Update: With Belmont Park canceling Thursday due to dangerous air quality, the two scheduled stakes were moved to Sunday. The Wonder Again field remained intact, but Red Carpet Ready was a notable absentee from the Jersey Girl. Click here for the full Sunday preview, including the Tremont S. and Astoria S.
The three-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival begins Thursday. Both stakes races on tap feature sophomore fillies, the $150,000 Jersey Girl S. at six furlongs and the $200,000 Wonder Again (G2) going about 1 1/8 miles on turf.
Jersey Girl S. – Race 8 (6:45 p.m. ET)
One of last year’s leading two-year-olds, Chocolate Gelato, makes her seasonal reappearance against razor-sharp Eight Belles (G2) winner Red Carpet Ready in the Jersey Girl.
Chocolate Gelato was a smashing maiden winner at Saratoga in her last sprint start. Trained by Todd Pletcher, the Repole Stable runner followed up over a mile in the Frizette (G1). Chocolate Gelato subsequently disappointed in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1), tiring to 12th, and headed to the sidelines. Regular pilot Irad Ortiz Jr. will guide her in the Jersey Girl, her launching pad to bigger objectives in the second half.
“She’s done well and has been breezing really well,” Pletcher said. “For her, it’s been a good transition from two to three, and we’re looking forward to getting her going again.
“Everything’s in play,” the Hall of Famer said about Chocolate Gelato’s future targets. “She handled the mile (in the Frizette), but didn’t run her race in the Breeders’ Cup. We’ll gradually try to stretch her out.”
Red Carpet Ready overturned another Pletcher celebrity, Munnys Gold, in the Eight Belles on the Kentucky Oaks (G1) undercard. The Rusty Arnold pupil sports a 4-for-4 mark in sprints, including last fall’s Fern Creek S. and the Feb. 4 Forward Gal (G3). Her only loss was a third in the one-mile Davona Dale (G2). Red Carpet Ready promises to show speed on the rail with a returning Luis Saez.
Five others will try to challenge the established class. Aunt Becca crushed a second-level Keeneland allowance for Cherie DeVaux, suggesting that she’s ready for deeper waters. Girl Trouble, a two-time stakes winner at Parx and runner-up as the Ruthless S. favorite, exits a Monmouth allowance tally. Xtra Heat S. scorer L Street Lady was a slow-starting third in the Miss Preakness (G3). Parx allowance romper Unified Alliance shortens up after a distant fourth in the off-the-turf Memories of Silver S., and recent Aqueduct maiden winner Wildhawk takes the biggest class hike.
Wonder Again (G2) – Race 9 (7:15 p.m. ET)
Chad Brown has already won the Wonder Again four times. If he can make it five on Thursday, he’ll be responsible for half of the winners in the race’s 10-year history.
Brown has strength in numbers, with three of the eight entrants in this stepping stone to the July 8 Belmont Oaks (G1). Revalita, a two-time winner in the French provinces, has run well in defeat in both U.S. starts. A fast-finishing fourth in the Herecomesthebride (G3), she was most recently runner-up in the Edgewood (G2) at Churchill Downs. Jose Ortiz retains the mount. Brother Irad is back aboard another French import, Venencia, who won her debut over Chantilly’s Polytrack and rattled home for third in a Keeneland allowance. Both fillies are from the first crop of the Mr. Prospector-line stallion Recoletos. Kentucky-bred Prerequisite just broke her maiden over this course and distance with Flavien Prat.
Unbeaten Spansive makes her stakes debut for the Repole/Pletcher tandem. The Karakontie filly wired a Gulfstream Park maiden as well as a Belmont allowance, defeating Florida Oaks (G3) third Juniper’s Moon in the latter. Juniper’s Moon, a daughter of Galileo and multiple Grade 1 dirt star I’m a Chatterbox, should appreciate the added ground here.
Another Florida Oaks alum, fifth-placer Allamericanbeauty, has since rallied in time in a 1 1/8-mile Keeneland allowance. Shug McGaughey conditions the well-bred daughter of Into Mischief, a $700,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase by Courtlandt Farms.
Be Your Best hasn’t lived up to her name since last summer at Saratoga, where she began her career with a pair of good-looking wins including the P.G. Johnson S. Third in the Miss Grillo (G2), ninth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1), and seventh in the April 8 Appalachian (G2), the Mike Ryan homebred hopes that a step up in trip helps. Thirty Thou Kelvin likewise needs to improve from her belated fifth in the Hilltop S. at Pimlico.