Going into Sunday’s $651,000 Saratoga Oaks (G3), With the Moonlight brought a profile very similar to Saturday’s Saratoga Derby (G1) hero Nations Pride, her fellow Godolphin homebred and Charlie Appleby trainee. The parallel was strengthened when With the Moonlight emulated his success in the companion race for fillies.
Like Nations Pride, who moved forward from a second in the Belmont Derby (G1), With the Moonlight was turning the tables from her runner-up effort in the July 9 Belmont Oaks (G1). The daughter of Frankel had a European resume in common with her stablemate as well. She too had impressed in a 1 1/4-mile listed stakes at Newmarket, in her case the May 1 Pretty Polly S., that launched her to an Epsom classic. Just as Nations Pride underperformed in the Derby (G1), With the Moonlight threw in a clunker as the last home in the June 3 Oaks (G1), and embarked upon a more profitable stateside tour.
And as with Nations Pride on Saturday, With the Moonlight got a more advantageous set-up at Saratoga with William Buick back at the helm. Frankie Dettori was subbing at Belmont Park, where the filly took up her usual forward position, but found her stamina stretched by how the race unfolded. She ended up being a target for the victorious McKulick.
Buick inherited a much softer pace scenario at the Spa, especially following the withdrawal of Walkathon. With the Moonlight thrived on the sit-sprint, and the slight cutback to 1 3/16 miles, as the 1.15-1 favorite, while the 7-5 McKulick was adversely affected by the slow tempo.
With the Moonlight camped in an eager second as one of the Chad Brown trio, Contemporary Art, accepted the pacesetting job. Contemporary Art doled out splits of :24.91, :50.14, and 1:15.18 on the firm Mellon turf, and stablemate McKulick was already craving more in a hard-held third.
With the Moonlight pounced on Contemporary Art rounding the far turn. McKulick tried to go with her, but couldn’t match her turn of foot. The Godolphin runner bounded wide into the lane and dashed home by 1 3/4 lengths in 1:54.60 to complete the big-race double for connections.
McKulick rounded out the all-Frankel exacta, staving off New Year’s Eve by a neck. Contemporary Art succumbed in fourth and beat only Oakhurst, Brown’s 10-1 outsider who trailed throughout.
Team Godolphin was expecting a bold show from With the Moonlight.
“She felt really good today,” Buick said. “I think the team had been really happy with the way she was training, so they were quietly confident going into it.
“She travels very well, which is key really. Our horses coming from Europe to here, they always improve with one run on these tracks. It’s a lot different for them. Yesterday (with Nations Pride) and the filly today, they were always going to improve off that first run and I think they showed that.”
Appleby credited Buick’s ride while recognizing that Dettori had a more challenging task at Belmont:
“They went hard at Belmont, and to be fair to Frankie, it was the first time he’d sat on her, and I said, ‘look, ride her like she’ll get the trip.’ On the evidence of today and evidence of that day, coming back a half a furlong suited her. She’s got plenty of boot. You could almost bring her back to a mile. The more races she’s got, the more experience she’s got. She’s learning how to do it. It was a good performance today.
“I felt comfortable coming into today. We respected Chad’s filly (McKulick) but we were confident we’d be running her a bit closer this time. Will had a great ride around there and once he gave her the signal, I was pretty confident that she’d see that out.
“They looked comfortable and she was in a nice rhythm. She was travelling well within herself. They’d gone nice even fractions and I knew coming off the turn that William had her in A1 position.
“When there were three of Chad’s horses in there and to be fair to the Dubawi filly (Contemporary Art) she led when she broke her maiden. We were going to try and jump to the lead and see if anyone wanted to take it off us, but she was a half a stride slow from there and the race developed the way it did. We were happy with it.”
McKulick’s connections preferred something more like Belmont.
“There really wasn’t any pace in the race today,” Brown said. “It was a totally different set-up. The winner ran very well. She was positioned in front of us and really outkicked us. We weren’t too far behind her. She outkicked us today off that pace, so hats off to her. McKulick ran very credibly. We’ll just regroup with her and see. We don’t really have any plans for her right now.”
“I got a perfect trip,” jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. said of McKulick. “I can’t complain. The turf is a little firmer, harder today (compared to Saturday). Last time, the pace was a lot different for my filly which she appreciated because she loves the distance. The pace today was a little too slow for her, but she was still coming and ran big. She got beat by a nice filly and the pace was slow. (Buick) got the jump on me and my filly kept trying, so I’m happy.”
Third-placer New Year’s Eve was another compromised by the race shape.
“I had a pretty smooth trip,” her rider Tyler Gaffalione said. “The slow pace definitely affected us with her being a dead closer, but I couldn’t change up her running style. I just had to let her do her thing. I was very happy with her performance and she finished up really well. It was a talented group of fillies and she held her own. It’s (the turf course) dried up quite a bit now, it’s got a little bit better footing and the horses are getting over it comfortably.”
With the Moonlight has compiled a record of 8-4-1-1, $559,254. Twice a winner on the all-weather as a juvenile, at Chelmsford and Wolverhampton, she concluded 2021 with a third in the Montrose S. at Newmarket. She returned a much improved filly in her sophomore bow in the Pretty Polly.
Although by Frankel and out of a Dubawi mare, With a Moonlight may have distance limitations because her dam, Sand Vixen, scored her marquee win in the five-furlong Flying Childers (G2). With a Moonlight’s full brother, Dream Castle, was best at about 1 1/8 miles, as evidenced by his 2019 Jebel Hatta (G1) and Al Rashidiya (G2) victories.
Thus Appleby ruled out the third leg of New York’s turf series, the 1 3/8-mile Jockey Club Oaks (G3) at Aqueduct Sept. 17. Another Godolphin filly might make up the tag-team with Jockey Club Derby (G3)-bound Nations Pride.
“No. Unfortunately, not,” the trainer said of With the Moonlight’s participation. “We might find one for it.
“The question mark was whether the Oaks would be something to look at, but that’s clearly not an option for her. William said that was far enough for her today.”
In the meantime, Appleby will unleash another top performer at Saratoga in champion Yibir, who remains on course for the Aug. 27 Sword Dancer (G1).
“That’s the plan. He ships out on the 17th or 18th,” the trainer confirmed. “He’s in great order. It’s been a long-term plan. We had a couple bumps in the road early on at Belmont (when third in the May 14 Man o’ War [G1]). Unfortunately, the rain came in and there was no pace in the race. But, with what we’ve seen at home, we’re very pleased with the way he’s done so far. If he ships in well, he’ll be a big player.”