Jon and Sarah Kelly’s grade I winner Vacare, coming off a third-place finish in the May 28 Gamely Stakes (gr. IT) at Hollywood Park, will stretch out to 1-¼ miles in her first start on Belmont Park turf when a field of eight fillies and mares goes postward in the $250,000 New York Stakes (gr. IIT).
The previously unbeaten winner of last year’s Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (gr. IT) at Keeneland suffered her only career loss in the Gamely, when she ran behind first- and second-place finishers Citronnade and Price Tag, both from the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel.
“She was just beaten by two very good fillies,” said trainer Christophe Clement, who conditions the daughter of Lear Fan. “My horse ran a good race, too. She was just third.”
Four-year-old Vacare began her career last summer at Arlington Park. In just four months, she developed from a 14-1 upset maiden winner to a grade I champion. A short time after she won Keeneland’s prestigious Queen Elizabeth Challenge Cup for Lothanbach Stables and trainer Chris Block, Vacare brought $2.8 million in the auction ring when Jon and Sarah Kelly purchased her as a racing/broodmare prospect.
“I’m just happy they sent her to me,” Clement said. “Obviously, this is a very, very good horse.”
Vacare carries the race’s high weight of 123 pounds and has drawn post three with jockey Edgar Prado in the saddle.
“I think she’s fine on firmer ground,” said Clement. “If the going is very soft I would be concerened. I’m going to let the jockey worry about (where Vacare is placed early). She’s versatile; she could be off the pace, she could be on the pace.”
Up to challenge Vacare will be five-year-old Masseuse, a Jimmy Toner trainee who has put out strong numbers on the turf with four wins in eight career starts. Her latest victory, scored last time out, was by a neck in the April 28 Beaugay (gr. IIIT) at Aqueduct.
The Beaugay was contested over a yielding turf course and, according to the trainer, the mare struggled to handle the surface.
“She did it because she’s got class; she wasn’t happy about the ground,” Toner said. “Soft turf didn’t help her any.”
Toner had entered Masseuse in the June 16 All Along Stakes at Colonial Downs, but scratched the mare after she drew post 12.
“You hate to ship that far to run out of the 12-hole,” he said. “It just made sense to stay home and wait for the New York.”
Masseuse, who has multiple victories at nine furlongs, also tries the 1 ¼ mile distance for the first time. At Belmont, the daughter of Dynaformer has scored three wins over four starts on the turf. Jockey Cornelio Velasquez has the mount.
“This is a crossroad,” Toner said. “I’ve wanted to get this far with her, but never had a chance because something would happen and she’d be off. I’m trying to make up a summer program for her and this race will tell me which way to go.”
Also worth consideration is the Irish-bred Makderah, who finished strongly in her last start, a second-level allowance over the Belmont turf May 31.
“She relaxed last time very well and did what we thought she could do,” said Art Magnuson, New York-based assistant to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. “The race at Keeneland (beaten favorite April 27) she was a bit keen and tugging at the bit… (but) we’re quite pleased with her. It looks like she faced some decent horses overseas.”
Makderah, owned by Shadwell Stable, is a daughter of the top turf stallion Danehill. Jockey Alan Garcia gets the mount.
Todd Pletcher trainee Jade Queen, who should be sitting on a big effort after finishing a narrow third last time out, Hostess, Barancella, For Always, and La Dolce Vita complete the field.
New York Stakes (gr. IIT, Race 8, Approximate post 4:45 p.m.), $250,000 for Fillies & Mares 3 & Up, 1 mile on the inner turf
1. Hostess, Channing Hill, 116
2. Jade Queen, Garrett Gomez, 116
3. Vacare, Edgar Prado, 123
4. Barancella, Javier Castellano, 116
5. Masseuse, Cornelio H. Velasquez, 120
6. For Always, Fernando Jara, 116
7. La Dolce Vita, Kent Desormeaux, 120
8. Makderah, Alan Garcia, 114