By Dave Litfin
Although the 60th running of the $300,000 Mother Goose (gr. I) July 2 at Belmont Park drew a relatively small field, it offers some interesting background and subplots.
Todd Pletcher sends out three of the seven entrants, led by the classy Rachel's Valentina—the lone filly out of Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra.
Rachel Alexandra won the Mother Goose by better than 19 lengths after beating the boys in the Preakness (gr. I) as part of a historic 8-for-8 campaign in 2009, and that was also the last time the race was run at 1 1/8 miles. The following year, it was shortened to 1 1/16 miles, which was the distance for its first two runnings in 1957-58.
Pletcher has won the Mother Goose four times, beginning with Jersey Girl in 1998. That filly was not only his first career grade I winner when she took that year's Acorn (gr. I), but also became his first New York stakes winner of any kind when she won the 1997 Astoria as a 2-year-old.
Let's go through the field in post position order.
LINDA MIMI (#1): Lightly raced and improving with each start, but the daughter of Congrats takes a big step up in class after beating maidens over the track June 2. An alert break from the rail could make her an early pace presence, but others are faster and more experienced.
OFF THE TRACKS (#2): A one-turn route on a fast track suits this Curlin filly, who reeled off three straight wins to begin her career before weakening late in a sloppy Gulfstream Park Oaks (gr. II) as the 4-5 favorite. She was given a breather after that, and returned to finish a bang-up second to Carina Mia in the Acorn three weeks ago, finishing well after idling briefly behind the leaders into the stretch.
MOM'S ON STRIKE (3): After a maiden win at Oaklawn Park second time out, she was given a tall order in the Black-Eyed Susan (gr. II). She was forwardly placed after breaking a bit slow from the far outside post, and despite a wide trip she was still in contention in the stretch, ultimately finishing fifth while missing second by only a half-length. She is adding blinkers and has worked over Belmont's main track three times, capped by two bullets, which suggests she may be a forward factor through the long run down the backstretch.
MO D'AMOUR (#4): Looks to be the longest-priced chance among the Pletcher trio, although her fifth-place finish in the Longines Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) stacks up fairly well. Her only subsequent start was a wide trip from the far outside post on turf, which seems excusable. Even so, she was a well-beaten third in two previous attempts against Lewis Bay, and it's difficult to see why things should be much different this time.
LEWIS BAY (#5): Despite tossing her head around while a bit headstrong early, she saved all the ground and loomed boldly into the stretch of the Kentucky Oaks, only to falter late and get nipped for second. That was a bit surprising in view of her grade II wins at 1 1/8 miles in the Demoiselle and the Gazelle, although in both of those triunphs she exhibited a tendency to wait on horses after making the lead.
RACHEL'S VALENTINA (#6): This regally bred filly is the only grade I winner in the lineup, but it has been nearly 10 months since she secured that score in the Spinaway, and she comes off a disappointing sixth-place finish in the Kentucky Oaks as the 5-2 favorite. In the Oaks, however, she was returning in 27 days after a hard comeback effort in the Ashland (gr. I), and it's highly likely she was still feeling the effects of that race. She has had eight weeks to regroup, and figures to fire her best shot.
LIGHTSTREAM (#7): Unbeaten daughter of Harlan's Holiday has overcome some obstacles in winning her first three starts, all of them at seven furlongs. She has been a bit tardy from the gate, but rallied along the rail to win the Beaumont (gr. III) at the expense of grade I Frizette winner Nickname, and then circled widest to win the Soaring Softly on turf after spotting her rivals two or three lengths at the break. Her trainer, Brian Lynch, has expressed confidence in her ability to handle the distance, and an outside draw with a long run to the turn may help her cause.
The bottom line: There isn't an overwhelming amount of early speed in the matchup, and Rachel's Valentina projects for a favorable trip. She is unlikely to face any outside pressure, given Lightstream's history of breaking slowly, and appears primed for a peak performance.
Exacta—Key 6 with 2 & 5
A-B-C contender designations for $500,000 late pick four (third leg):
B: 2, 5
A native New Yorker, Dave Litfin worked at various racing circuits across the country in the early 1980s before becoming a public handicapper in 1989. He has been picking winners ever since, while also writing columns and reporting for the New York Daily News, Metro Turf and Daily Racing Form. He lives in Saratoga Springs, two miles from the Union Avenue gate.