Sophomore fillies who had contemplated the Kentucky Oaks (G1) at one point or another will add to the depth of a fantastic Friday undercard at Churchill Downs. The $300,000 Eight Belles Stakes (G2) pits Four Graces against Mundaye Call, while the $300,000 Edgewood Stakes (G2) on turf features Breeders’ Cup star Sharing in her first start back from Royal Ascot.
The Eight Belles is contested over a 7-furlong trip that’s arguably ideal for both Four Graces and Mundaye Call, making their clash all the more mouth-watering. Four Graces is a perfect 4-for-4 at the distance and 2-for-2 beneath the Twin Spires, including the June 6 Dogwood (G3) in her stakes debut. That was a scoring race toward the Oaks, as was her ensuing track-record victory in the Beaumont (G3) at Keeneland. But trainer Ian Wilkes opted to keep the Whitham Thoroughbreds homebred to one turn, a sensible decision considering she’s by sprinter Majesticperfection. A half-sister to the talented McCraken, Four Graces will break from the outside post 7 with Julien Leparoux back aboard.
Mundaye Call, a $950,000 daughter of Into Mischief, also arrives in top form riding a three-race winning streak. Trained by Brad Cox, the OXO Equine colorbearer entered the Oaks picture when dominating the Aug. 9 Audubon Oaks in track-record time at Ellis Park. As in the case of Four Graces, however, that points race was held at 7 furlongs, and it didn’t take connections long to rule her out of the Kentucky Oaks. Mundaye Call promises to blast from her rail post for Florent Geroux.
Sconsin has faced both of the Eight Belles “bookends,” placing second to Four Graces in the Beaumont and third to Mundaye Call in the Audubon Oaks. Representing the same connections as Kentucky Derby (G1) contender Major Fed, the Greg Foley filly will be closing off the hot pace.
Contributing to that tempo will be stakes debutantes Perfect Happiness, another by Majesticperfection, and Purrfectly Claire. Brereton Jones’ homebred Perfect Happiness just romped in an Ellis Park allowance for Larry Jones, and the Phil Bauer-trained Purrfectly Claire comes off scores in a Churchill maiden and Indiana Grand allowance. Extra Effort is eligible to show speed adding blinkers since her win via disqualification at Belterra, while G. Watts Humphrey’s blueblood Never Forget, an Indiana Grand maiden winner in her seventh attempt, hopes to channel her dam Frivolous’ success at Churchill.
One race later in the Edgewood, Sharing looms large over seven rivals. Last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) heroine made a winning reappearance at this course and distance in the May 23 Tepin S., leaving In Good Spirits back in fourth, Walk in Marrakesh a luckless seventh, and Outburst a subpar 11th. Sharing used that as a tightener for the Coronation S. (G1) at Royal Ascot, where she finished a clear second to Alpine Star on ground that was a touch too soft for her. The Graham Motion filly can add to a big weekend for Manny Franco, rider of Derby favorite Tiz the Law.
Walk in Marrakesh, who was nipped in her North American bow in the 2019 Natalma (G1), endured additional near-misses in the Mar. 7 Florida Oaks (G3) and July 11 Appalachian (G2). The Ignacio Correas filly is knocking on the proverbial door, and perhaps the switch to Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano can help her break through.
Hendy Woods and Pranked, the respective top two from the Aug. 12 Indiana Grand S., renew rivalry. French import Mariafoot, last of six in a stakes-record Appalachian on a Keeneland course that was lightning fast, could appreciate the rain in the midweek forecast. Lucky Betty takes a class hike after a successful turf debut in an Ellis allowance.