December 5, 2023

Agate Road, Hard to Justify earn Breeders’ Cup spots at Aqueduct

Agate Road in The Pilgrim S. at Aqueduct
Agate Road in The Pilgrim S. at Aqueduct (Photo by Coglianese Photography)

The two-year-olds Agate Road and Hard to Justify punched their tickets to the Breeders’ Cup with respective victories in the $200,000 Pilgrim (G2) and $200,000 Miss Grillo (G2) at Aqueduct on Wednesday.

Agate Road earned an automatic berth to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) after rallying from near the back of the eight-horse Pilgrim to win by 1 1/4 lengths under Irad Ortiz Jr. In a three-way photo for second, Fulmineo earned the place honors by a neck over Liam’s Journey and Spirit Prince, who finished in a dead heat for third.

A nose second in his debut in an off-the-turf maiden at Saratoga in early August, Agate Road was involved in another tight photo in a maiden that stayed on the turf last month, also at the Spa. The son of Quality Road won that race in the final jump, but proved a more comfortable victor in the Pilgrim.

“He broke much better today than last timeβ€”that was the key,” Ortiz said. “After that, I just bided my time to go. Before the quarter pole, I hit the clear outside. I went a little wide, maybe four or five wide and he kept coming.

“Last time, his kick was amazing. Today, he gave me a good kick but you cannot feel that turn of footβ€”the ground is a little soft. But he got there.”

Owned by Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable, Agate Road completed 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.83 over an outer turf rated good. The Todd Pletcher trainee paid $6.90 as the favorite.

Bred in Kentucky by CHC, Agate Road was produced by the Frizette (G1)-winning Yellow Agate, a daughter of Gemologist. He was a $650,000 Keeneland September purchase.

Triple Crown winner Justify has developed into prominent sire of precocious fillies on the turf, Hard to Justify being the most recent example. The Chad Brown trainee sprung a mild upset in the Miss Grillo, winning by a half-length after rating in second for much of the 1 1/16-mile journey.

Life’s an Audible, a 12-1 chance, finished second by one length over 59-1 outsider Whimsically. Gala Brand, the 2.6-1 favorite, was last of 11 at the head of the stretch before rallying for fourth.

Owned by Wise Racing, Hard to Justify paid $16.60 after clocking 1:43.92 over the inner turf, which was also rated good. Flavien Prat was aboard the filly, as was the case in her July 23 debut at Saratoga, which Hard to Justify won by a head in the final strides.

“The first race, she broke OK and then I let her sit back,” Prat said. “After that, I had to check at the three-eighths, going into the last turn. I thought that race she had every right to get beat and she didn’t, so I thought it was impressive and I was expecting a good run today.”

Hard to Justify earned a berth to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) with the Miss Grillo triumph, which came only days after another daughter of Justify, Opera Singer, won the Prix Marcel Boussac (G1) at Longchamp. That, too, was a Breeders’ Cup Challenge prep for the Juvenile Fillies Turf.

Bred in Kentucky by Yeguada Centurion S.L., Hard to Justify is out of the Grade 3-placed Instant Reflex, a daughter of Quality Road. She brought $190,000 at Keeneland September.