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Michael J. Ryan’s Grade 1-placed Irish homebred Be Your Best will look to return to winning form in Saturday’s Grade 2, $200,000 Sands Point, a nine-furlong inner turf route for sophomore fillies, at Belmont at the Big A.
The Sands Point is slated as Race 2 on Saturday’s 10-race card which also features the $125,000 Floral Park in Race 4. First post is 12:35 p.m. Eastern.
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Trained by Horacio De Paz, the Muhaarar bay returns to New York following a runner-up effort on August 19 in the nine-furlong Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks. Although cross-entered in Saturday’s Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland, De Paz said Be Your Best will race at Aqueduct.
Be Your Best exited post 9-of-10 under Juan Hernandez in the Del Mar Oaks and closed from sixth position with a menacing four-wide move through the final turn to finish 2 3/4-lengths back of the victorious Anisette, who exited that effort to finish second against elders in Saturday’s Grade 2 Rodeo Drive at Santa Anita Park.
“It was a very good effort on her part, especially flying out there to Del Mar,” De Paz said. “The winner, Anisette, is a really nice filly. We didn’t get to save all the ground around there like she did – she [Anisette] had a dream trip and the rail opened up for her. But, a good effort on our part, for our filly.”
Be Your Best made her first two starts at Saratoga Race Course, graduating impressively last July and following last September with a 3 3/4-length score in the P. G. Johnson over good going. She completed her 2-year-old campaign with a third-place finish over yielding ground in the Grade 2 Miss Grillo last October here ahead of a troubled ninth in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf in November at Keeneland.
Be Your Best has made four starts this year, all in graded company, including a close runner-up effort in June at Belmont Park in the Grade 2 Wonder Again won by a neck by Prerequisite, who is entered in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup. That effort was followed by a disappointing ninth-place finish less than one month later in the 10-furlong Grade 1 Fasig-Tipton Belmont Oaks Invitational.
“She ran a winning race that day, so it was good to see that effort,” De Paz said of the Wonder Again try. “We just came back too quick in the Belmont Oaks. She regressed and that told us she just needs more time between races, which showed when we went out to California.”
Be Your Best has breezed back four times over the Belmont dirt training track since the Del Mar Oaks, including a half-mile effort in 48.83 seconds on October 5.
“She’s maintained very well and is healthy and doing really good. I’ll probably just gallop her into the race. She’s fit and ready to go,” De Paz said. “I breezed her early last week anticipating the rain and the week prior we missed a breeze because of the weather. But, she’s good to go and she doesn’t need to do anything more.”
With more rain in the forecast this weekend, De Paz said his filly shouldn’t mind a little cut in the ground.
“She ran at Saratoga on good turf and she handled that,” De Paz said. “I think she’ll be OK.”
Manny Franco, aboard for the Wonder Again effort, has the call from post 4.
Godolphin’s Irish homebred Eternal Hope [post 7, Jamie Spencer] will face four returning rivals from her deep-closing score last out in the 11-furlong Grade 3 Jockey Club Oaks Invitational on September 16 here for trainer Charlie Appleby.
The Teofilo chestnut was away last-of-7 under Jamie Spencer in the 11-furlong test and trailed as many as 23 lengths back before rallying six-wide down the lane to secure a neck score over Neecie Marie.
Eternal Hope captured the 12-furlong Oaks Trial over the Lingfield synthetic in May ahead of a distant seventh in the Group 1 Epsom Oaks in June. She entered the Jockey Club Oaks from a third-place finish in the 10-furlong Group 2 Prix Alec Head over soft going on August 20 at Deauville, finishing 1 1/2-lengths back of the victorious Group 1-winner Jannah Rose. The runner-up of that event, Lumiere Rock, came back to win the Group 2 Blandford at The Curragh. Lumiere Rock and Jannah Rose ran third and seventh, respectively, last out on October 1 in the Group 1 Prix de L’Opera at Longchamp.
Eternal Hope is out of the Dubawi mare Voice of Truth, who is a half-sister to multiple group-winner and sire Rio de La Plata.
Michael Milam’s Neecie Marie [post 5, Abner Adorno] returns for another crack at Eternal Hope following her narrow miss last out after a ground-saving rally under returning rider Abner Adorno in the Jockey Club Oaks for trainer Butch Reid, Jr.
The Pennsylvania-bred Cross Traffic bay has won 3-of-5 starts since making a victorious switch to turf racing in June at Parx. She arrived at her graded stakes debut from a deep-closing 2 1/4-length score in the state-bred Mrs. Penny on August 21 at Parx with Adorno up for the first time.
“When she won the small stake [Mrs. Penny] here, she was well back and many wide around the turn and still drew off,” Reid, Jr. said. “Abner rode her and it gave him good confidence in her and I thought he rode her excellently [in the Jockey Club Oaks], she just got outrun a little in the last 100 yards. Other than that, I thought it was a perfect race.”
Reid, Jr. said Neecie Marie, who won over good going in a 1 1/16-mile optional-claimer on July 24 at Parx, will appreciate shortening up to nine furlongs.
“It seems to me with turf races once you get out past a mile and an eighth or so it’s all about the timing of the finishing run. Abner knows her well and it should set up nice,” Reid, Jr. said. “I do like the turnback a little bit going from a mile and three-eighths to a mile and an eighth. She’ll certainly finish full of run in this one.”
Neecie Marie breezed back a half-mile in 49.12 October 6 over the Parx main track.
“She came back with a nice little breeze last weekend and we’re looking forward to running,” Reid, Jr. said.
Neecie Marie is out of the Ontario-bred Posse mare Lode Lady, who is a half-sister to 2022 Grade 1 Kentucky Derby-winner Rich Strike and Grade 2-winning turfer Llanarmon.
Others returning from the Jockey Club Oaks are fourth-place Highland Grace [post 8, Junior Alvarado] for trainer Barclay Tagg, fifth-place Quarrel [post 2, Kendrick Carmouche] for conditioner Robert Ribaudo, and the Jose Jimenez-trained pacesetter Stephanie’s Charm [post 9, Jose Gomez], who will race with blinkers off.
Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher will send out a formidable pair of contenders looking to make the grade in Don Alberto Stable’s dual Grade 3-placed Kentucky homebred Alpha Bella [post 10, Jose Ortiz] and Wertheimer and Frere’s Kentucky homebred Soviet Excess [post 1, Dylan Davis].
Alpha Bella was last seen finishing a game third in the nine-furlong Virginia Oaks on September 9 at Colonial Downs. The Justify chestnut pressed the pace of eventual winner Thirty Thou Kelvin, looming large with an outside move at the top of the lane but could not stay the course landing three-quarter lengths back of the winner, who posted a neck score over the deep-closing returning rival Root Cause.
Alpha Bella entered the Virginia Oaks from a 22 3/4-length score in an off-the-turf optional-claimer on August 10 at Saratoga to notch her first win since graduating in December over the Gulfstream Park green. She followed that win with close runner-up graded efforts traveling 1 1/16-miles on turf in the Sweetest Chant at Gulfstream – missing by less than a length to Cairo Consort – and the Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs when a neck back of Mission of Joy.
Soviet Excess, by Uncle Mo, graduated in April over the Gulfstream synthetic and followed with an optional-claiming win there on turf in May. She shipped to New York to finish a close-up third in the one-mile Wild Applause at Belmont and outran her odds when a closing third at 28-1 in the Grade 2 Lake Placid on August 19 at Saratoga. Last out, Soviet Excess closed from well off the pace to finish third in the one-mile Winter Memories on September 15 here.
Rounding out the field is the stakes-placed Root Cause [post 6, Trevor McCarthy] for trainer Chad Brown; and Leave No Trace [post 3, Jose Lezcano], winner of the Spa’s Grade 1 Spinaway last September, who will make her turf debut for trainer Phil Serpe. Essaouira, Amanda’s Folly and Ichiban are entered for the main-track only.
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