Both of Sunday’s graded turf stakes at Belmont Park offered implications for Breeders’ Cup “Future Stars Friday.” While the Phil Gleaves-trained Second of July upset the $100,000 Futurity Stakes (G3) to earn a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2), Wesley Ward’s Royal Approval has options after justifying odds-on favoritism in the Matron Stakes (G3).
A 68-1 surprise package in his debut, Second of July came right back to defy market expectations in the Futurity. The 15-1 longest shot on the board held off Ward’s 2-1 favorite After Five in this “Win and You’re In” for the Juvenile Turf Sprint, the final Breeders’ Cup Challenge race of the 2020 schedule.
Four scratches – Sky’s Not Falling, who’s cross-entered to Monday’s Fitz Dixon Jr. Memorial at Presque Isle; Newbomb, runner-up in a Saturday maiden to Nova Rags; and the main-track-only entrants Kentucky Knight and Nutsie – left a field of seven remaining, but still no shortage of speed on paper.
Although Ward’s Gypsy King showed in front early, Momos zipped through on the inside to take over. Gypsy King was content to stalk instead through fractions of :22.10 and :45.45 on the firm Widener turf.
Turning for home, County Final loomed to challenge the leaders, only could not sustain his bid. Then Second of July, who had been settled near the rear of the compact group, followed in his wake to offer a stronger rally.
Under Dylan Davis, Second of July swept past the stalling County Final, the dogged Momos, and the weakening Gypsy King. His move was well timed, for After Five finally got rolling in deep stretch. But Second of July had done enough to preserve a half-length decision while clocking 6 furlongs in 1:09.33.
“I knew he was very fit and sharp and doing good,” Gleaves told NYRA publicity, “so I knew he would run his race, but I just wasn’t sure if it was going to be good enough, but it turned out to be. I was happy to see he had so much horse coming around the turn and at that point I knew we were going to run well. He just wore them down. Dylan does such a great job. There would be no reason to change things at the Breeders’ Cup.”
Momos kept on determinedly another half-length back in third, with the same margin to fourth-placer County Final. Gypsy King edged Ward stablemate Trade Deal in fifth, and European import Bright Devil trailed.
Bryan Hilliard’s homebred Second of July, who paid $33 to win, is now 2-for-2 with a bankroll of $89,650. The chestnut gelding broke his maiden over the same distance on the inner turf Sept. 20.
Davis noticed how much Second of July had learned from that introduction to the game.
“The first time out, he was pretty green about everything,” his rider said. “Today, he was very professional, and I hope he will be third time out (in the Breeders’ Cup). He was a lot better with the gate and the pony and the whole race scenario. He was a lot better for me.”
Second of July is the second juvenile stakes winner this season for the War Front stallion Jack Milton, after unbeaten Bolton Landing vixen Tobys Heart. The Kentucky-bred is out of the Curlin mare Wichita, herself a half-sister to multiple stakes scorers Bluegrass Angus and Dynasty of Her Own, from the further family of Grade 1 victor Western Aristocrat and Grade 2 heroine Zindaya.
The companion Matron featured a much more overwhelming Ward favorite in the 0.55-1 Royal Approval, and the daughter of Tiznow ran up to billing to enter Breeders’ Cup calculations. The Three Chimneys Farm homebred has the option of the Juvenile Turf Sprint or stepping up in trip for the Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1).
Royal Approval broke on top, but let Union Gables go forward through splits of :22.53 and :46.28. Traveling smoothly for Irad Ortiz, the favorite appeared to have her rival’s measure, and she asserted under good handling. Royal Approval forged three-quarters of a length clear and finished in 1:09.10 on the inner course.
“I rode her like the best horse in the race,” Ortiz said. “With this one I got the perfect trip (compared to beaten favorite After Five in the Futurity). She broke well, she put me right there and when I asked her to go, she was there.
“She (Union Gables) was game. She was fighting and she tried to come back. My filly responded really well. She has a nice turn of foot.”
Also moving well in midstretch was Niente, who sadly went wrong and got pulled up promptly by Jose Lezcano. The Parx debut winner had denied Vequist, the subsequent Spinaway (G1) romper and Frizette (G1) runner-up, that day, and thereby brought an alluring formline into this first stakes (and turf) attempt. Niente was vanned off for further veterinary examination of her right front.
As Royal Approval and Union Gables were securing the exacta, European import Magisterium turned in a swashbuckling late run from last to snare third. Next came Amalfi Princess, Fabricate, and the tailed-off Rossa Veloce. Bravo Regina, Niente’s stablemate from the Juan Vazquez barn, was scratched.
Royal Approval’s scorecard stands at 4-2-1-0, $117,400. Runner-up to stablemate Campanelle in their mutual debut May 31 at Gulfstream Park, the bay tagged along with her to Royal Ascot, but didn’t do herself justice when 17th behind her in the Queen Mary (G2). Their paths have diverged since, with Campanelle going on to beat the boys in the Prix Morny (G1), and Royal Approval regrouping to romp in a Kentucky Downs maiden last out.
“We definitely will go to the Breeders’ Cup with her,” Ward said. “I’ll sit down with (Three Chimneys Farm vice chairman) Doug Cauthen and (chairman) Mr. (Gonçalo Borges) Torrealba and see just which direction they want to go.
“Just after talking to Irad, the mile (of the Juvenile Fillies Turf) might be the better option for her, but again, we’ll sit down and see how she is. As we get a little closer, we’ll have to really watch the weather, as this filly doesn’t handle the soft turf. At Keeneland in the fall, sometimes you’ll get that.”
If connections decide to stretch her out in the Breeders’ Cup, Campanelle will be waiting for her in the Juvenile Fillies Turf. Should they cut back slightly in the Juvenile Turf Sprint, Royal Approval will find another Ward behemoth in her way – Golden Pal.
The Kentucky-bred filly was produced by the Malibu Moon mare Touch the Moon, from the family of 2005 Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Summerly.