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ELMONT, NY – A wide-open field of 8 talented 3-year-old fillies are set for a showdown in Saturday’s $700,000 Belmont Oaks Invitational (G1), the first leg of the summer-long Turf Triple Tiara Series.
The Belmont Oaks is carded as race 7 on an 11-race program that also includes the Belmont Derby (G1). Approximate post time for the 1 1/4-mile inner turf route is 4:06 PM Eastern.
Headlining this group is Santa Barbara, shipping in to make her United States debut for elite overseas trainer Aidan O’Brien. She raced just 2 weeks ago (not uncommon for European runners) and finished a very solid second in the Pretty Polly Stakes (G1) at The Curragh. Based on that effort, she’ll likely be favored in this spot. She drew post 5 and O’Brien’s top rider Ryan Moore traveled with her for the mount. Fun fact: she’s the younger half-sister of the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) winner Iridessa and the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) champion Order of Australia.
“Every race she’s had this year has been a Group 1 and she’s been running very well in them,” said O’Brien’s traveling assistant T.J. Comerford. “I suppose the ground was bad at Epsom when she (finished fifth) in the Oaks (G1). Quicker ground suited her better taking on the older fillies (in the Pretty Polly) and she ran well. She came here on the back of that. It doesn’t seem to have fazed her at all. She looks magnificent. She looks like a colt, actually.”
The Todd Pletcher-trained Con Lima could be the top American-based entry. She’s won 2 straight races coming into this event including the Wonder Again Stakes (G3), the local prep race for this contest. Flavien Prat will be aboard as she breaks from the rail.
“She shows up and runs well every time,” Pletcher said. “She finished up the mile and 1/8 really well last time, and being a daughter of Commissioner, you’d think the mile and 1/4 would be within her scope. We’re happy with the way she’s doing and looking forward to giving her a shot.”
Another horse entering the race hot is Gam’s Mission, who’s won 3 straight. Last time out, she made her stakes debut a winning one, taking home the Regret Stakes (G3) at Churchill Downs in stylish fashion. She’ll break from post 8 with Adam Beschizza in the irons.
The full field from the rail out: Con Lima, Cirona, Higher Truth, Spanish Loveaffair, Santa Barbara, Nazuna, Plum Ali, and Gam’s Mission.
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#5 Santa Barbara – She ships across the Atlantic Ocean after running a solid second in the Pretty Polly just 2 weeks ago. O’Brien has been successful with this move in the past, so don’t worry about the timing, and she likely faced much tougher horses in her last start than what showed up here. O’Brien wouldn’t ship her over if he didn’t think that she had a big chance to win.
#7 Plum Ali – You have to feel a little sorry for her after she faced back-to-back pace-less races, which hampers her chances of winning because she does her best running late. She was solid in both races, though, so with a little help here, she can make an impact. She should also enjoy stretching out in distance.
“She finished well going a mile and a furlong, so we’ll give her another 1/8 of a mile and see what happens,” said trainer Christophe Clement. “She’s been a little bit unlucky, but hopefully she can put it all together.”
#8 Gam’s Mission – She was sharp in her last 3 starts, impressively winning all including the Regret last time out. Her pedigree is strong from a distance standpoint and should help her show the improvement that’s needed to pass this latest test.
#1 Con Lima – She possesses plenty of early speed, making her dangerous considering Belmont Park has played well to horses on the front end. Last time out, she won the Wonder Again, the local prep for this event.
#4 Spanish Loveaffair – There’s no doubt she was a bit inconsistent in her last few starts, which is a bit of a concern. She’ll need to show up with a top effort to have a shot to win this difficult spot, but at her best, she can definitely hit the board.
#2 Cirona – She had several chances in tough stakes races overseas but wasn’t able to close the deal, so she’ll take her shot in the United States instead. Sometimes a change of scenery does European runners good, so we’ll see if she can make an impact here. After the race, she is going to state in America with trainer Chad Brown.
#6 Nazuna – This European shipper has just 1 win in 5 starts but faced some tough horses overseas. She can compete with this group from a class standpoint, but the big question mark is how she’ll take to the United States style of racing.
#3 Higher Truth – Never count out Brown in a New York turf stakes, right? Higher Truth makes her stakes debut after winning 2 straight local races, breaking her maiden 2 starts back before defeating allowance runners. Still, this is a huge class test.
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