Although the coupled entry of Ariege and Pure Clan will likely draw favoritism, they are by no means a sure thing. Some of the other solid contenders are My Princess Jess and Alwajeeha, the one-two finishers in the Lake George (gr. IIT) at Saratoga; Backseat Rhythm and Raw Silk, each with a grade II score this year; and Satan’s Circus, who was less than a length back of Pure Clan in the American Oaks Invitational (gr. I) earlier this summer in California.
Country Star and Senior Rita Lady were entered if the race is moved to the main track, which is a possibility since the forecast calls for rain in New York. The Garden City will be run as race 3 on the Belmont card, which also includes the $300,000 Ruffian Handicap (gr. I).
Ariege enters the event with a three-race win streak and is a nose away from being undefeated this season. The daughter of Doneraile Court secured her biggest win in the Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I) in March, and followed that up with a victory in the Stonerside Beaumont Stakes (gr. II) at Keeneland, both on artificial surfaces. Her lone turf score of 2008 came last out in the ungraded Madame Judel Stakes Aug. 9 at Saratoga, where she came off minor leg surgery and a four-month layoff to win by more than two lengths.
Bred in Kentucky by Calumet Farm and trained by Bobby Frankel, Ariege raced part of her 2-year-old season in Europe. This will be her first try going nine furlongs. She will be ridden by Alan Garcia.
“She’s been training great,” said Frankel, who worked Ariege a half-mile at Saratoga in :49.43 Aug. 31. “I really like how she’s been doing.”
Pure Clan also enters in fine form, as she has won two consecutive graded stakes since finishing third in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I). The Pure Prize filly won handily in the June 14 Regret (gr. IIIT) at Churchill Downs and three weeks later came roaring down the stretch to take the 10-furlong American Oaks by three parts of a length at Hollywood Park. Overall, the Bob Holthus trainee is an impressive 6-1-2 from nine lifetime starts and has earned more than $1 million. She will make her first Belmont start under Julien Leparoux and carry top weight of 122 pounds.
Also coming off a West Coast start is Martin Schwartz’ Satan’s Circus, who was fourth but beaten less than three lengths in the Aug. 16 Del Mar Oaks (gr. IT). Prior to that, the daughter of Gone West ran on even terms with Pure Clan in the American Oaks before coming up just short. Satan’s Circus won four of eight starts in France before shipping into the barn of Christophe Clemente.
Lael Stables’ My Princess Jess has been terrific this season for trainer Barclay Tagg. The Stormy Atlantic filly rides a three-race win streak after taking the Gaviola Stakes at Belmont, Boiling Springs Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Monmouth, and most recently, rallying down the stretch to pass Alwajeeha in the July 25 Lake George.
“She’s a very tenacious, gritty, quick filly,” Tagg said. “She isn’t afraid of anything. She’s a pleasure to be around. The inside (post 2) is good for her. If the jock (Eibar Coa) is willing to tuck in and just wait, she’s tough. I can’t say enough good things about her.”
Shadwell Stable’s Alwajeeha captured her lone graded stakes in the Appalachian (gr. IIIT) in April at Keeneland. She is trained by Kiaran McLaughlin.
“She’s been training very well,” said McLaughlin. “She was a little bit unlucky not to win her last race. But the Garden City is an important race, and we’d love to get grade I placed with her.”
Paul Pompa Jr.’s Backseat Rhythm enters off a resounding score in the Aug. 15 Lake Placid (gr. IIT) at Saratoga, while Raw Silk won the Sands Point (gr. IIT) in May at Belmont.
$250,000 Garden City Stakes (gr. IT, Race 3, 2:03 p.m.), 3-Year-Old Fillies, 1 1/8 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Raw Silk (KY), 120, Edgar S. Prado
2. My Princess Jess (FL), 120, Eibar Coa
3. Alwajeeha (KY), 118, John R. Velazquez
4. Backseat Rhythm (KY), 120, Javier Castellano
5. Pure Clan (KY), 122, Julien R. Leparoux
6. Shaker (IRE), 116, Cornelio H. Velasquez
7. Ariege (KY), 118, Alan Garcia
8. Satan's Circus (KY), 116, Corey S. Nakatani
MTO Country Star (KY), 118, (No Rider)
MTO Senior Rita Lady (KY), 116, Rajiv Maragh