(edited press release)
Eighty minutes or so before the sport’s top three-year-olds battle it out in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes (gr. I), some of racing’s fastest and classiest 3year-old fillies will meet in the 77th running of the $250,000 Acorn Stakes (gr. I).
Race nine on a spectacular 13-race Belmont Stakes Day program, the Acorn will be contested at one mile. The race drew a field of six fillies, led by Ashland Stakes (gr. I) winner Christmas Kid, Comely Stakes (gr. II) winner Boca Grande, and Nassau County Breeders’ Cup Stakes (gr. II) winner Dream Rush.
Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher, who is running his superstar three-year-old filly Rags to Riches against males in the Belmont Stakes, also entered the accomplished Cotton Blossom in the Acorn. Pletcher would have had the short-priced Acorn favorite in Octave, but has decided to keep that filly on the sidelines until the June 30 Mother Goose Stakes (gr. I), run at nine furlongs at Belmont Park.
Instead, Cotton Blossom gets a shot at a fourth career win, having a record of three wins, two seconds and a third from eight starts. Last summer, she scored an upset win in Saratoga’s Schuylerville (gr. III) before running second in the Spinaway (gr. I) and third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) at Churchill Downs.
“She’s been a real nice horse for us for a while now,” said Pletcher, who won his first and only running of the Acorn in 1998 with Jersey Girl. “I definitely think she’s improved since her two-year-old campaign.”
Cotton Blossom began the year with a solid victory in the Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs, and has since finished second in the Fantasy Stakes (gr. II) at Oaklawn Park and ninth in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) at Churchill Downs. But Cotton Blossom may have had a tougher trip than anyone in the Oaks as she took up sharply at the three-sixteenths pole.
“Thankfully, she came out of the race in good shape,” Pletcher said. “She checked so bad I was worried something happened to her. Without that trouble, I think she would have hit the board. She’s trained well since then. Physically, she looks great.”
Cotton Blossom has drawn post 4 with jockey John Velazquez.
West Point Stable’s Dream Rush might be the most exciting filly heading into the Acorn. A daughter of Wild Rush, she’s won four of five starts, suffering her only loss with a tough-trip second at Gulfstream Park back in January.
Purchased as a two-year-old for $285,000, Dream Rush steps into the Acorn off an awesome and easy victory in the May 5th Nassau County Breeders’ Cup Stakes (gr. II) at seven furlongs. Dream Rush went wire-to-wire that day, expanding her margin effortlessly in the stretch and stopping the teletimer at a scorching 1:22.
“She’s trained well since the Nassau County,” trainer Rick Violette Jr. said. “As far as the morning goes, she’s been doing everything while firing on all cylinders.”
Dream Rush, blessed with a high cruising speed, might play out as the pacesetter in the Acorn. Breaking from the rail with Garrett Gomez in the saddle, she’ll be making her first start at a distance that is more than seven furlongs this Saturday
“Honestly, I don’t see the mile as being a problem,” Violette said. “Her pedigree says she should handle it. She’s really done everything right since that latter part of Saratoga last summer and she’s fast to boot.”
Edward Evans’ Christmas Kid has done little wrong. Winner four of seven starts, including Keeneland’s prestigious Ashland, she is by 1999 Belmont Stakes champion Lemon Drop Kid .
“She seems to be doing really good,” said trainer Jimmy Jerkens, who recently won Belmont Park’s Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) with Corinthian. “From top to bottom this race really came up tough, but she’s training great and she looks real good. I wouldn’t be as confident if she looked she was going backwards.”
Christmas Kid returns to a one-turn mile Saturday, a distance she won Gulfstream’s Davona Dale (gr. II) in February.
“I always thought her best race all along was a mile around one turn,” Jerkens said. “She’s always acted like a mile was the perfect distance for her. With Dream Rush in there, it looks like they’ll speed to run at.”
Christmas Kid has drawn post 3, picking up jockey Edgar Prado in the saddle, and will have to face Boca Grande, trained by two-time Acorn winner and Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey.
By A.P. Indy– the 1992 Belmont Stakes champion, Horse of the Year and sire of Belmont Stakes contender Rags to Riches – Boca Grande enters the Acorn with three wins from five starts. Two of her brightest moments came at Aqueduct when she won last November’s Demoiselle (gr. II) and the April 14 Comely (gr. II).
Princes Janie and Officer in Pursuit round out the field.
With a post time of 5:04 p.m., the Acorn fits snuggly into a pair of $1 million guaranteed multi-race wagers. The stacked, all-stakes Pick 6 begins with the sixth race, the True North Handicap (gr. II) at 3:08 p.m. (EST). The Pick 4 kicks off at 4:25 p.m. with the Woody Stephens Stakes (gr. II). Both wagers conclude with the Belmont Stakes.
Acorn Stakes (gr. I, race 9, approximate post 5:04 p.m.), $250,000 for 3-year-old fillies, one mile on the dirt
1. Dream Rush, Garrett Gomez, 121
2. Princess Janie, Eddie Castro, 121
3. Christmas Kid, Edgar Prado, 121
4. Cotton Blossom, John Velazquez, 121
5. Officer in Pursuit, Mike Luzzi, 121
6. Boca Grande, Mike Smith, 121