Grade 1 winner Celestine has shown an affinity for Belmont’s turf, recording a 3-for-4 mark, and trainer Christophe Clement elected to freshen his charge up rather than contesting any Saratoga stakes. The classy mare returns from a 105-day layoff in Saturday’s $200,000 Noble Damsel (G3) on the Widener course.
Fifth when making a title defense in the June 10 Just a Game (G1), Celestine was making her first start since being transferred to Clement this season. The 5-year-old was purchased for $2.55 million at the Keeneland November sale last fall following an unplaced effort in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) at Santa Anita.
The daughter of Scat Daddy relishes shorter distances, posting a 9-6-0-2 record at Saturday’s one-mile trip, and Irad Ortiz Jr. will be back aboard. Celestine breaks from the innermost post against only four challengers.
Off Limits steps up to the graded level in good form for Chad Brown, recording a pair of allowance/optional claiming wins and neck second in the Perfect Sting in her last three starts, and the Irish-bred Masterscraftsman mare will be running late. The 6-year-old chestnut breaks from the far outside post with Joel Rosario.
Sassy Little Lila, runner-up in June’s Just a Game and the American Oaks (G1) last winter, promises to be setting the pace for Brad Cox. By Artie Schiller, the 4-year-old can be excused for her fifth against males in the Fourstardave (G1) last time and Julien Leparoux takes over the assignment.
Time and Motion captured the Wonder Again locally and finished second in the Belmont Oaks Invitational (G1), and the Jimmy Toner-trained filly appeared poised for greater heights when capturing the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) at Keeneland last fall. However, the 4-year-old daughter of Tapit did not go on as expected, dropping her next four outings, and Time and Motion will try to improve upon a third most recently in the July 8 Modesty (G3) at Arlington.
Completing the line-up is Malibu Stacy, a fast-closing allowance scorer at Saratoga in her second turf attempt last out.
The $300,000 Kelso (G2) will be offered later on the program and Sharp Azteca is the one to beat as the 124-pound highweight. Runner-up in the Met Mile (G1) two back, the 4-year-old colt exits a 7 ½-length romp in the July 30 Monmouth Cup (G3) that netted him a 109 BRIS Speed rating. Jorge Navarro trains the Kentucky-bred son of Freud and Paco Lopez guides the front-runner.
Sharp Azteca owns a 6-4-1-1 record at the one-mile distance.
A total of six are entered and Bird Song figures to appreciate the added ground following a fourth in the 6-furlong A.G. Vanderbilt (G1). By Unbridled’s Song, the 4-year-old colt captured the Alysheba (G2) at Churchill Downs and Fred Hooper (G3) at Gulfstream Park earlier this season. He’s posted two wins and two seconds from four attempts at the distance for Ian Wilkes and Leparoux will be back aboard the gray.
Four runners return from the August 26 Forego (G1) at Saratoga. Grade 2 hero Tom’s Ready and Grade 3 victor Divining Rod were third and fourth, respectively. Three-time Grade 3 winner Tommy Macho must rebound from a seventh and Ross will stick with graded rivals after finishing last of 10 in his North American debut.