July 13, 2024

Streaking Midnight Bisou tops Molly Pitcher; Coal Front bids to rebound in Monmouth Cup

Midnight Bisou romping in the 2019 Odgen Phipps (G1) at Belmont Park (c) Horsephotos.com/Kathleen O'Leary

Multiple Grade 1 heroine Midnight Bisou adds star power to Saturday’s stakes-laden Haskell Invitational (G1) undercard at Monmouth Park, as she puts her winning streak on the line in the $150,000 Molly Pitcher (G3).

Four-for-four this season including marquee victories in the Apple Blossom H. (G1) and Ogden Phipps (G1) in her last two, Midnight Bisou also sports a perfect record at this trip. The Steve Asmussen trainee has won all eight of her starts going 1 1/16 miles, although one of those scores came via the disqualification of Monomoy Girl in last fall’s Cotillion (G1). Midnight Bisou doesn’t face a rival of such championship caliber here, making this a relatively straightforward prep for the August 24 Personal Ensign (G1) at Saratoga. Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith is back aboard the 3-5 morning-line favorite.

Her most intriguing challenger, Chad Brown’s lightly raced Electric Forest, shares her co-highweight status with a 123-pound impost. (Note that Electric Forest has been cross-entered to the Shuvee [G3] at Saratoga Sunday.) Last seen earning her first graded title in Keeneland’s Doubledogdare (G3) April 19, the Stonestreet homebred brings an improving profile as well as a strong pedigree. The Curlin filly is a half-sister to Grade 3 winner Kentuckian and sire Maclean’s Music. Hall of Famer Javier Castellano picks up the mount on Electric Forest, who is drawn one spot outside of Midnight Bisou in post 4.

Brown also sends out the more exposed Pacific Wind, another daughter of Curlin, coming off a fifth behind Midnight Bisou in the Phipps on Belmont Day. Two back, she was runner-up as the defending champion in the Ruffian (G2). Todd Pletcher is likewise double-handed with Varanasi, who steps up in class off a front-running allowance romp here, and Sun Studio, fourth in the Ruffian but a better third in the local prep, the Lady’s Secret. Breaking Bread, awarded the win in the Serena’s Song, was second across the wire again in the Lady’s Secret. Last year’s Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) victress, Coach Rocks, tuned up with an off-the-turf allowance conquest Churchill Downs, while Grade 3 veteran Cosmic Burst was third in her Churchill allowance over a one-turn mile. Coach Rocks, like Electric Forest, is also in the Shuvee.

Older males take the stage in the $200,000 Monmouth Cup (G3), where Coal Front stretches out to nine furlongs for the first time. The Pletcher veteran was a one-turn specialist until handling the 1 1/16-mile Razorback H. (G3) at Oaklawn Park, his stepping stone to victory in the Godolphin Mile (G2) on Dubai World Cup night. Coal Front didn’t run up to that level in his next try around a one-turn mile, winding up seventh in the Metropolitan H. (G1), and this looks like a good rebound spot.

Monongahela, the other 123-pound co-highweight, was a perennial stakes bridesmaid until achieving an emphatic breakthrough in the Philip Iselin (G3) last out. Trainer Jason Servis, who will saddle Maximum Security in the Haskell, credits jockey Jose Lezcano for upgrading his running style. Iselin runner-up Bal Harbour is Pletcher’s second string, but picks up Smith. Lemonade Thursday appears primed for this stakes debut after a sharp allowance score for Arnaud Delacour, and rounding out the cast are Zanotti, fourth in the Iselin but second in last year’s Monmouth Cup; Grade 2 veteran War Story; and class-challenged Moon Gate Warrior.

The other three stakes are all on turf, and the $150,000 Oceanport (G3) kicks off the stakes action as the 5TH race. The class of the short field is multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Divisidero, eligible to move forward off a second in the Prince George’s County at Laurel. The 3-2 favorite in the 1 1/16-mile affair has gone winless, however, since last year’s Arlington H. (G3). Projected brings an even longer losing skid dating back to the 2017 Baltimore/Washington International Turf Cup (G2), but his near-miss to Hawkish two back in the Cliff Hanger makes him a top threat for the ubiquitous Brown.

Grade 3 winner Just Howard enters in good form after thirds in the Dixie (G2) and Prince George’s County, Pizmo Time has reeled off three straight climbing the allowance ladder at Laurel, Dover Cliffs exits an allowance score over the course, and Bird’s Eye View was a close second in an arguably better one at Belmont.

Brown has the one to beat in the companion $150,000 Matchmaker (G3) in Competitionofideas, who finally gets away from stablemate Homerique. Since her good-looking American Oaks (G1) tally in December, the Klaravich Stables runner has turned in a pair of terrific seconds in the Beaugay (G3) and New York (G2), beating all but Homerique.

The 1 1/8-mile test didn’t exactly come up easy, though. Valedictorian’s tactical speed, so effective in her Eatontown (G3) coup last out and earlier in the Suwannee River (G3), figures to loom large again. The rub is whether she can concede weight all around as the 123-pound highweight. Three rivals bring international form – well-bred Brazilian Group 1 queen Touriga, starting her U.S. career with Graham Motion; I’m So Fancy, a Group 3 scorer in her native Ireland who was third in the Curragh’s Blandford (G2) and most recently victorious in the Big Dreyfus at Laurel; and fellow Irish Group 3 winner Xenobia, fourth versus males in last September’s Desmond (G3) and a troubled fourth in her American bow at Belmont for Jonathan Thomas.

The outsiders Dark Artist and My Sistersledge will try to compete for a minor award, including the perk of a WinStar stallion season available to the top three finishers. WinStar is offering seasons to Yoshida, Audible, and Paynter.

Turf sprinters have an opportunity in the $75,000 Wolf Hill at 5 1/2 furlongs, pitting Parx Dash (G3) fourth Fig Jelly and Tricks to Doo against up-and-comer Justaholic and Godolphin’s recent allowance winner Regal Image.