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Mike previews the 2022 Miss Grillo Stakes (G2) at Belmont at the Big A, then gives his top picks and longshots from this “Win & You’re In” for the 2022 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1). The Shug McGaughey trainee Pleasant Passage looks to build off her debut win at Saratoga, but can she unleash the same closing foot against a much tougher field that includes Be Your Best, from the Horacio De Paz barn, and Free Look for trainer Chad Brown? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
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Michael J. Ryan’s Irish homebred Be Your Best will vie for her second stakes score and first at the graded level for trainer Horacio De Paz in Saturday’s Grade 2, $200,000 Miss Grillo, a 1 1/16-mile inner turf test for juvenile fillies, at the Belmont at the Big A fall meet.
The Miss Grillo is one of two Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” qualifying races on Saturday’s lucrative card, offering the winner a berth into the Grade 1 Juvenile Fillies Turf in November at Keeneland. Also featured are the Grade 1, $500,000 Champagne, a one-turn mile qualifier for the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile; the Grade 1, $500,000 Woodward for 3-year-olds and up traveling nine furlongs; and the Grade 3, $200,000 Belmont Turf Sprint for 3-year-olds and up going six furlongs over the lawn.
Be Your Best, a daughter of Muhaarar, enters from a strong stakes score in the P.G. Johnson going the Miss Grillo distance on September 1 at Saratoga Race Course. There, she broke well from post 6 and tucked in along the rail under a confident Jose Ortiz to save ground throughout and wait for racing room. The bay filly was able to find a seam at the top of the lane under expert piloting from Ortiz and secured the victory by 3 3/4 lengths over good footing.
The P.G. Johnson came on the heels of another impressive performance when she scored on debut in a 1 1/16-mile maiden on July 31 at the Spa, defeating a field that included next-out winner and returning rival Free Look.
“She placed herself forwardly in the P.G. Johnson and the main thing we got out of her maiden win was Jose’s confidence in her,” said De Paz. “He put her on the rail [last time] and waited for something to open up. To be able to kick clear is something that shows she moved forward from her first race. It was nice to see.”
De Paz said he is confident Be Your Best, the only stakes winner in the field of six, will continue to show her class and maturity in the Miss Grillo.
“She fits great in this spot,” De Paz said. “She’s won twice and going long, so the distance shouldn’t be a problem. Hopefully the weather stays together and we don’t get a lot of rain, but even if we did get some rain, she’s a horse that likes turf with a little give as well. Everything is very positive for her. She overcomes things.”
Ortiz will return to the irons from post 6.
Klaravich Stables’ Free Look will face her familiar rival again and hope to build upon a strong last-out maiden score on September 4 at the Spa as she makes her stakes debut for four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown.
Free Look, who finished third on debut behind Be Your Best, earned her maiden win despite some trouble at the start when she broke inwardly, made contact with a foe and raced 8 1/2 lengths off the pace at the half-mile call. She went four-wide in the final turn of the 1 1/16-mile route and displayed an impressive turn of foot to overtake the lead just past the eighth pole and secure the 2 1/2-length victory in a final time of 1:42.02.
Brown said the daughter of Tapit, who breezed a half-mile in 49.55 seconds on Sunday at Saratoga’s Oklahoma training track, is “doing good and training fine.”
Out of the unraced Medaglia d’Oro mare Wild Mint, who is a full-sister to Grade 1-winning and producing sire Violence, Free Look was a $300,000 purchase at last year’s Keeneland September Yearling Sale. Flavien Prat has the call from post 2.
Also looking to add to a last-out Spa maiden score is Georgees Spirit, a daughter of Mor Spirit trained and co-owned by Jorge Abreu with Robert Photos and Sportsmen Stable. The dark bay was last seen taking a 5 1/2-furlong maiden special weight on September 1 in her turf debut, closing from seventh-of-10 to kick on down the lane and score a gutsy half-length victory in 1:05.25. The win was a great improvement from her debut when an even sixth in an off-the-turf sprint on July 21.
Georgees Spirit will stretch out considerably from her first two outings, something Abreu said he is looking forward to.
“She came out of the race in pretty good shape and I think she wants to go a little farther than five and a half than the way she ran,” Abreu said. “We’ll give it a try and see what happens.”
The $80,000 OBS October Yearling Sale purchase breezed a half-mile in 48.46 over the Belmont Park inner turf on Saturday.
“She had a very good breeze and a great gallop out,” said Abreu. “She’s well put together and she’s got a great head.”
Georgees Spirit will emerge from post 1 with Manny Franco aboard.
Abreu will also saddle Lawrence Goichman’s Alluring Angel, who was last seen finishing a heartbreaking second in the Untapable on September 13 at Kentucky Downs. The daughter of Fastnet Rock rated close to the pace throughout under Irad Ortiz, Jr. and took a narrow advantage at the stretch call in the 6 1/2-furlong sprint, battling on valiantly down the stretch to be bested a nose by Danse Macabre.
One start prior, Alluring Angel was an off-the-pace winner on debut sprinting 5 1/2 furlongs on August 4 at the Spa, rallying to score by a half-length under Ortiz, Jr. Jose Lezcano will pick up the mount in the Miss Grillo from post 4.
Completing the field are two last out maiden winners in Chester and Mary Broman’s New York-bred Im Just Kiddin [post 5, Joel Rosario] for trainer John Kimmel; and Emory Hamilton’s Pleasant Passage [post 3, Irad Ortiz, Jr.] for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey.
The Miss Grillo is slated as Race 8 on Saturday’s 11-race card. First post is 1 p.m. Eastern.
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