Seven distaffers will head to the gate on Saturday in the $1 million Ogden Phipps (G1) on the Belmont Stakes (G1) undercard, and the one-turn, 1 1/16-mile contest has shaped up to be a mini Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1).
Not only does the race include the winner, third- and fourth-place finishers from the 2015 Distaff, it also features this year’s Madison (G1), Apple Blossom H. (G1), La Troienne (G1) and Ruffian (G2) scorers.
First up, though, is Stopchargingmaria, who gutted out a neck triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Keeneland last November. The Tale of the Cat mare saw her best year as a sophomore in 2014, taking the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1), Alabama (G1) and Black-Eyed Susan (G2) in succession while placing in the Beldame (G1) to conclude her season.
Prior to her 2015 Distaff victory, Stopchargingmaria captured a pair of Grade 3 contests and finished a half-length second in the Madison. The Todd Pletcher trainee opened her five-year-old campaign with another second in the Madison, this time by a neck, and gets regular rider Javier Castellano in the saddle as she makes just her second start of the year in this spot.
“It seemed to work pretty well last year,” Pletcher said of Stopchargingmaria finishing second in the Madison yet again. “We thought she ran a really good race off the layoff. She had a tough trip and just missed. She’s trained really well and she seems to run well fresh.”
Curalina captured the Acorn (G1) on Belmont Stakes Day last year and was elevated to winner after a nose second in the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) next out. She found herself third by 3 3/4 lengths behind her stablemate in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, but the Curlin filly kicked off her four-year-old season with a romping 7 1/2-length triumph in the La Troienne (G1) at Churchill Downs on the Kentucky Oaks (G1) undercard.
“I thought it was a big return effort and, visually, you could argue that it’s probably her most impressive,” Pletcher said. “She’s trained very well since then and I’m very happy with her. She’s trained like she’s going to run a really good race. Obviously, in this particular race, it’s going to take a really good effort from her to win it.”
John Velazquez is most often in Curalina’s saddle and has piloting duties Saturday.
Sheer Drama ran fourth in last year’s Distaff at Keeneland after posting back-to-back victories in the Delaware H. (G1) and Personal Ensign (G1). The David Fawkes mare made her six-year-old debut in the Madison at Keeneland, prevailing by a hard-fought neck, so was due for a big of regression last out when third by 7 1/2 lengths in the La Troienne. The Burning Roman filly has been given a good rest and displayed her readiness with a bullet five-furlong move in :59.20 at Gulfstream Park on June 2. Regular rider Joe Bravo has the call.
Forever Unbridled is riding a three-race win streak that began in her 2015 finale, the Comely (G3) at Aqueduct on November 28, and continued through the January 30 Houston Ladies Classic (G3) at Sam Houston and Oaklawn Park’s Apple Blossom H. (G1) last out on April 15. The Dallas Stewart charge will attempt to make it four-in-a-row here with Joel Rosario holding the reins while later her half-brother and stablemate Forever d’Oro tries his luck in the third jewel of the Triple Crown.
Cavorting will be going the distance for the first time in this spot after going only as far as a mile previously, but shouldn’t have any problems based on her recent five-length score in the one-mile Ruffian (G2) over the track on May 14. The Grade 1-winning sprinter had re-opposing Carrumba in second that day, and gets a jockey switch to Florent Geroux as she tries to improve on her current 4-3-0-0 Belmont mark.
“We thought that with her pedigree and looking at her, she should get further,” trainer Kiaran McLaughlin stated. “Her third start as a two-year-old was a mile (seventh in the 2014 Frizette [G1]). That day, the track was wet, sloppy. She was down on the inside and she just didn’t go well that day.
“It was really nice that she got a mile and did it the right way,” he added about the Ruffian. “The nice thing, at least some of the time, the one turn is really important for a horse that’s coming from seven-eighths. It makes it like an extended sprint. When you start going 1 1/16 miles around two turns, it could be different. But since we’ll have that long run down the backside and plenty of pace in front of us, we just need to settle the first part.”
Carrumba not only finished second to Cavorting but also to Forever Unbridled by a head in the Comely last November. The Shug McGaughey-trained four-year-old actually didn’t earn her first stakes win until taking the Top Flight H. (G3) to open 2016 on April 10. Jose Oritz was aboard that day and stays in the saddle for the Ogden Phipps.
“We’re going to have to step it up a little bit; it’s a tough race but we’re looking forward to seeing where we stand,” McGaughey said. “In her last race, Cavorting ran great. I don’t quite understand why we weren’t more competitive a little bit farther. Maybe she reacted off her first race a little bit. But I do think she’s trained awfully well since then.”
Desert Valley, well-beaten in her prior attempts against stakes rivals, rounds out the Ogden Phipps field.
Stopchargingmaria photo courtesy of Keeneland/Coady Photography
Curalina photo courtesy of Churchill Downs/Coady Photography
Sheer Drama photo courtesy of Keeneland/Coady Photography