Team Valor International’s homebred Oleksandra booked her ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) with a furious rally in Saturday’s $250,000 Jaipur (G1) at Belmont Park. The Australian-bred daughter of Animal Kingdom nailed Kanthaka, who ironically was making his first start for Animal Kingdom’s trainer, Graham Motion.
Patiently handled by Joel Rosario, 2-1 favorite Oleksandra was content to trail early behind the hot pace on the firm turf. Hidden Scroll dashed forward in the initial strides, but Pure Sensation caught up after hopping at the break and grabbed the lead through an opening quarter in :21.33. The two dueled to the half in :43.62, when Hidden Scroll put Pure Sensation away, only to weaken himself.
Then the stalkers pounced, followed by the closers from farther back. Stubbins was the first on the premises, but Texas Wedge was bearing down immediately, and poked his head in front in midstretch. Kanthaka rallied purposefully wider out to overtake the brief leader and threatened to pull a 16-1 upset.
Oleksandra played her hand last of all. Gaining fast in the final yards, the Neil Drysdale mare forced her neck in front of Kanthaka on the line. Her time for 6 furlongs, 1:06.80, nearly equaled the inner course mark of 1:06.74 set by Tombelaine on June 17, 2018.
“The fast pace was probably why I was further back,” Rosario said, “but she came with a great run in the end. We do well together. You just need to understand her and what she wants to do during the race.”
Kanthaka ran a mighty race off a 13-month layoff for Motion, who’d celebrated a placing at Royal Ascot earlier Saturday. His Sharing was a fine second in the Coronation S. (G1). This was a much tougher beat, but the silver lining is that Kanthaka came closest to his first win since the 2018 Laz Barrera (G3).
Texas Wedge reported home third. Stubbins, White Flag, Lonhtwist, Pure Sensation, and Hidden Scroll concluded the order under the wire.
Oleksandra’s third career stakes win boosted her bankroll to $537,353 from her 15-7-3-3 record. She started out Down Under, making three starts, but didn’t break her maiden until her U.S. debut in the fall of 2018. Progressing to stakes level in 2019, Oleksandra captured the Smart N Fancy at Saratoga and the Franklin County (G3) at Keeneland, this year’s Breeders’ Cup host site. She also placed third in the Royal North (G2) and Kentucky Downs’ Ladies Sprint (G3), and most recently returned in the May 25 Monrovia (G2) and just missed to Jolie Olimpica.
“She had been training really well into this race,” Drysdale said. “She is so much fun to watch race. She makes life very exciting. At Santa Anita, going 5 1/2 furlongs (as in the Monrovia), it’s very difficult to run down speed. We were pleased with the way she ran and that’s why we sent her to Belmont.
“We’ll have to discuss (her next move) with Mr. Barry Irwin. Obviously, her final call of the year would be the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland, and she’s won there before.”
The product of two Team Valor alums, Oleksandra is out of South African Group 2 heroine Alexandra Rose, who was twice Group 1-placed in her homeland. Alexandra Rose also joined Drysdale, scoring in the 2008 Monrovia (G3) when it was on Santa Anita’s traditional downhill at about 6 1/2 furlongs. The Caesour mare is a half-sister to fellow South African Group 1 placers Pavlovich and Bipot, and another half is the dam of 2013 Golden Horseshoe (G1) winner Forest Indigo.
The other turf stakes on Belmont Day were for 3-year-olds at a mile, and favorites Decorated Invader and Sweet Melania obliged in each over the firm Widener course.
The 3-5 Decorated Invader flaunted his class in the $150,000 Pennine Ridge (G2), with an assist from Rosario who had him well placed. The Christophe Clement trainee drafted on the rail, right in the slipstream of front runner Proven Strategies through splits of :23.86 and :47.50. The son of Declaration of War telegraphed that he was poised to strike, as long as he found room to maneuver.
When Proven Strategies let the door slightly ajar on the turn, Decorated Invader seized the opening as they reached six furlongs in 1:10.61. The strapping colt held his position despite things getting a bit tight. Once able to lengthen down the lane, he kicked away by a decisive 4 3/4 lengths in a final time of 1:33.66.
Proven Strategies held second by 1 3/4 lengths from Mr Kringle, who rallied from last. Vanzzy checked in fourth, followed by Famished and Venezuelan Hug. Maroon Maniac was scratched.
Racing for West Point Thoroughbreds, William T. Freeman, William Sandbrook, and Cheryl Manning, Decorated Invader enhanced his resume to 6-4-1-0, $370,535, all on turf. A fast-finishing second in his Saratoga debut to Field Pass (eventual winner of the Jeff Ruby Steaks [G3] and Saturday’s Audubon), the bay rolled next out at the Spa. Decorated Invader confirmed his promise by taking the Summer (G1) at Woodbine, a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) at Santa Anita, where he was a commendable fourth after a difficult trip. His sophomore bow in Gulfstream Park’s Cutler Bay on Mar. 28 didn’t begin smoothly as he hit the gate, but Decorated Invader swooped from far back to conquer.
“I’ve always liked him since day one,” Clement said, “and I think he’s been a tremendous horse since the beginning. He’s been a top-class horse even last year. He was very unlucky in the Breeders’ Cup. He won a Grade 1 in Canada. He won at Gulfstream this year. He won one today and I think he’s good enough to do a mile, a mile and a quarter. I could be wrong, but I think he’ll stay.”
Bred by Redmon Farm in Kentucky, the $200,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase is a half-brother to stakes winner Jubliant Girl who is the dam of French stakes scorer Native American. Decorated Invader and Jubliant Girl were produced by the Arch mare Gamely Girl, from the family of Stormy Atlantic and Wednesday’s Prince of Wales’s (G1) star Lord North.
In the $145,500 Wonder Again (G3) for fillies, American Pharoah’s daughter Sweet Melania capitalized on her status as lone speed. Trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Jose Ortiz, the 13-10 choice breezed in :24.15, :47.62, and 1:10.99 before scampering clear in the stretch to clock 1:34.23.
Highland Glory, last in the compact field early, stayed on well to reduce the margin to 1 1/2 lengths and continued stoutly on the gallop-out. Antoinette, who attended Sweet Melania through the first six furlongs, could not maintain her position and wound up a further half-length back in third. Next at intervals came Speaktomeofsummer and Selflessly, whose stumbling start might have gotten her out of sorts.
“Analyzing the race beforehand, it looked as though she had a pace advantage,” Pletcher said. “We weren’t going to put her on the lead; we felt that she would naturally get herself there. Jose did a nice job of hashing it out and she responded well.”
Robert and Lawana Low’s Sweet Melania was last seen finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) to the aforementioned Sharing. The chestnut sports a mark of 7-3-1-3, $376,500, reflecting a near-miss in the P.G. Johnson at Saratoga and romp in last fall’s “Win and You’re In” Jessamine (G2) that propelled her to Santa Anita.
A $600,000 Keeneland September yearling, Sweet Melania was bred in Kentucky by St. Elias Stables. She is out of Grade 3-placed stakes winner Sweet N Discreet by Discreet Cat, who is a full sister to Discreet Dancer and a half to Travelin Man, both Grade 2 heroes. This is the family of European stars Duke of Marmalade and Ruler of the World, tracing to noted matron Lassie Dear.