After toying with the idea of training up to the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1), Todd Pletcher will unleash Nest in Sunday’s $250,000 Beldame (G2) at Aqueduct. The top three-year-old filly ventures outside of her own division to try elders, but she should have the measure of her four rivals.
Beldame (G2) – Race 3 (1:47 p.m. ET)
Nest returns to the scene of her first stakes victory, last fall’s Demoiselle (G2), at this same 1 1/8-mile circuit. The daughter of Curlin has blossomed at three, dominating four stakes including the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) and Alabama (G1) in her last two at Saratoga. Her only losses this season were seconds in the Kentucky Oaks (G1), where she had to wait for daylight, and the Belmont (G1) versus males.
“She’s run well against the boys and all the best fillies of her generation, but first time against elders is always a challenge,” Pletcher said. “She showed a lot of talent and class in her races against three-year-olds, and we would expect her to handle the step up.
“We weren’t a hundred percent sure if we wanted to give her another start between the Alabama and the Breeders’ Cup, but we felt that 11 weeks was a bit too much,” her trainer added. “Hopefully, she runs well here and it sets her up well for the Distaff.”
Regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr. will guide Nest from the rail. If she delivers her characteristic performance, she’d give Pletcher a record sixth Beldame win.
Fellow Curlin filly First to Act is an intriguing graded stakes debutante. Unraced until turning four, the Shug McGaughey pupil has climbed the class ladder quickly. Her fine second in Saratoga’s Summer Colony S. marked both her stakes and two-turn premiere, and the half-sister to Grade 3 scorer Berned has more to offer. Jose Ortiz takes over at the helm from brother Irad.
Two opponents were on the 2021 Oaks trail – Travel Column, who beat Clairiere in the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) before winding up fifth to champion Malathaat at Churchill Downs, and The Grass Is Blue, winner of the course-and-distance Busanda S. but well beaten in ensuing preps.
Travel Column resurfaced from a year-long layoff to romp in a June 29 Churchill allowance, her first start for Bill Mott. Subsequently fourth in the Ballerina (G1) at the same seven-furlong trip at Saratoga, the daughter of Frosted stretches back out to two turns. Javier Castellano picks up the mount on the OXO Equine runner, who is drawn on the outside in post 5.
The Grass Is Blue has also switched barns, joining Graham Motion ahead of her 2022 campaign. Likewise successful in a sprint comeback at Pimlico, she was upset by Hybrid Eclipse in the Caesar’s Wish S. around Laurel’s one-turn mile. The Grass Is Blue didn’t prosper on the cutback in the seven-furlong Seeking the Pearl S. at Colonial, where she wound up sixth, and Motion hopes that a step up in trip works.
“She’s very difficult in the morning as far as just being tough to train,” Motion said. “That leads you to believe that she’s more of a sprinter, but one of her best efforts was around two turns. I think it’s a great opportunity in a graded race over a track she’s won on before.”
Jevian Toledo, who had been riding Hybrid Eclipse, jumps ship to The Grass Is Blue. Manny Franco gets the call on the Brittany Russell-trained Hybrid Eclipse, last of four as the favorite in the Timonium Distaff in her latest.
Futurity (G3) – Race 6 (3:30 p.m. ET)
A “Win and You’re In” for the Juvenile Turf Sprint (G1), the $150,000 Futurity (G3) has attracted a field of eight prospects.
Christophe Clement, who sent out Slipstream to win here last year, has Inflation Nation. A near-miss runner-up in his Saratoga unveiling, the Speightstown colt came right back to break his maiden at the Spa. Also last seen at Saratoga was Vacation Dance, a first-out winner versus New York-breds for John Kimmel. Motion’s Nagirroc comes off a sharp, wire-to-wire maiden score Sept. 24 over this six-furlong course and distance.
Mike Maker is double-handed with juveniles from Kentucky Downs. Gaslight Dancer crushed a maiden in front-running fashion by five lengths, while Bourbon Therapy exits a fourth in the Juvenile Turf Sprint. (Note that Bourbon Therapy is cross-entered to Sunday’s Indian Summer S. at Keeneland.) Dunedin upset a Kentucky Downs allowance last out for Kelsey Danner.
Determined Jester is the lone entrant with a stakes win already, having stunned the Rosie’s S. at Colonial Downs as a 35-1 maiden. She is cross-entered to the companion race for fillies, the Matron (G3) on Saturday. Power Attack, a distant second in the Tyro S., shortens up from a fifth in the Nownownow S. back at Monmouth.
Knickerbocker (G3) – Race 8 (4:44 p.m. ET)
French Group 3 hero Pao Alto enters the $150,000 Knickerbocker (G3) in smart form for Motion. Second to Set Piece in his stateside bow in the Baltimore/Washington International Turf Cup (G3), the Wertheimer et Frere homebred should appreciate the added ground in this 1 1/8-mile test.
Field Pass suffered a heart-breaker in the 2021 Knickerbocker at Belmont, and the Grade 2-winning millionaire will try again in the renewal at Aqueduct. The Maker veteran will have to fend off another battalion from Chad Brown, who seeks his third straight Knickerbocker trophy.
Multiple Grade 2 victor Public Sector, most recently third to Set Piece and Pao Alto at Pimlico, is joined by Brown stablemates L’Imperator and class-climbing Lonesome Fugitive. L’Imperator, who wired the May 7 Fort Marcy (G2), scored another laurel in Monmouth Park’s Presious Passion S. Sept. 10.
Godolphin’s Pixelate aims to move forward from a sixth in his title defense in the Mint Million (G3) at Kentucky Downs. That was just the second start of the season for the Grade 2-winning millionaire, who resumed with a third to the promoted Eons in the Prince George’s County S. at Laurel.
Rounding out the field are Lure S. victor Dynadrive, fifth in the Bernard Baruch H. (G3); Safe Conduct, the 2021 Queen’s Plate winner who was fifth in the Lure; and Maker’s second hope, King Cause.