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Dr. Miranda previews the 2023 Acorn Stakes (G1) from Belmont Park, then gives her top picks & long shots. The Kentucky Oaks (G1) champion Pretty Mischievous tops a tough race over Big Sandy; will the Brendan Walsh trainee win her 2nd straight? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
This May, trainer Brendan Walsh celebrated his first Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks triumph with Godolphin’s Kentucky homebred Pretty Mischievous. The daughter of Into Mischief will now look to provide Walsh with his first Grade 1 victory on the NYRA circuit in Friday’s $500,000 Acorn presented by Great Jones Distilling Co., a one-turn 1 1/16-mile test for sophomore fillies, at Belmont Park.
The Acorn is slated as Race 9 on Friday’s 11-race card. First post is 12:50 p.m. Eastern.
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Walsh said it was particularly meaningful to win a high-profile race like the Oaks for Godolphin, who also owned Walsh’s first Grade 1-winner Maxfield.
“It was fantastic,” Walsh said. “It was great to win the Oaks in the first place but to win it with them was especially special given their huge influence on my career. It’s just an honor to train that caliber of a horse.”
Pretty Mischievous stands tall amongst her seven rivals as the lone Grade 1 winner in the field with field-best earnings of $1,206,560. She began her journey towards Kentucky Oaks greatness with a debut victory in September at Churchill Downs, and followed with a score against winners in October over the same oval. She finished third in her stakes debut with an even effort in the Grade 2 Golden Rod before capping her juvenile campaign with a 3 1/4-length win in the Untapable at Fair Grounds Race Course.
The bay filly returned to the races two months later with a prominent victory in the Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra for her sophomore debut, defeating Miracle by three-quarters of a length under a well-timed ride from regular pilot Tyler Gaffalione. Her lone loss in three starts this season came two starts back when finishing second to Southlawn in the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks in March where she bobbled at the start and raced 2 1/2 lengths off the pace before taking command at the top of the stretch. She ran on strongly down the lane but was collared by Southlawn and defeated 3 1/4 lengths.
Pretty Mischievous’ win in the Rachel Alexandra and runner-up effort in the Fair Grounds Oaks awarded her with enough qualifying points to secure a spot in the Kentucky Oaks starting gate, where she made her Grade 1 debut. She added blinkers for her first try at the nine-furlong distance and was sent to post at odds of 10-1 as the Brad Cox-trained duo of Wet Paint and her familiar rival Southlawn attracted the attention of the betting public.
Ridden from the outermost post 14 by Gaffalione, Pretty Mischievous broke well and settled in fifth while racing four-wide one length behind pacesetter Flying Connection through the first half-mile. Gaffalione gave his cue approaching the final turn and the talented filly responded, picking off her rivals swiftly and taking a three-length advantage while in-hand at the top of the lane.
She continued a strong sustained run down the lane but was challenged by the oncoming New York-bred Gambling Girl to her outside, prompting Gaffalione to give right-handed encouragement with the crop. Pretty Mischievous dug down in the final sixteenth and was shown the crop her left side in the final strides to the wire before staving off the bid from Gambling Girl and claiming the blanket of lilies by a neck in a final time of 1:49.77.
Walsh said the addition of blinkers helped Pretty Mischievous remain engaged in the race throughout the stretch run. She will don blinkers again in the Acorn.
“I think they helped her to focus a little bit better maybe at the end of the race,” said Walsh. “I had a pretty good idea that they weren’t going to have a negative effect, so that was the main thing. I knew she wouldn’t under perform with them. I think the day of the Fair Grounds Oaks, it probably set up for a closer that day, not taking anything away from the winner, but she did lose her focus down the stretch. I think it helped her, especially going a mile and an eighth.”
Along with a cutback of a half-furlong, Pretty Mischievous will also contest at one-turn in the Acorn for the first time since her maiden win in October. Walsh said he does not expect the configuration to present any issues.
“I don’t think it’ll be a problem at all,” said Walsh. “It should work out well for her. She has plenty of natural speed, which is required in this type of race.”
Gaffalione retains the mount from post 6.
Fellow Kentucky Oaks alumnus Dorth Vader [post 1, John Velazquez] makes her first outing since finishing fifth on the First Friday in May, as well as her first start for conditioner George Weaver after making her first nine appearances for Michael “Bo” Yates.
The daughter of Girvin was squeezed at the start of the Oaks and put in a three-wide bid in between foes in the turn after racing close to the pace throughout, but was outrun in the stretch and defeated 3 1/4 lengths.
Dorth Vader, a Florida homebred for John Ropes, has posted one work since being transferred to Weaver, who said he was pleased with the five-furlong move in 1:01.37 over the Belmont main track Friday.
“She worked very well,” said Weaver. “We recently got her, but she’s a nice filly and is talented. Bo Yates did a great job with her and we’re just trying to carry on what he’s done. Hopefully she runs well.”
Dorth Vader earned a graded victory three starts back with an impressive 4 3/4-length score in the one-turn mile Grade 2 Davona Dale in March at Gulfstream Park. She arrived at the Oaks off a close fourth-place finish in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks where she was defeated 2 1/4 lengths by Affirmative Lady.
“I think getting back to the one-turn configuration will be more in her wheelhouse, but she ran big in the [Kentucky] Oaks, too,” said Weaver. “I think she’s a talented filly and she deserves a shot in this race.”
Four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown saddles three contenders in Juddmonte’s graded stakes-placed Accede [post 8, Flavien Prat]; Alpha Delta Stables’ stakes-winner Occult [post 4, Jose Ortiz]; and Klaravich Stables’ maiden winner Randomized [post 2, Manny Franco].
Brown said each of his fillies are likely better suited to one-mile, but is hopeful one-turn may help them travel the extra half-furlong.
“All three of mine look like milers on paper, so they’re going to have to find an extra sixteenth somewhere,” said Brown. “They might all be just fine, especially around one turn.”
Accede was last seen posting a close third-place effort in the Grade 2 Eight Belles on May 5 at Churchill Downs when pouncing from one length off the pace under Prat. The daughter of Into Mischief made a four-wide bid in the turn and appeared poised to make a big run down the lane, but flattened out as Red Carpet Ready claimed victory by a nose over Acorn aspirant Munnys Gold. She broke her maiden on debut sprinting six furlongs in March at Gulfstream Park in prominent fashion.
Accede is out of the multiple graded stakes-winning mare Jibboom, who Brown grew familiar with when he worked for the mare’s late trainer, Bobby Frankel. Brown said he has been impressed with Accede so far, noting she was produced from a then 16-year-old Jibboom.
“Jibboom was very good and it’s really interesting that she can still throw a good horse at that age,” said Brown.
Occult, also by Into Mischief, makes her first appearance since finishing an even fifth in the Grade 3 Gazelle in April at Aqueduct Racetrack. The $625,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale Purchase won the nine-furlong Busanda around two turns at the Big A in January and was a one-mile maiden winner over the same surface in December.
Brown said he was impressed with the latest work Occult posted in company with Randomized, covering a half-mile in 48.03 seconds Friday over the Belmont main track.
“The cutback from a mile and an eighth should suit Occult,” said Brown. “She and Randomized worked together on Friday; excellent work.”
The well-bred Randomized makes her first start against winners after a commanding 5 1/2-length maiden coup traveling one mile on March 31 at Aqueduct, leading at each point of call to win geared down under Manny Franco. She was awarded a 92 Beyer Speed Figure for the effort.
Brown said the circled date of the Acorn after her maiden win left too little time to fit in another race in between.
“It was just because I didn’t really have enough time from her win to the Acorn and really wanted to run in the Acorn,” said Brown. “It would have been too tight.”
The $420,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale Purchase is by Nyquist and out of the unraced Elusive Quality mare French Passport, a half-sister to multiple graded stakes-winning millionaire Smooth Air and Grade 2 winner Overdriven, as well as Super Phoebe, the dam of three-time Grade 1-winner Got Stormy.
Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher will have two chances to win his fourth Acorn as he sends out the speedy stakes-winner Munnys Gold [post 5, Irad Ortiz, Jr.] and two-time winner Frosty O Toole [post 3, Luis Saez].
Robert and Lawana Low’s Florida-bred Munnys Gold is 3-for-4 lifetime, with each of her wins posted with impressive open-length margins. She graduated by 14 1/2 lengths on debut in June at Monmouth Park and earned a 101 Beyer before a seven-month respite. She picked up right where she left off when making her sophomore debut in with a 6 1/4-length allowance victory against fellow state-breds in January at Gulfstream, and followed with a devastating 17 1/4-length triumph in the state-bred Sophomore Fillies at Tampa Bay Downs in March. She suffered her first loss last out when defeated a head by Red Carpet Ready in the aforementioned Grade 2 Eight Belles.
Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners’ Frosty O Toole has won 2-of-4 starts this year and enters from a sixth-place finish in the Gazelle where she ran evenly after an inside trip. Both her wins this year came at one-mile and 40 yards at Tampa, led by a 3 1/2-length coup against optional claiming company in March.
Completing the field is the Brittany Russell-trained Goodgirl Badhabits [post 7, Jevian Toledo], who is undefeated in two starts at Laurel Park. Campaigned by Jim Bakke and Gerald Ibister, the Mastery filly graduated in her March 10 debut by 12 3/4 lengths when sprinting 5 1/2 furlong and followed with a 10 1/4-length score sprinting seven furlongs against winners on April 29.
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