May 26, 2024

Miss Temple City, Wekeela square off in Matchmaker

Miss Temple City looks to Kentucky Downs for her first win since December (Matt Wooley/EquiSport Photos)

If trainer Graham Motion hoped to give Miss Temple City a softer spot coming back from her Royal Ascot experience, Sunday’s $100,000 Matchmaker (G3) at Monmouth may be a little more of a test than expected. That’s because the ubiquitous Chad Brown has circled the same Haskell Day race for his classy import Wekeela, and well-bred War Flag makes her first stateside stakes attempt for Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey.

Of course, the Matchmaker isn’t tantamount to being pitched into the deep end as last Saturday’s Diana (G1) would have been. And as a longtime veteran of the Grade 1 wars, Miss Temple City is the class of the field dipping into the Grade 3 level for the first time since her sophomore campaign.

Twice victorious over males in Keeneland’s premier turf events in 2016, the Maker’s 46 Mile (G1) and Shadwell Turf Mile (G1), Miss Temple City concluded her season with another laurel in the Matriarch (G1) at Del Mar. She was arguably unlucky not to make it four Grade 1s. A tortuous trip in last summer’s Diana, where she wound up a near-miss fourth, likely cost her that distinction. It also casts a different light on her 0-for-4 mark over 1 1/8 miles – as does her hampered loss in the 2015 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1).

Miss Temple City’s 2017 has been star-crossed. A winter setback (thanks to running loose at Palm Meadows) put her behind the planned timetable, and rain-softened ground prompted her withdrawal from two intended preps.

Thus unlike her past two raids on Royal Ascot, the five-year-old embarked without the benefit of race-fitness, and her six-month layoff showed as she took on a top field of males. Racing too close to a frenetic early pace in the June 20 Queen Anne (G1), Miss Temple City faded to 13th of 16.

Miss Temple City got back to work at Fair Hill July 14, and posted her second move exactly one week later. She’s eligible to move forward in this second start off the bench. Edgar Prado retains the mount aboard the 120-pound highweight.

Wekeela is likewise making the second start of her comeback. Previously based in France with Jean-Claude Rouget, she finished second in the 2015 Prix Saint-Alary to course record-setting Queen’s Jewel (later a fast-finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf [G1]). Wekeela scored her stakes victory next out in the Prix Chloe (G3), at about this nine-furlong trip. Acquired later by Martin Schwartz, the daughter of Hurricane Run signed off from France after a fourth in the Prix de l’Opera on Arc Day.

In a promising U.S. premiere for Brown, Wekeela closed well for runner-up honors behind Tepin in the 2016 Jenny Wiley (G1). She was accordingly bet down to 4-5 favoritism in the Gamely (G1), but couldn’t peg back a determined Illumimant at Santa Anita and settled for second. She was obviously well below form when tailing off to last in the Diana and headed to the sidelines for nearly 11 months.

Wekeela resurfaced in a June 11 allowance at Belmont and rolled from off a slow pace to nab Grade 3 scorer My Impression in time. She’ll get a much livelier tempo here to set up her late kick for Javier Castellano.

War Flag, like Wekeela, was a Rouget pupil who earned her signature win in last summer’s Prix Chloe. The Joseph Allen homebred has yet to be tested in deeper waters, but in her American bow over this course, she went last to first to defeat males. Runner-up Muqtaser came right back to win a salty allowance at Saratoga. As a full sister to 2013 UAE Derby (G2) winner Lines of Battle, later Hong Kong’s champion stayer under the name of Helene Super Star, War Flag should be capable of further progress. The admirably consistent filly has never been worse than a close second from six starts, and the projected pace scenario should assist her.

Quiet Kitten, placed in this year’s The Very One (G3) and Orchid (G3), cuts back in trip off a fourth versus males in the 1 1/2-mile Cape Henlopen, while Giovanna Blues also shortens up following unplaced efforts in the Dance Smartly (G2) and Robert G. Dick Memorial (G3). The early pace figures to be genuine thanks to front-running types in the streaking Judy’s Chance, winner of five straight versus lesser, and fellow class climber I Dream of Lois.

With the Matchmaker sponsored by WinStar Farm, the distaffers are also competing for the attentions of three WinStar stallions. Seasons to Paynter, Daredevil, and Tourist are up for grabs. It would be ironic if Miss Temple City snares the Tourist tryst, since she beat him in the Shadwell before finishing fifth to him in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1).

Four races earlier, the Monmouth (G2) over the same course and distance may develop into the Brown versus Motion show.

Irish Strait hopes to be the opening act of a half-sibling double with Irish War Cry (Photo by Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO)

Brown’s Money Multiplier, last seen finishing a dead-heat sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), played second fiddle in a trio of major turf tests in 2016. Best of the rest in the United Nations (G1) here, the son of Lookin at Lucky was runner-up to stablemates Wake Forest in the Man o’ War (G1) and Flintshire in the Sword Dancer Invitational (G1). At least he won’t have a better-fancied rival from his own barn in his way this time, and he reunites with Castellano for the first time since the UN.

Motion is double-handed with Irish Strait, half-brother to Haskell (G1) morning-line favorite Irish War Cry, and recently repatriated Bolting, half-brother to current French Oaks (G1) victress Senga.

Isabelle de Tomaso’s homebred Irish Strait comes off a career high in the Red Bank (G3), where the New Jersey native led throughout to win handily. In his prior stakes attempts this term, the English Channel gelding was third in the Tampa Bay (G3) and fourth in an exceptional renewal of the Henry Clark at Laurel. Henry Clark winner Ascend (also trained by Motion) upstaged them in the Manhattan (G1), and third-placer Ghost Hunter upset the Arlington H. (G3) on “Ride to the Million” Day.

Bolting, a Niarchos Family homebred, is a War Front colt from the all-star family of Machiavellian and Bago. Winner of last spring’s Prix du Pont-Neuf at Chantilly, he has yet to land a blow in three tries at a higher level in the Prix Robert Papin (G2) at two, the Jersey (G3) at three, and most recently in the June 18 Poker (G3) on yielding ground at Belmont. That represented his final start for Francis-Henri Graffard.

New York-bred millionaire Kharafa has run well in two of three at Monmouth, taking the 2015 Elkwood and missing by a neck in the 2016 Oceanport (G3). The eight-year-old remains in good heart at present for Timothy Hills, as evidenced by a pair of seconds to Disco Partner and Tombelaine.

Smooth Daddy, who’d placed to the likes of Ironicus and Ring Weekend in past graded appearances, broke through with a 17-1 surprise in the Fort Marcy (G3). Stealing it on yielding ground, the Tom Albertrani veteran held on from Brown’s hotpot Juddmonte import Time Test.

Thatcher Street was in peak form at Churchill Downs last campaign, punctuated by victories in the Opening Verse during the spring meet and the River City (G3) on Thanksgiving. The Ian Wilkes pupil has yet to duplicate those performances in 2017, his best effort being a third in his Opening Verse title defense.