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Aaron previews the 2023 Belmont Oaks (G1) from Belmont Park, then gives his top picks & long shots. Trainer Chad Brown entered Aspray & Prerequisite in pursuit of his record 7th win in this race & 2nd straight following McKulick’s victory last year. Can he be stopped? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
A wide open field of nine sophomore fillies will pursue Grade 1 glory in Saturday’s 45th running of the $500,000 Fasig-Tipton Belmont Oaks Invitational going 10 furlongs over the inner turf course at Belmont Park.
The Fasig-Tipton Belmont Oaks Invitational, slated as Race 8 on the 12-race card, is one of four graded stakes scheduled for the penultimate day of racing at the Belmont Park spring/summer meet. The stakes-laden day also includes the Grade 1, $750,000 Belmont Derby Invitational; the Grade 2, $350,000 Suburban; and the Grade 3, $175,000 Victory Ride. First post is 1:05 p.m. Eastern.
The Belmont Oaks Invitational kicks off the Fasig-Tipton Fillies Turf Triple series, which is followed by the 1 3/16-mile Grade 3, $400,000 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Oaks Invitational on August 4 at Saratoga Race Course and the Grade 3, $350,000 Fasig-Tipton Jockey Club Oaks Invitational on September 16 going 11 furlongs at Belmont at the Big A.
Get the Racing Dudes’ 2023 Belmont Derby Betting Bible, featuring the EXACT race-by-race wagering plans from the two founders of RacingDudes.com. See how they’re playing every race on July 8, 2023 at Belmont Park!
Both Graham Motion and Chad Brown will send out a pair of formidable contenders, with the former saddling graded/group winners Mission of Joy [post 1, Tyler Gaffalione] and Speirling Beag [post 3, John Velazquez].
RyZan Sun Racing and Madaket Stables’ dual graded stakes winner Mission of Joy enters from a 1 1/2-length triumph in the Grade 3 Regret on June 3 at Churchill Downs, where she earned a career-best 90 Beyer Speed Figure.
This followed a troubled third in the Grade 2 Edgewood on May 5 at Churchill Downs, where the Kitten’s Joy chestnut clipped heels in upper stretch, was tipped out a path wide and managed to grab third place. She captured the Grade 3 Florida Oaks on March 11 at Tampa Bay Downs three starts back.
Mission of Joy spent the past few months training at Keeneland before shipping to Motion’s primary division at Fair Hill Training Center, where she breezed five furlongs in 1:01.80 on Sunday.
“She was unlucky at Churchill a couple starts back, but she sure made up for it last time,” said Motion. “She really had the worst of it when she stumbled that day. She came back well, and she shipped back from Kentucky in good order.”
Bred in Ontario by Sam-Son Farm, Mission of Joy is out of the Smart Strike mare Smart Mission whose half-sister Irish Mission was a dual Sovereign Award winner in Canada.
Walmac Farm, Gainesway Stable and Haras d’Etreham’s Speirling Beag defeated males when a narrow winner of the Group 3 Eyrefield in October at Leopardstown for her former trainer Jim Bolger. The daughter of Mastercraftsman made her sophomore debut for trainers Alessandro and Giuseppe Botti when fifth in the Group 3 Prix Penelope going 1 5/16 miles at Saint Cloud in France.
Motion said he is hopeful for some cut in the ground for Saturday’s race.
“You wouldn’t mind it with her, obviously. She certainly looks like the type to handle that. But the distance is something that she’ll appreciate,” Motion said.
Four-time Eclipse Award-winning conditioner Chad Brown will seek his seventh Belmont Oaks conquest when he saddles undefeated stakes winner Aspray [post 7, Flavien Prat] and graded-stakes winner Prerequisite [post 5, Irad Ortiz, Jr.]
Ran Jan Racing’s Aspray, by Quality Road, made up 11 lengths to capture the last out Hilltop going one mile on May 19 at Pimlico Race Course. The half-length conquest came following a pair of 2 1/2-length wins at Tampa Bay Downs, including an off-the-turf maiden victory and a triumph against winners on the turf.
A Kentucky homebred, Aspray is out of the dual group stakes winning Galileo mare Up.
First Row Partners and Team Hanley’s Prerequisite made a swift ascension from maiden to graded stakes winner as she enters her Grade 1 debut. The Upstart bay broke her maiden on May 7 at Belmont utilizing stalking tactics before going gate-to-wire in the Grade 2 Wonder Again on June 11 – the traditional local prep for the Belmont Oaks.
She will look to join Brown-trained alumna Lady Eli  and New Money Honey  as fillies to sweep the Wonder Again-Belmont Oaks double.
The Belmont Oaks will have a touch of European flavor with Craig Bernick’s Aspen Grove [post 9, Oisin Murphy] making the journey across the pond for trainer James Stack.
The Irish homebred Justify bay earned group-winning status when breaking her maiden at 66-1 odds in the Group 3 Newtownanner Stud Irish EBF in August going one mile over good ground at The Curragh. She has not raced since finishing last-of-10 in the Group 1 Irish 1000 Guineas on May 28.
Bernick said Aspen Grove’s Group 3 triumph gave him confidence that she could eventually stretch out in distance.
“Her win last year was going a mile as a 2-year-old. Usually, horses that can do that in Europe end up being 10-furlong horses,” Bernick said. “The trainer has always thought she would be a 10-furlong horse this year. This race is a natural place to try. I guess we’ll find out if she’s a Grade 1 or a Grade 3 horse on Saturday. There’s things to like about her and we’re fortunate to have Oisin Murphy to ride her as well.”
Aspen Grove is the first progeny out of the graded stakes placed More Than Ready mare Data Dependent, who is a half-sister to 2018 Cartier Champion 2-Year-Old Filly Skitter Skatter.
Trainer Horacio De Paz will saddle Michael J. Ryan’s Irish homebred Be Your Best [post 6, Luis Saez], who seeks her first win since capturing last year’s P.G. Johnson in September at Saratoga. The Muhaarar bay made her 2023 debut when seventh in Keeneland’s Grade 2 Appalachian going one mile in April, but made amends with a late-charging second to Prerequisite in the Wonder Again.
Be Your Best breezed a half-mile in 51.65 on June 30 over the Belmont training track.
“She came back good and is doing well. She had an easy, maintenance breeze. She was hitting the ground really well – light on her feet with a nice, steady pull at the end wanting to do more than what she did,” De Paz said. “She enjoys training, so we don’t want to overdo it. She ran pretty hard in her last race. The distance will probably suit her and it was nice to see her bring her form back. I’m looking forward to the next race.”
Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse will strive for his first Belmont Oaks conquest since Catch a Glimpse  when he saddles Papilio [post 4, Javier Castellano] for owners D.J. Stable, Medallion Racing, Barry Fowler and Parkland Thoroughbreds.
The Irish-bred daughter of Starspangledbanner was campaigned in her native country last year by Stack and made her North American debut when second in the Grade 3 Herecomesthebride on March 4 at Gulfstream Park. She enters off a troubled second-place finish in the Regret.
Papilio arrived at Casse Training Center in Ocala, Florida in December and immediately made a strong impression on her conditioner.
“As soon as we started training her, we could tell she was special,” Casse said. “I’m a little worried about the distance, but I think if Javier can get her covered up that will help. In her last start at Churchill, we were blocked and had nowhere to go for a little while and the winner got away on us. We tried to run her down, but she had given up too much ground. With a different trip, it would have been an interesting race.”
Trainer Kenny McPeek will send out Walking L Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys Farm’s Freydis the Red [post 8, Junior Alvarado] following a nine-furlong maiden triumph at sixth asking on May 29 at Churchill Downs.
The French-bred Saxon Warrior chestnut broke her maiden by 4 1/4 lengths after finishing behind Be Your Best as well as graded stakes-placed Free Look and Sabalenka through the maiden ranks.
Completing the field is Highlander Training Center’s Strikingly Spun [post 2, Jose Ortiz], who enters off a strong runner-up effort against elders at allowance optional claiming level on June 11 at Belmont Park for trainer Joe Sharp. The Hard Spun chestnut previously defeated winners going nine furlongs on May 12 over the Churchill Downs turf.
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