Belmont Park has a trio of Grade 3 contests, each worth $200,000, scheduled to take place on Saturday, kicking off with the Athenia Stakes (G3) in the 7TH race. The 1 1/16-mile turf event drew a baker’s dozen, including Grade 1 heroine Time and Motion.
The Tapit filly has gone winless from four starts this year, and actually hasn’t visited the winner’s circle since taking last year’s Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) at Keeneland. Trained by Jimmy Toner, Time and Motion is exiting a fourth-place run in the Noble Damsel Stakes (G3) at Belmont on September 23 and gets jockey John Velazquez in the irons.
“We missed some time with her. She had some foot issues, so it wasn’t like we were exactly geared up to run, but we wanted to get her back in the game,” Toner said in regards to the Noble Damsel. “So, we did run her and she ran well. She just got a little tired in the last part of it. She needed a race.
“Otherwise, I would’ve had to wait another month and a half (for the Athenia), so I felt like if I could just get her back in the game, get a race into her and be able to come back into the Athenia, we would be in good shape. And it’s worked out well, she’s come out of the race well and she’s had several nice breezes in the interim. She’s back on her game, she’s doing great, so we’re looking forward to running her.
Decked Out also brings a Grade 1 win into the Athenia. The Keith Desormeaux pupil captured the American Oaks (G1) on New Year’s Eve to close out her sophomore campaign at Santa Anita Park, but has been fifth in just two starts this season. The chestnut daughter of Street Boss showed improvement last out when missing by only 1 1/4 lengths in the 1 1/4-mile Rodeo Drive Stakes (G1) and gets a jockey switch to Nik Juarez here.
Off Limits got the best of Time and Motion when taking the Noble Damsel by 4 3/4 lengths last out for trainer Chad Brown. That was the Mastercraftsman mare’s first graded win and first stakes score since 2015. Joel Rosario was aboard for the Noble Damsel and retains the mount here.
Multiple Grade 2 heroine Miss Sky Warrior returns against six rivals in the Turnback the Alarm Handicap (G3) one race later going 8 1/2 furlongs on the main track.
The Kelly Breen trainee brought a five-race win streak, including a 13-length romp in the Gazelle Stakes (G2), into the Kentucky Oaks (G1) last out, but never factored after an early run and backed up to be eighth in her worse effort to date. The First Samurai sophomore hasn’t been seen in action since that May 5 affair, and will have someone other than Paco Lopez aboard for the first time when Javier Castellano gets the leg up on Saturday.
“I’m happy to have the chance to saddle her again, it’s very exciting,” Breen said. “It’s not the easiest of spots, but she’s been training very well and I’m eager to see what she can do for her fall campaign. I just want her to have a good performance and come out of the race healthy.”
Eskenformoney and Verve’s Tale were separated by only a neck when third and fourth, respectively, on the wire of the Beldame Invitational (G1) last out on September 30. Prior to that, Eskenformoney was also third in the Personal Ensign Stakes (G1) while Verve’s Tale captured the Summer Colony Stakes.
Rounding out the graded action at Belmont on Saturday is the Bold Ruler Handicap (G3) for sprinters. The seven-furlong contest attracted a field of 11, including Grade 2 victor Awesome Banner.
The Ken Decker-trained four-year-old finished second in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (G1) in late July, next filled the fourth spot in the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (G3) and last out just missed by a nose when runner-up in the Phoenix Stakes (G2). Awesome Banner gets Jose Lezcano back in the irons on Saturday.
“He’s come out of his last race really good,” Decker said. “His last work coming into this was from the gate and real nice. He seems to be ready to go.”
Also going in the Bold Ruler is Grade 3 winner Divining Rod, who filled the second spot in the Kelso Handicap (G2) most recently on September 23. The Arnaud Delacour charge was fourth in the Forego Stakes (G1) prior to that, and could end up going to the December 2 Cigar Mile Handicap (G1) at Aqueduct with a good enough performance under Daniel Centeno in this spot.
“He’s come back in great shape since the Kelso,” Delacour said. “I think seven-eighths might be a little short for him, but he’s a very good racehorse. He can move on his own or in company. Ideally, we’d like to use this race as a prep for the Cigar Mile but we’ll see how this goes first.”