opened Thursday with a trio of black-type events. While Con Lima rolled at 8.30-1 in the $200,000 Wonder Again S. (G3), Change of Control went off at a much shorter 1.45-1 in the $194,000 Intercontinental S. (G3), and Happy Soul aired as a prohibitive odds-on favorite in the $144,000 Astoria S.
Wonder Again S. (G3)
Con Lima’s better-fancied stablemate, the 3.25-1 Jouster, got the soft lead she wanted. But despite waltzing through fractions of :25.42, :51.49, and 1:17.89 on the good inner turf, Jouster couldn’t see out the 1 1/8-mile distance.
As she weakened inside the final furlong, the other Todd Pletcher filly, Con Lima, was on the premises to capitalize. Well placed by Flavien Prat as a ground-saving stalker, Con Lima angled out and overhauled Jouster in 1:50.84.
That early position was decisive. Runner-up Plum Ali, who had too much to do closing from last, did well to miss by just a half-length. Gift List, the slight 3.15-1 favorite, also made up ground to take third. Jouster faded to fourth, trailed by Fluffy Socks; Technical Analysis, who drifted wide leaving the far turn; Alwayz Late; Creative Cairo; and I Get It. Mia Martina was scratched.
Campaigned by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Joseph F. Graffeo, Eric Nikolaus Del Toro, and Troy Johnson, Con Lima was earning her fourth stakes victory. The first three came at Gulfstream Park in the Herecomesthebride S. (G3) (via the disqualification of Spanish Loveaffair), Ginger Brew S., and the May 1 Honey Ryder S. in her latest.
Con Lima’s resume now reads 11-6-4-0, $379,865, reflecting seconds in last season’s P.G. Johnson S. and Our Dear Peg S. (both off-the-turf) as well as the Jan. 30 Sweetest Chant (G3). Her lone unplaced effort was a fourth in the March 27 Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2).
“She seems to be better on grass, I’m not really sure why,” Pletcher told NYRA publicity. “Pedigree-wise, it doesn’t really jump out at you. (Sire) Commissioner was beaten a tough one in the Belmont (S. [G1]) here, so that gives you faith that she can run further. She’s been very consistent for us. She runs hard every time.”
Pletcher alluded to the Wonder Again’s serving as a prep for the 1 1/4-mile Belmont Oaks (G1) on July 10.
“It’s encouraging to see that she might stay a mile and a quarter,” the newly-minted Hall of Famer added. “We knew Jouster was the quicker of the two, so I told Flavien to just stalk her and it worked out well. She kicked on. She’s shown she can do it both ways now.”
Bred by Lisa Kuhlmann in Texas, Con Lima sold for $15,000 as a Keeneland November weanling. The dark bay RNA’d for $19,000 as a September yearling at the same venue and again for $22,000 as an OBS March juvenile. Her dam, the stakes-winning Consolidator mare Second Street City, is a half to Trix in the City who captured the 2011 De La Rose S. on the Saratoga turf.
Intercontinental S. (G3)
Perry Harrison’s Change of Control continued her career form on the step up to seven furlongs in the Intercontinental. The co-feature was reduced to a field of five after several scratches, notably Regal Glory (in favor of Saturday’s Just a Game [G1]) and Sweet Bye and Bye.
Trained by Michelle Lovell and ridden by Colby Hernandez, Change of Control settled in third behind pacesetter I’llhandalthecash and Piedi Bianchi through splits of :23.64 and :46.82 on the good Widener course. The slow-starting 1.35-1 favorite, Publication, advanced outside turning into the stretch, and bumped with Change of Control who was steering out for a path. Change of Control shrugged her off and quickened to prevail by 1 1/2 lengths.
Piedi Bianchi kept on for second, and Madeleine Must rallied for third. Next came I’llhandalthecash and Publication. Also withdrawn were the main-track-only entrants Aunt Kat and Subsidiary.
Change of Control clocked 1:22.07 to notch her first graded win, improving her record to 27-7-6-5, $552,439. The Fed Biz mare was coming off a pair of strong performances at 5 1/2 furlongs – a victory in the April 10 Giant’s Causeway S. at Keeneland and a second in the April 29 Unbridled Sidney S. on “Thurby” at Churchill Downs.
“It’s my first graded stakes win and my first time riding here (at Belmont),” Hernandez said. “It’s an awesome feeling.”
“This mare has been incredibly special to us,” Lovell said. “She tries so hard every time she runs and has been in top form this year. Colby got her into a great spot early and she was able to relax behind the pace. Into the stretch, it looked like Colby had a ton of horse and when she was able to get outside, she really showed her stride late. This is a great win for everyone involved.”
Change of Control, whose initial stakes score came in the 2019 Mamzelle S. at Churchill, has placed in seven others. Those minor awards include the past two runnings of both the Unbridled Sidney and the Nelson Menard Memorial at Fair Grounds, and she was also third versus males in the Jan. 31 Pulse Power Turf Sprint at Sam Houston.
Bred by John O’Meara in Kentucky, Change of Control brought $27,000 as a Keeneland November weanling and $95,000 as a yearling at OBS October. The five-year-old bay is out of the multiple Illinois-bred stakes-placed America’s Blossom by Quiet American.
As trainer Wesley Ward looks forward to unleashing his battalion at Royal Ascot, his Norfolk (G2)-bound Nakatomi got a form boost on the main track. Stablemate Happy Soul, runner-up to Nakatomi in their mutual debut, crushed a May 13 Belmont maiden and added the Astoria by almost the same margin.
The 0.15-1 favorite wasn’t quick into stride, and Hall of Famer John Velazquez rousted her along. Happy Soul responded to open up by two lengths after reaching the quarter in :21.92. American Bound, who raced in proximity early, soon dropped back, and the race became as lopsided as the winner’s odds.
Happy Soul was in her own zone rattling off fractions of :45.74 and :58.72 en route to finishing 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:05.69. Gayla Rankin’s colorbearer crossed the wire 11 1/2 lengths in front.
Constitution Gal was best of the rest. She’s So Shiny worked her way into third, followed by American Bound and Midsummer Nights who was last at every call. Mainstay was scratched.
“She fell asleep in the gate. She wasn’t paying attention,” Velazquez said. “I had to use her coming out of there, which normally I don’t want to do with (Ward’s) horses because they go so fast, but I had to do it.
“Once I got out of there, I got into the position she wants,” he continued. “I just let her take her speed wherever she wanted to go.”
Ward indicated that Saratoga would be in her summer plans.
“We’ll have to step up in class and company next. She’ll get back to Keeneland and prepare for the Adirondack (G2) at Saratoga.”
Happy Soul has bankrolled $148,500 from her 3-2-0-1 mark. Bred by Harris Training Center in Kentucky, the May 9 foal was purchased for $50,000 as a Keeneland September yearling.
By champion Runhappy, whose exciting sophomore Following Sea also romped in a Belmont allowance Thursday, Happy Soul is a half-sister to Canadian Grade 3 winner Calgary Caper. They were produced by the Stephen Got Even mare Cowgirl Lucky, from the immediate family of multiple Grade/Group 3 hero Wildman Jack.