BC Preview At Belmont
Juveniles line up in Belmont dirt, turf preps for Breeders' Cup
Despite winning the Tyro Stakes in July at Monmouth Park by two lengths, She Digs Me was sent off at lukewarm odds of 4-1 in his next start at the Jersey Shore track when he ran in the Grade 3 Sapling. She Digs Me's stablemate in the Steve Asmussen barn, Voodoo Daddy, was sent off as the even-money favorite that day, based on his sharp maiden score August 17 at Saratoga. After making the pace, Voodoo Daddy tired in the stretch, and She Digs Me opened up powerfully, pulling away to win easily by 6 1/4 lengths.
Now, She Digs Me returns to the races at Belmont Park on Sunday to run in the $150,000 Nashua with a considerably enhanced reputation. The chestnut son of Henny Hughes has won three straight, including the back-to-back stakes scores, and is the 2-1 favorite on the morning line.
"This horse has always done everything right, and he likes Monmouth," said Asmussen's assistant, Toby Sheets. "This is a logical progression. He breezed well, and he'll have to step up his game a little."
The Grade 2 Nashua, run last year at the mile distance at Aqueduct, was shortened to six furlongs this year and moved to Belmont Park to serve as a key prep race for the newly created Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint.
Asmussen holds a strong hand in the Nashua as he will send out both She Digs Me and 5-2 second choice Seeker, a son of Hard Spun who broke his maiden by 6 1/2 lengths in his second and most recent start on September 5 at Saratoga.
Vexor defeated Seeker by 1 1/4 lengths when breaking his maiden August 10 at Saratoga, but finished eighth, 42 3/4 lengths back, in the Grade 1 Hopeful, which was run on a sloppy track. Trainer John Kimmel dismissed the Hopeful performance and expects a far better effort in the Nashua from the son of Wildcat Heir.
"The horse hated the sloppy track in the Hopeful," Kimmel said of Vexor, 12-1 on the morning line. "(Jockey) David Cohen said after the race that when he came out to warm up, he was slipping and stumbling and didn't even want to go onto the track."
Earlier on the card, in the filly counterpart to the Nashua, Georgie's Angel will attempt to regain her winning form when she takes on four other runners in the $100,000 Tempted.
After showing tremendous promise winning the Grade 3 Schuylerville on July 22 at Saratoga, Georgie's Angel found the Grade 1 Spinaway a bit too tough in her subsequent start as she finished fourth. Trainer Todd Pletcher sent the daughter of Bellamy Road through a slow four-furlong work in :52 3/5 on September 18 and then stepped it up on Monday in preparation for the Tempted.
"It was designed as a slow work," Pletcher said, "then she breezed back in company Sunday and went in :48.22 and went well. I didn't think she got a wonderful trip in the Spinaway. She was kind of stuck down inside and didn't seem to fire her 'A' race. We hope to change her post position. We'd like to be toward the outside."
Georgie's Angel, the 8-5 second choice on the morning line, drew post position 4 for the Grade 3 Tempted, which previously was run as a one-mile race at Aqueduct but cut back this year to six furlongs at Belmont. Pletcher said he does not see Georgie's Angel as a possible Breeders' Cup entrant, but rather is just hoping to get back on track.
"We're just focused on the Temped and we'll see how that goes," he said. "Hopefully, she runs so well we have to reconsider where we are. We're optimistic that at some point she might stretch out."
Following the Nashua on Sunday are two Grade 3 turf events for juveniles, the Pilgrim and the Miss Grillo, each run at 1 1/16 miles. Entrants in both $100,000 races will put win streaks on the line, as Grade 2 With Anticipation victor State of Play squares off against six colts in the Pilgrim and P. G. Johnson heroine Alaura Michele takes on nine other fillies in the Miss Grillo.
State of Play is undefeated thus far, stretching out successfully from a 5 1/2-furlong turf maiden victory at Saratoga on July 27 to take the 1 1/16-mile With Anticipation on September 1. The latter was a Breeders' Cup Challenge race, guaranteeing the son of War Front a spot in the gate for the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf in November at Churchill Downs.
"He's done great and everything has gone to plan," trainer Graham Motion said from his base at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland. "He's a straightforward horse and is pretty adaptable. He settled well last time for Ramon (Dominguez). We already have our ticket to the Breeders' Cup, and this race was the closest to our home."
Also exiting the With Anticipation is Captain Webb, who finished sixth as the favorite in the field of nine.
"It was a very disappointing performance," Pletcher said of Captain Webb's With Anticipation. "He kind of got stuck inside and shuffled back in a paceless race, and he lacked room in the stretch to give his best effort. We're hoping for a better set-up and a better trip."
A son of 2007 champion turf horse English Channel, whom Pletcher also trained, Captain Webb broke his maiden on July 30 at Saratoga in a 1 1/16-mile turf maiden race.
In the Miss Grillo, Alaura Michele will attempt to move forward off a 2 1/4-length victory in Saratoga's P. G. Johnson to collect her first graded stakes win. After running sixth in her career debut on dirt for trainer Greg Fox at Churchill Downs, Alaura Michele was transferred to the barn of Bill Mott. Sent out to a front-running 4 1/4-length victory going six furlongs on the turf at Belmont in her first start for Mott, she stretched out to 1 1/16 miles and rated nicely to win the August 31 stakes.
"She rated better than I expected and she was good in behind horses," Mott noted. "She showed what I thought was a nice, explosive kick coming home."
Sidelined briefly with a virus following the P. G. Johnson, the daughter of Arch worked five furlongs at Saratoga on Wednesday, covering the distance in 1:00 3/5 in a move Mott called "very nice."
Alaura Michele has been made the 2-1 morning-line favorite in the Miss Grillo against the likes of Slip Along Band and Bourbonstreetgirl.
Undefeated in two starts thus far for trainer Michael Pino, Slip Along Band will ship in from Maryland for her first graded stakes try. The daughter of Bowman's Band broke her maiden over the artificial surface at Presque Isle Downs on July 26, then took the one-mile Junior Champion over the Monmouth Park turf on September 11.
Conditioner Trainer Gary Contessa will send out P. G. Johnson third Bourbonstreetgirl as well as Salsa Mambo, who broke her maiden going seven furlongs on the Belmont turf on September 14.
"Bourbonstreetgirl had a rough trip and I think she's better than you saw in the P. G. Johnson," Contessa said. "She's training fantastic up to this race, and really doing well. I'm very pleased with her and I'm really looking forward to the Miss Grillo. I'd like to get enough points with her to make the Breeders' Cup. That would be very important for us."