Grade 1 stakes for fillies and mares at Belmont Park at 1 1/16 miles attracts six.
For two of the standouts among the six starters in the June 13 Ogden Phipps Stakes (G1) at spectatorless Belmont Park, the Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) will be remembered as a tough pill to swallow.
Paul and Karen Eggert’s Ollie’s Candy battled for the early lead in the April 18 Apple Blossom against some formidable speedsters, such as Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Serengeti Empress, and still managed to stay in front for every step of the stretch run—except for the final ones when Ce Ce stuck her head in front at the wire.
“It was quite a dramatic race. She ran super,” trainer John Sadler said. “Other than not getting the win, we were thrilled.”
Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Stetson Racing’s Point of Honor suffered her dose of disappointment at the opposite spectrum of the race when she was squeezed at the start, spotting the field about four lengths in the estimation of trainer George Weaver. She then had to rally from 23 lengths back in the 1 1/16-mile stakes and finished a praiseworthy third, just 2 1/4 lengths behind Ce Ce.
“Point of Honor ran an unbelievable race to finish third,” said Aron Wellman, the president and founder of Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners. “It was a big field that day. She had to weave her way through traffic, go very wide, and close on a speed-favoring track. So we were really pleased with the effort. It was another major feather in her cap to add a placing in another major race.”
The connections of both runners will be hoping for a more satisfying trip and result Saturday when they meet again in the $300,000 Ogden Phipps, a one-turn, 1 1/16-mile stakes that awards the winner an expenses-paid berth in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) through the “Win and You’re In” program.
“We’re not too proud to appreciate we have the opportunity to run in a grade 1 race as prestigious as the Phipps and be able to avoid Midnight Bisou and Monomoy Girl,” Wellman said. “If we can add a grade 1 win to Point of Honor’s résumé, it will thrust her into a whole different stratosphere for her ultimate residual value (as a broodmare). We’d love to get that now, knowing that in the second half of the year it will be unavoidable to dodge those two in a major race.
“It’s such a stellar cast of older fillies and mares right now. It’s pretty rare in recent years to see so many quality fillies and mares, both on dirt and turf. It’s really good for racing.”
Ollie’s Candy, a 5-year-old daughter of Candy Ride , is already a grade 1 winner. She took the 2019 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (G1) at Del Mar and Sadler is hopeful of back-to-back wins in the stakes, but he was reluctant to run her in the May 31 Santa Maria Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park as a prep and opted instead for the cross-country trip to New York.
“When we brought her home to California after the Apple Blossom, we were looking at the Santa Maria or the Clement Hirsch. We thought the Hirsch was a little far off, and we haven’t always gotten her best race at Santa Anita. We know she loves Del Mar, and we want to run in the Hirsch, so before that, with this being her last year of racing, we thought it was worth a chance to go on the road again,” Sadler said.
A homebred out of the Stroll mare Afternoon Stroll, Ollie’s Candy enters the Phipps with four wins and four seconds in 12 starts and earnings of $744,151. In Sadler’s estimation, she has maintained the sharp form she displayed in the Apple Blossom.
“She’s training very, very well,” Sadler said of the high-class performer, who will break from post 5 with Joel Rosario. “We got a good mare. Her form is good and solid, and hopefully we can add this stakes to her résumé.”
Point of Honor, the winner of the 2019 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (G2), is still searching for her first grade 1 victory, though the ultra-consistent daughter of Curlin has come close on several occasions. She has three wins and three seconds in eight starts. As a 3-year-old last year, Point of Honor was second in both the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) and Alabama Stakes (G1) at Saratoga Race Course.
“She’s certainly deserving of being a grade 1 winner, and that’s our goal with her,” Weaver said. “She certainly has a lot of class. She’s been in a lot of big dances and been a bridesmaid in the grade 1s so far.”
Weaver backed off on training Point of Honor after the Alabama at 1 1/4 miles and brought her back in a March 7 handicap race at Tampa Bay Downs. In a five-horse field, she rallied from last to finish second in her season debut.
“She needed a break after the Alabama. She had been going for a while and was sore in her back. I wasn’t happy with the way she was training,” Weaver said. “The Cotillion (G1) was the last significant race for 3-year-olds, and she was at a turning point where she could go the wrong way for us, so we decided to put her in a position where she could give us a big 4-year-old campaign. We gave her a break and did the right thing by her.”
At a one-turn distance, the Ogden Phipps shapes up as an elongated sprint, with the run down Belmont Park’s long backstretch usually producing quicker early fractions than two-turn races at the distance. A small field could negate that, yet aside from Ollie’s Candy, multiple grade 3 winner Blamed has keen early speed, and She’s a Julie and Golden Award both prefer to run close to the lead. That could create an interesting pace scenario, even with only a handful of starters.
“A little pace will help us,” Weaver said, “but with the long run down the backstretch, she’s not pace-dependent. If some of those fillies got away with a soft early pace, it could compromise us a bit, yet (Javier Castellano) is such a great jockey, I’m sure he can adjust to whatever circumstances are thrown at him.”
Castellano and Point of Honor landed post 2.
While a certain grade 1-winning mare from trainer Steve Asmussen’s barn who won last year’s Ogden Phipps will be staying in Kentucky (yes, we’re talking about Midnight Bisou), Asmussen will bid for consecutive wins in the grade 1 stakes with She’s a Julie. The winner of last year’s La Troienne Stakes Presented by Inside Access from Chase (G1) is winless in five starts since and was sixth most recently behind Alabama winner Dunbar Road in the May 23 Shawnee Stakes at Churchill Downs, a race in which she broke a step slow.
Owned by Bradley Thoroughbreds, Tim and Anna Cambron, Denali Stud, Rigney Racing, and Madaket Stables, She’s a Julie, a 5-year-old daughter of Elusive Quality, has six wins in 18 starts and earnings of $1,022,880.
A fast pace would also benefit Gainesway Stable and Andrew Rosen’s Pink Sands, who will be making her grade 1 debut. The 5-year-old Tapit mare trained by Shug McGaughey found her groove at Gulfstream Park this winter, closing from far back to win the mile Rampart Stakes (G3) and seven-furlong Inside Information Stakes (G2) in her past two starts.
Trainer Bill Mott, who has 4,998 North American wins as of June 10, will send out the other two starters in Cleber Massey’s Blamed, a winner of two of her past three starts, and Summer Wind Equine’s Golden Award, who was second Feb. 15 in the 1 1/16-mile Royal Delta Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream.
The Ogden Phipps will be the ninth race Saturday, with post time slated for 5:36 p.m. ET.