Saratoga Springs is a quaint town nestled in upstate New York where horse racing is ingrained in the blood life of the town. It’s a town that many in the horse racing industry have fallen in love with over the years.
Add 2015 Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Stopchargingmaria to that list, as she enjoys basking in the horse racing craze of Saratoga.
“She’s always loved Saratoga!” exclaimed assistant trainer Tristan Barry, who has been working for Stopchargingmaria’s trainer Todd Pletcher for 17 years. Barry has been running the Pletcher Saratoga barn for 9 years, as one of the most successful barns in horse racing prepares for the 2016 Saratoga season.
During the months leading up to the summer season, the Pletcher team will use the Oklahoma Training Track to prepare some of their horses for races at Belmont Park or other tracks around the country. Since Stopchargingmaria has shown an affinity for the area, the Pletcher team decided to train her upstate for one of her biggest races of the year, the Grade-1 Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park this Saturday, June 11 (part of the Belmont Stakes day undercard).
Stopchargingmaria put in her final work for the Phipps on June 3 at the Oklahoma Training Track breezing four furlongs in 48:95 seconds. What was more impressive about the work was her strong gallop out, which has always been an important part of her works, as she galloped out 5 furlongs in 1:01:80 and 6 furlongs in 1:14:80.
“She had a very good work (as her final work before the Ogden Phipps),” Barry said, “She’s a very good work horse.”
Since arriving in Saratoga in early May, Stopchargingmaria has worked consistently every week for the past 5 weeks including a bullet best out of 34 works at four furlongs on May 15.
In six lifetime starts over the Saratoga main track, she has four wins supporting the belief that the upstate surroundings suit her well. She broke her maiden in 2013 and returned the next year to win the two biggest races at “The Spa” for three-year old fillies in 2014 in the Grade-1 Coaching Club America Oaks and Grade-1 Alabama Stakes. She has won a race at Saratoga three years in a row by capturing the Grade-3 Shuvee early in the 2015 meet.
Second Race of 2016
After winning the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Distaff on October 30, Stopchargingmaria was given off 5 months to focus on a return campaign in 2016. She returned in a hard fought second-place finish in the Grade-1 Madison at Keeneland on April 9 at 7 furlongs. After having a wide trip early from the 12 post, Stopchargingmaria lost by only a neck to Sheer Drama after taking the lead early in the stretch.
“She lost nothing in defeat,” said Barry. “We started her year off last year at 7/8th (in the Madison also) and it resulted in a (Breeders’ Cup) championship. It was a good springboard (last year) and we’re hoping for the same this year.”
Stopchargingmaria has been given off exactly 9 weeks between the Madison and the Phipps. The same amount of time was given to her before she won the Breeders’ Cup after a disappointing fourth-place finish in the Grade-1 Personal Ensign to end the Saratoga season on August 29.
Stopchargingmaria has performed well off of these types of layoffs, but that wasn’t the main reason why the Pletcher team waited nine weeks for the Ogden Phipps for her next start.
“It’s a long year and we don’t want to pile a lot on her. We’ll pick her spots,” Barry said. “We’ll look at the big picture and not zone in on one race.”
Phipps Field Stacked
Right now only five other fillies and mares are probable to face Stopchargingmaria in the Ogden Phipps, but what the field lacks in quantity, it makes up in quality, as four out of the five other entries have Grade-1 stakes wins to their names.
Her recent top nemesis Sheer Drama will be shipping up from Florida to meet her at Belmont. Unlike Stopchargingmaria, trainer David Fawkes decided to run Sheer Drama back after the Madison in the Grade-1 La Troienne Stakes on May 6. Her grueling duel in the Madison may have shown its wear as she ran an even, non-threatening third behind impressive winner Curalina.
Sheer Drama has three Grade-1 wins in her last five races including a win over Stopchargingmaria in the aforementioned Personal Ensign at Saratoga last year. Her fourth place finish behind Stopchargingmaria in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Distaff means that she’s won 2 out of her last 3 versus Stopchargingmaria, so the Ogden Phipps may indeed settle the score.
After finishing third in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Distaff, the aforementioned Curalina will be another filly that Stopchargingmaria will need to beat again. Curalina (also trained by Todd Pletcher) returned this year in the Grade-1 La Troienne Stakes at Churchill Downs to dominate by 7½ lengths drawing off. The La Troienne was at the same 1 & 1/16 mile distance of the upcoming Personal Ensign, so she should be ready again this time second off the bench. Curalina has proven herself over the Belmont oval winning the Grade-1 Acorn on 2015 Belmont Stakes day and ran a strong second behind since-retired Wedding Toast in the Grade-1 Beldame in her debut against older females last September.
Curalina is an improving four-year old, much like trainer Kiaran McLaughlin’s Cavorting, who won the Grade-2 Ruffian on May 14 at a one-turn mile. She stalked and pounced drawing clear by 5 lengths in a triumphant statement over the Belmont strip. With such an emphatic display in the local prep for the Ogden Phipps, Cavorting is one to watch, especially since the Ogden Phipps will also be run around the same one-turn.
Another top foe is Forever Unbridled, who has won her last three races including the Grade-1 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn, Grade-3 Houston Ladies Classic and Grade-3 Comely at Aqueduct.
Carrumba is the only entry without a Graded stakes win in the probable Phipps field. She has kept good class lately by only losing to Cavorting and Forever Unbridled in her last five races going back to September. She should be a pace presence for trainer Shug McGaughey and would be the “feel good” story of Belmont Stakes weekend if she can win the race named after her owner Ogden Phipps, who recently passed away.
Belmont vs. Saratoga
Stopchargingmaria will need to bring her best race down the New York State Thruway when she ships from Saratoga later in the week to Belmont Park. Her strong worktab at Saratoga may indicate that she is ready to fire a big race on Saturday versus this small, but classy field.
Her record at Belmont Park in two career races only includes a third in the 2013 Grade-1 Frizette in her two-year old season and a second against older fillies and mares in the 2014 Grade-1 Beldame, though. Now as a five-year old, she will be looking for her first win over the large oval nicknamed “Big Sandy.”
It is clear that Stopchargingmaria loves Saratoga and the main question to be answered on Saturday is if training in her favorite place will help her transfer her success over to Belmont Park.