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ELMONT, NY – Royal Flag captured the $250,000 Beldame Stakes (G2) and Sacred Life took home the $150,000 Knickerbocker (G3) on Sunday’s undercard supporting the Belmont Futurity (G3) at Belmont Park.
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W. S. Farish homebred Royal Flag rallied wide down the lane to capture the Beldame, a 9-furlong test for fillies and mares 3 and up.
Trained by Chad Brown and ridden by Joel Rosario, Royal Flag covered the good and harrowed main track in 1:50.02. It was the second Beldame win for both Brown and Rosario, who won the race previously with Wow Cat (2018) and Forever Unbridled (2016), respectively.
Breaking from the outermost post 8, odds-on favorite Royal Flag sat off the leaders in fifth as the field raced down the backside. Horologist, who won last year’s running of the Beldame, was sent to the lead by jockey Junior Alvarado, setting opening fractions of 23.97 seconds and 48.54 for a 1/2-mile while being chased to her outside by Miss Marissa.
As the field entered the turn, Royal Flag followed the Manny Franco-piloted Zaajel, whom she tracked throughout the backside. Through 3/4 in 1:13.03, Zaajel rallied three-wide on the pacesetting Horologist and that move was followed by a four-wide run from Royal Flag.
Taking the lead at the 1/8 pole, Royal Flag, under a confident Rosario, drew away from her competition all while keeping his mare in the middle of the track and under a hand ride to best the pacesetting Horologist by 4 1/4 lengths. Miss Marissa was able to hold third by 2 1/4 lengths over Gold Spirit.
“She broke really well,” said Rosario, “Sometimes, when there’s no speed, she can be up a little bit. We were just waiting for the time to come out and let her do her thing.”
Rosario said he intentionally kept Royal Flag wide out of the turn.
“I feel like if I get her away from them, she’s more focused at that point,” Rosario said. “So, I stayed out there. If she has another horse there [beside her], she’ll just stay there.”
Dan Stupp, assistant trainer to Brown, said he was happy to see just how much the 5-year-old mare has improved.
“This year she’s obviously taken a big step forward. She’s trained better than ever,” Stupp said. “Everyone has done a great job of developing her and Rosario gets along quite well with her.”
Alvarado said he had no excuses aboard a game Horologist.
“When I turned for home, I asked her and she gave me a good kick,” Alvarado said. “I know my filly likes to fight but the other horse [Royal Flag] was coming way from the outside. I didn’t want to move all the way out there and wanted to keep her in a straight course. We were just second best today.”
Rounding out the order of finish was Zaajel, Thankful and Spice Is Nice. So Darn Hot was scratched.
The 5-year-old Royal Flag is a daughter of Candy Ride, out of the Mineshaft mare Sea Gull. Earning $137,500 in victory, Royal Flag now owns a 12-6-3-3 ledger and purse earnings of $573,020.
Bred in Kentucky by her owner, Royal Flag returned $3.40 for a $2 win wager.
Michael Dubb, Madaket Stables, Wonder Stables, and Michael J. Caruso’s Sacred Life captured his first graded stakes win in North America, displaying a devastating turn-of-foot in the final furlong to collar pacesetter Field Pass in the last jump in the 60th running of the Knickerbocker going 9 furlongs over the inner turf.
Sacred Life, a 6-year-old ridgling son of Siyouni, entered the Knickerbocker with an 0-for-4 record in 2021, including a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Maker’s Mark Mile in April at Keeneland, followed by a pair of fourth-place efforts at graded stakes level.
Six weeks after making up nearly ten lengths to finish a close second to fellow Knickerbocker aspirant Breaking the Rules in a one-mile allowance optional claimer at Saratoga, Sacred Life found a winning late stride to capture a breakthrough graded stakes victory.
Breaking from post 3, Jose Ortiz took Sacred Life toward the rear of the field as Field Pass commanded an opening quarter-mile in 23.83 seconds over the firm footing with 24-1 longshot Epic Bromance one length back in second.
Field Pass widened his advantage to 2 ½ lengths through a half-mile in 48.32 as Temple inched his way into contention from third toward the rail as Ortiz made up ground aboard Sacred Life, following graded stakes-placed Breaking the Rules to his inside.
Past the quarter-pole, Field Pass was still in charge as Temple put in a menacing run to his outside in second. Fifth at the stretch call, Sacred Life made up considerable ground in the last eighth of a mile and got up in the last jump to win by a head in a final time of 1:46.66. Temple held off a late rally from Corelli to finish third.
No Word, Breaking the Rules, L’Imperator, En Wye Cee and Epic Bromance completed the order of finish.
Ortiz said he kept a close eye on the Joel Rosario-piloted Breaking the Rules nearing the far turn and pushed the ‘go’ button once his rival started moving.
“He has no speed early on and I had to ride him from early,” Ortiz said. “At the six furlongs, I started pushing on him and he was coming little by little. I knew sooner or later he would pick it up and he picked up nicely around the half-mile and then I just wanted for Rosario to go and I followed him.
“I had a lot of room to work with so I decided to do it,” Ortiz added. “He was flying late. I just had to keep him straight.”
The victory gave trainer Chad Brown his second straight Knickerbocker win after saddling Devamani to a score in last year’s edition.
“He’s trained well. He’s an honest horse. It just hasn’t worked out for him in some of his races and he clicked with Jose today and got a great trip,” said Brown’s Belmont assistant Dan Stupp, who saddled Royal Flag to victory in the Grade 2 Beldame two races before. “He got some pace to run into and made a late run and was able to get up at the wire. It was an exciting finish. It looked a little more fun for Jose than it did for me.”
Dylan Davis, aboard Field Pass, said he tried to get the jump in the late running.
“I knew there was a lot of deep closers, so I made a pretty quick move there into the turn and I started letting him get running into the quarter pole,” Davis said. “I didn’t want to wait for those closers and he made a nice run, unfortunately we got caught the last two jumps. He ran great and very hard it’s just unfortunate you’re able to lose like that.”
Returning $12.80 for a $2 win wager, Sacred Life banked $82,500 in victory and brought his lifetime earnings up to $616,768 through a 21-7-7-1 record. He has never finished worse than fourth, including his first nine starts in his native France, where he was a Group 3 winner during his juvenile campaign.
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