No matter the form it has taken in recent times, the Belmont Oaks Invitational Stakes (G1T) has managed to serve as trainer Chad Brown's personal showcase.
In 2012-13, the last two years the race was contested under its former incarnation as the Garden City Stakes, runners from Brown's barn made sure to bring the trophy back to his shedrow. In the first two editions as the $1 million, 10-furlong test it is today, it was the same old, same old with Brown's turf distaffers again proving supreme.
While Mark Casse-trained Canadian champion Catch a Glimpse successfully halted Brown's Belmont Oaks dominance a year ago, the reigning Eclipse Award-winning conditioner has come to the 2017 edition at Belmont Park with a quartet of contenders as intimidating in form as they are in numbers. Led by the presence of grade 1 winner New Money Honey, the July 8 race could signal a return to its previous trend.
The breadth and depth of Brown's turf distaffers will be front and center this Saturday as his arsenal leads the 12-horse lineup set to go to post in the Belmont Oaks. In addition to saddling graded stakes winners New Money Honey and Fifty Five, Brown will also send out a pair of fillies making their stateside debuts in Uni, who went 2-2-1 in her first six starts in France, and Sistercharlie, who enters off a second-place finish in the June 18 Prix de Diane Longines (G1) and is the 5-2 morning-line favorite.
Owned by e Five Racing Thoroughbreds, New Money Honey is a physically impressive filly with credentials to match. The 3-year-old daughter of Medaglia d'Oro broke her maiden in the Miss Grillo Stakes (G3T) over the Belmont course in October prior to her half-length victory in the Nov. 4 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1T).
Her seasonal bow left Brown scratching his head when she finished sixth as the favorite in the Appalachian Stakes Presented by Japan Racing Association (G3T) at Keeneland April 13. The filly Brown has come to expect showed up with a new dimension to her game next time out, however, rolling to a gate-to-wire, two-length win in the June 8 Wonder Again Stakes (G3T) at Belmont, besting Fifty Five that day along with fellow Belmont Oaks entrant Coasted.
Uni will be making her first start since winning at 1 1/8 miles May 11 at Maisons-laffitte. The daughter of More Than Ready will also try the Belmont Oaks distance for the first time and has Irad Ortiz Jr. in the irons.
"I've been impressed; she's come in and trained well and every week she seems to be improving," Brown said of the chestnut filly. "The layoff concerns me going a mile and a quarter. It'll come down to pace and trip, so she'll have to overcome that. But what I've seen in the mornings, I've been impressed."
Bred in Ireland, Peter Brant's Sistercharlie has won three times in her five-race career, including a group 3 win in the Prix Penelope at Saint Cloud April 23. The daughter of Myboycharlie shipped into Belmont this past weekend after being purchased privately, and will break from the outside post with Hall of Famer John Velazquez at the helm.
Also making her U.S. debut is trainer Aidan O'Brien's Key to My Heart. The Galileo filly shipped to Belmont July 4, less than a week after winning her first stakes race in the 1 1/4-mile Queally Group Naas Irish E.B.F. Naas Oaks Trial June 28 with O'Brien's son Donnacha onboard.
"She only won last week. Now she's in this. She's very impressive," said O'Brien's assistant T.J. Comerford. "She always looked like a winner as well."
Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) runner-up Daddys Lil Darling is hoping to make a successful transition from dirt to turf, following a disastrous attempt at the surface switch at the group 1 Investec Oaks June 2 at Epsom Downs when she ran off in the post parade and was a late scratch. The Scat Daddy filly has one start on the turf in her career, a sixth-place finish in the Florida Oaks (G3T), which was won by Fifty Five. Trainer Kenny McPeek said the decision to run her in the Oaks is less because of the surface and more about the distance.
"She really needs the distance more than the ground," McPeek said. "She seems to be a filly that needs pace, and it's hard to say whether you'll get that in this race or not, but we'll see."
Belmont Park, Saturday, July 08, 2017, Race 8
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1Coasted (KY) Joel Rosario 121 Leah Gyarmati 15/1 2 2Beau Recall (IRE) Flavien Prat 121 Simon Callaghan 15/1 3 3Violet Blue (KY) Manuel Franco 121 James J. Toner 30/1 4 4Grizzel (IRE) David Moran 121 Michael J. Doyle 20/1 5 5Key To My Heart (IRE) Wayne Lordan 121 Aidan P. O'Brien 8/1 6 6Journey Home (KY) Edgar S. Prado 121 H. Graham Motion 30/1 7 7Uni (GB) Irad Ortiz, Jr. 121 Chad C. Brown 6/1 8 8New Money Honey (KY) Javier Castellano 121 Chad C. Brown 7/2 9 9Dynatail (KY) Luis Saez 121 Michael Dini 12/1 10 10Fifty Five (NY) Jose L. Ortiz 121 Chad C. Brown 8/1 11 11Daddys Lil Darling (KY) Dylan Davis 121 Kenneth G. McPeek 10/1 12 12Sistercharlie (IRE) John R. Velazquez 121 Chad C. Brown 5/2
Belmont Park, Saturday, July 08, 2017, Race 8