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SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY – Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Joseph Graffeo, Eric Nikolaus Del Toro, and Troy Johnson’s multiple graded stakes winner Con Lima – first or second in 11 of 12 lifetime starts – can help put the exclamation point on what is sure to be an emotional weekend for trainer Todd Pletcher in Sunday’s $700,000 Saratoga Oaks Invitational (G3) at Saratoga Race Course.
The 1 3/16-mile Saratoga Oaks Invitational, middle jewel of NYRA’s Turf Triple series for 3-year-old fillies, is 1 of 2 grass stakes on the program, joined by the $120,000 Fasig-Tipton De La Rose for older fillies and mares. Sunday’s card also features the $200,000 Adirondack (G2) for juvenile fillies on the main track.
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In his first year of eligibility, the 54-year-old Pletcher will be inducted Friday into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame, located across Union Avenue from the racetrack where he has been leading trainer 14 times including last year. Two days later, he will be looking for his first win in the Saratoga Oaks, inaugurated in 2019.
Con Lima set the pace but fell a 1/2-length short of winner Santa Barbara in the first leg of the Turf Triple series for sophomore fillies, the 1 1/4-mile Belmont Oaks Invitational (G1) July 10 at Belmont Park. The Commissioner filly was left alone on an easy lead, going a 1/2-mile in 51.31 seconds and a mile in 1:40.76 before being caught late.
Prior to that race, Con Lima won the 1 1/16-mile Honey Ryder May 1 at Gulfstream Park and Belmont’s Wonder Again (G3) June 3 in successive starts, both also on the turf, where she has a record of 5 wins and 2 seconds from 7 tries.
“It’s not obvious in her pedigree, but obviously she’s performed well over the grass. She appreciates the tighter turns at Saratoga like she did at Gulfstream. She’s doing well and we’re looking forward to trying it again,” Pletcher said. “She just continues to step up. She’s been super consistent and gives a good effort every time.”
Flavien Prat has the mount from post 5 on Con Lima, whose other stakes wins came over the winter at Gulfstream in the Ginger Brew January 2 and Herecomesthebride (G3) February 27, when she was placed first following the disqualification of Spanish Loveaffair.
“She seemed to really like Gulfstream, which is a tighter course, so maybe that will work in her favor here,” Pletcher said. “If she continues to run her races the way she has been, she should be able to get one of (these).”
Con Lima Stalkes and Pounces in Wonder Again
Trainer Chad Brown is set to send out the pair of Higher Truth and Rocky Sky in the Saratoga Oaks.
Michael Ryan, Jeff Drown and Team Hanley’s Higher Truth was third, a nose behind Con Lima, in the Belmont Oaks, just her fourth career start and first in a stakes.
“She got a great trip and was right there. I was proud of her effort,” Brown said. “She’s a horse that continues to improve, so we should be in good shape. Moving forward as far as her development, I really like what I see. She’s a distance horse, absolutely.”
Peter Brant’s Rocky Sky will be racing for the first time in the U.S. after 4 starts in her native Ireland. Last out, she won the 1 1/4-mile Irish Stallion Farms E.B.F. Salsabil Stakes April 24.
“We’ve had her for a little while now. She seems to be really adapting to the program. The last couple works were the best I’ve seen from her. She’s an exciting prospect,” Brown said. “She’s doing everything right. We momentarily thought about the Belmont Oaks. It was just too soon for her. I wanted more time with her and I think it was the right decision. I really like where I’m at now with her.”
Jose Ortiz has the mount on Higher Truth from post 1, while older brother Irad Ortiz Jr. rides Rocky Sky from post 6.
Santa Barbara Surges Late, Captures Belmont Oaks
Also in from Europe are Creative Flair and Messidor.
Godolphin homebred Creative Flair was beaten a head when third in the Prix Chloe (G3) July 18 at Chantilly in France. The bay daughter of Dubawi won twice this year in England, including the 1 1/8-mile Betfair British E.B.F. Abingdon Stakes June 10 at Newbury.
“She ran a huge race last time. It looked like she was really going to go and win that, and she just got collared near the line,” said Chris Connett, traveling assistant for trainer Charlie Appleby. “She will wear a hood to run in, but she’s always worn that and we won’t change anything now. She’ll sit on or near the pace and she sees the trip pretty well. Her form is solid, and she should take a bit of beating.”
Hall of Famer Mike Smith gets the assignment on Creative Flair from post 7.
Blue Devil Racing Stable’s Messidor, trained by Joseph O’Brien, has been third in 3 stakes in England and Ireland, and was only beaten 4 1/2 lengths when eighth in the Ballylinch Stud Priory Belle One Thousand Guineas Trial (G3) April 11 at Leopardstown, contested at 7 furlongs. Hall of Famer John Velazquez rides from post 2.
Lazy F Ranch homebred Gam’s Mission capped a 3-race win streak in the 1 1/8-mile Regret (G3) May 29 at Churchill Downs. The effort propelled the Galileo filly into the Belmont Oaks, where she was outkicked late following a wide trip and wound up fourth, beaten only two lengths.
“I thought she ran great,” trainer Cherie DeVaux said. “All things considered, I think she ran her race which was really good in a Grade 1 stepping up in company and losing by two lengths to some very nice fillies. It was further than she’s ever gone before and a big step up in company, and I think she handled it all really well. She came out of it in good shape.”
Saratoga meet-leading rider Luis Saez climbs aboard for the first time from post 3.
Gam’s Mission Steps Up Successfully in Regret
The connections of Michael Dubb, Madaket Stables, and Michael Caruso’s Plum Ali will be hoping to see some early foot to aid the winner of the Miss Grillo (G2) last fall that has been beaten a total of 5 lengths in her last 3 races – the Appalachian G2) April 3 at Keeneland, Wonder Again, and Belmont Oaks.
“The filly is doing well. The only thing with the filly that we need is perhaps a bit of pace to run at,” said Miguel Clement, assistant trainer to his father, Christophe Clement. “She’s been a bit compromised in her last few starts by a lack of pace. Hopefully she can get a real pace to run at and be able to show her true ability.”
Joel Rosario will be in the irons from post 4.
Completing the field is Respect the Valleys’ Out of Sorts, last-out winner of the 1 1/16-mile Christiana Stakes July 3 at Delaware Park. Prior to that, the Dramedy daughter ran in back-to-back allowances at her home track of Pimlico Race Course, finishing second by a nose May 15 on the undercard of the Preakness (G1) and first by a head June 13. Both races came against older horses.
Out of Sorts is trained by Brittany Russell, whose husband, jockey Sheldon Russell, comes in from Maryland to ride from outside post 8.
“It’s sort of one of those now or never situations. She’s doing great. She’s been awesome on the turf this year. We think she’ll love the distance. She’s cool. She’s a handy filly,” Brittany Russell said. “Sheldon can get her to shut off, but she also has that little bit of gas to her if he needs to use her a little bit. I think she’s just the right type, and we want to find out if she’s that kind.”
The Saratoga Oaks Invitational is carded as race 9 on Sunday’s 10-race program, which offers a first post of 1:05 PM Eastern.
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