Belmont Park Race Report: Fairy Tale

Published in the July 6 issue of The Blood-Horse
By the time June 29 rolled around, the Mother Goose Stakes (gr. I), which at one point looked like the race of the year for 3-year-old fillies, was almost as bare as Old Mother Hubbard's cupboard. At one point, we had powerhouses Take Charge Lady, Bella Bellucci, and Belterra all heading for the $250,000 race. Then, just like that, one little filly went to market; one little filly stayed home; one little filly came down with a fever; and, with only four little fillies left, Nonsuch Bay was able go "wee, wee, wee" all the way home.

Even without the presence of the three marquee names, Nonsuch Bay was able to provide a happy ending, which is more than you can say for most Mother Goose nursery rhymes. The 1 1/8-mile second leg of the New York Racing Association's "Triple Tiara" also failed to attract Acorn (gr. I) and Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I) winner You, who was always being pointed for the Test Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga, and Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) winner Farda Amiga, who is recuperating from a virus.

With the five leading 3-year-old fillies all sitting out the race, this year's Mother Goose had to settle for grade II winners Chamrousse, Nonsuch Bay, and Dust Me Off, along with Seba. Seba raced in the colors of Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum because she was deemed not worthy enough to sport the elite blue silks of Godolphin.

To demonstrate how much the big-name fillies were missed, the 6-5 favorite, Chamrousse, had been soundly beaten twice by Take Charge Lady at Fair Grounds earlier in the year; Nonsuch Bay, the 5-2 second choice, was coming off a 22-length thrashing at the hands of You in the Acorn, and earlier had finished 10 1/2 lengths behind Bella Bellucci in the Comely Stakes (gr. III). Finally, the 5-2 Dust Me Off finished 27 1/4 lengths behind You in the Acorn.

But once you were able to accept the fact you were dealing with the second tier of 3-year-old fillies, you had a pretty interesting race to handicap. Whenever you're dealing with a grade I stakes in New York, it's a pretty good bet that Jerry Bailey will play a major part in it--even in a four-horse field. Not only did Bailey land the mount on Joseph Platt Jr.'s Nonsuch Bay, he had ridden two of the other starters--Chamrousse and Seba--in their last starts.

Bailey no doubt would have remained on Chamrousse after guiding the daughter of Peaks and Valleys to a clear-cut victory in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (gr. II). But when it became apparent Chamrousse's trainer Niall O'Callaghan wanted no part of the heavy hitters in the Mother Goose, Bailey signed on to ride Nonsuch Bay, who had captured the seven-furlong Nassau County Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. II) prior to her Acorn debacle. When Take Charge Lady and Bella Bellucci both defected, however, O'Callaghan changed his mind and headed to Belmont. With Bailey already taken, he went with Edgar Prado.

Although Dust Me Off, winner of the Bonnie Miss Stakes (gr. II), had a good deal of speed and was getting blinkers for the first time, Nonsuch Bay's trainer Frank Alexander decided not to change strategy. "Even though she was fourth, beaten 22 lengths in the Acorn, she made a strong middle move," Alexander said. "Bella Bellucci made the same move and it didn't work for her, either. I would have liked to have seen her sit for a little longer and make one run."

Alexander told Bailey to let the others go and ride his filly as if he were coming from behind in a sprint race. At the start, Dust Me Off ducked to the outside, which cost her a couple of lengths. It was Chamrousse who broke fastest of all and went for the lead. But after getting in gear, Dust Me Off dragged jockey Jose Santos to the lead. Instead of letting her go, Santos took a strong hold of his filly and was able to get away with a :23.44 opening quarter, while opening a 2 1/2-length advantage. But he was fully outstretched with his feet in the dashboard, and Dust Me Off didn't seem to appreciate the restraint.

Chamrousse was moving comfortably in second, with Seba, on the inside, and Nonsuch Bay, alongside her, sitting right behind. "We actually clipped heels with Chamrousse a few times, and I decided not to tempt fate any longer and tipped outside of her," Bailey said.

Dust Me Off picked it up through the second quarter, getting her half in :46.34. After three-quarters in 1:10.83, Chamrousse ranged up alongside the leader and looked ready to kick on for home. She pulled away from a spent Dust Me Off, but Bailey had Nonsuch Bay rolling on the outside. He hit her a couple of times right-handed, then switched to his left stick, and Nonsuch Bay began to draw clear passing the eighth pole. She increased her lead in the final furlong, crossing the wire 1 1/2 lengths in front of Chamrousse, who was 12 1/4 lengths ahead of Seba. The final time for the nine furlongs was 1:49.09.

"I might give her a break now and wait for the Alabama (gr. I, Aug. 17)," Alexander said. "The last race (the Acorn) didn't set up for her. She was back behind the lead and they made a quick move from the half-mile to the quarter pole. The pace was fast, but the leaders didn't stop. I wasn't concerned about the distance, but she settles so nicely, which is why she didn't have a problem with it."

The daughter of Mr. Greeley, who sold for $75,000 at last year's Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's March sale of 2-year-olds in training, has now won four of seven career starts, increasing her lifetime earnings to $386,502.

Viva Zavata
We don't know how far Zavata wants to go, but the son of Phone Trick has looked awesome in his two starts at Belmont Park. After romping with ridiculous ease in a maiden race on May 27, Zavata, owned by Michael Tabor, turned in another strong performance on June 29, winning the Tremont Stakes (gr. III) by 6 1/4 lengths. Despite not being hit with the whip and being eased by Bailey in the final strides, Zavata still came within a tick of the track record, as he covered the 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:02.66.

Sent off at 1-2, Zavata tracked the pace-setting Hussar before blowing the race open at the top of the stretch. "This horse can do anything," trainer Patrick Biancone said. "He is probably better coming from behind. He had to work on the turn so that the leader would not get too far away. He's a star for sure. At least, until the very end of August, he will be very tough to beat. We'll aim for the Saratoga Special (gr. II) and the Hopeful (gr. I)." b

Pulling Up
Monmouth-based 2-year-olds began their assault on Belmont Park early this year when Dennis Narlinger's Mike's Wildcat, coming off a maiden romp at the Jersey Shore track, blew her field away in the June 30 Astoria Stakes, winning by eight lengths in 1:03.99 for trainer Jeff Bonde...Arkansas Derby (gr. II) winner Private Emblem was unable to overcome a horrendous trip in the Mike Lee Stakes for New York-breds on June 29, finishing a fast-closing third behind the winner No Parole, who won by 2 3/4 lengths in 1:22.60 for the seven furlongs.

(Chart, Equibase)