Mirroring the Belmont Derby (G1), Saturday’s $1 million Belmont Oaks Invitational (G1) pits a European raiding party against a strong home defense. Team Valor’s Capla Temptress is the most accomplished of the invading trio, but Aidan O’Brien’s Athena and Christophe Clement’s new recruit Chipolata have their own claims.

CAPLA TEMPTRESS

The Marco Botti pupil is already familiar to fans on this side of the pond from her two North American starts last fall, so this is more an update on her original scouting report from the Breeders’ Cup.

If her third in her Sweet Solera (G3) stakes debut doesn’t look as interesting 11 months later, Capla Temptress’s victory in Woodbine’s “Win and You’re In” Natalma (G1) has stood up well. Remember that she beat two next-out stakes winners who’ve followed up this season – runner-up Dixie Moon has since captured the Woodbine Oaks, and third-placer Wonder Gadot, who missed narrowly to Monomoy Girl in the Kentucky Oaks (G1), just romped over the boys in the Queen’s Plate.

Capla Temptress, who joined Bill Mott ahead of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1), didn’t have as straightforward a time at Del Mar. Forced to check before the first turn, she chugged on for a non-threatening seventh to Rushing Fall.

The bare form suggests that Capla Temptress has ground to make up on a few of her American-based rivals – Breeders’ Cup fourth Significant Form and fifth Fatale Bere, and Toinette, who handed Rushing Fall her first loss in the Edgewood (G3). But the result might not be a true reflection of her ability, considering that Capla Temptress finished one spot behind her Woodbine victim, Dixie Moon.

Returned to Botti’s yard for her sophomore campaign, Capla Temptress resurfaced with a near-miss fourth to Teppal in the May 13 French 1000 Guineas (G1). She was well drawn in post 2 (unlike the placegetters Coeur de Beaute and Wind Chimes who broke from the far outside posts), and made headway while staying on in the manner of one possibly looking for a step up in trip.

Capla Temptress was entered in the Coronation (G1) at Royal Ascot but wisely rerouted to this spot. The French Guineas form did not look as strong in the mile division, a hypothesis proven in the “summit” of Guineas winners in the Coronation. As Irish 1000 Guineas (G1) heroine Alpha Centauri smashed the Ascot course record, French alumnae Coeur de Beaute and Teppal were only sixth and ninth, respectively.

But the French Guineas almost produced the French Oaks (G1) winner, with Guineas sixth Musis Amica improving on the stretch-out to go down by a neck to Laurens in the June 17 classic at Chantilly. Might Capla Temptress take a similar step forward over the added ground? Pedigree gives some cause to think so. The daughter of Lope de Vega likely receives stamina from her dam, a Dansili half-sister to multiple Group 3 hero and 2009 Arlington Million (G1) third Stotsfold. Her second dam is by Shirley Heights, and third dam Sing Softly, by Luthier, captured the 1982 Lancashire Oaks (G2) while placing in the Ribblesdale (G2) and the marathon Park Hill (G2).

ATHENA

Like stablemate and Belmont Derby threat Hunting Horn, Athena is a blueblood by Camelot, who has been on a tear of late with such progeny as Irish Derby (G1) winner Latrobe, Chesham scorer Arthur Kitt, Italian classic victor Wait Forever and Prix du Royaumont (G3) queen Pollara all making headlines.

Athena boasts as her second dam the prolific Urban Sea, responsible for Galileo and Sea the Stars to mention only two. Athena’s dam, Group 3-placed Cherry Hinton, is Urban Sea’s daughter by Green Desert. Cherry Hinton’s best offspring were both by Montjeu – 2014 Irish Oaks (G1) and Ribblesdale winner Bracelet and Group 2 vixen Wading. Because Montjeu is also the sire of Camelot, Athena counts as their three-quarter sister.

Although not running up to those bloodlines in her first four starts, Athena began to turn the corner when second in an indifferent maiden at the Curragh May 11. That was enough for O’Brien to pitch her into an Oaks trial eight days later at Newbury, where she got her first taste of good-to-firm ground, traveled well, and found only Sea of Class too good.

Sea of Class, who would have been an interesting contender at Epsom, instead took the conservative approach. After following up with another daylight victory in the June 14 Abingdon S., she’s now advancing to the Irish Oaks.

Athena reverted to maiden company at Fairyhouse, her fifth start of the season, and checked that box comfortably. Her half-length margin is deceptive because she had opened up but geared down late (click link for replay).

Stepping up in both class and distance for the 1 1/2-mile Ribblesdale at Royal Ascot, Athena was no match for the leading contenders exiting the Oaks (G1) – stablemate Magic Wand and Godolphin’s Wild Illusion (more on her in the Chipolata section) – and also deferred to Sir Michael Stoute’s hotshot class climber Sun Maiden in fourth.

Athena once again proved her hardiness when going right back into action 10 days later in the July 1 Pretty Polly (G1) at the Curragh. Dropping down to 1 1/4 miles helped her relax better early than she did at Royal Ascot, but she closed only dourly for third behind the older Urban Fox and Oaks heroine Forever Together.

Now Athena has taken the transatlantic flight to reappear on just six days’ rest at Belmont Park. She obviously takes her racing very well while mixing it up with some high-class opponents. The one scruple is that she appears vulnerable to those with a sharper turn of foot.

O’Brien has yet to win the Belmont Oaks, his best results being a pair of thirds with Outstanding (2015) and Coolmore (2016). He’s also had a couple of flops, most glaringly French Group 1-winning highweight and classic-placed Ballydoyle, who was a shocking last as the favorite in 2016.

CHIPOLATA

About a year ago at this time, French trainer Jerome Reynier had told Thoroughbred Daily News’ Emma Berry to watch out for Chipolata. She’s turned out to be a great servant for the up-and-coming horseman, prompting West Point Thoroughbreds and Robert Masiello to buy into her and transfer her to Clement.

The choice of her New York trainer is intriguing for a pedigree reason. She’s by Muhtathir, also the sire of French import Mauralakana, who was accomplished before joining Clement but reached her peak for him when landing the 2008 Beverly D (G1). Another noteworthy Muhtathir is the multiple Group 1-winning globetrotter Doctor Dino, successful in the 2007 Man o’ War (G1) here.

Originally campaigned by breeder Hubert Honore (who remains a co-owner in the new partnership), Chipolata was led out unsold for €18,000 as an Arqana October yearling. She came to hand early as a juvenile, and compiled a busy 2017, but has kept progressing this season.

Outpointed by sharper types over inadequate sprint trips last spring, Chipolata was nonetheless second in her first two at Lyon Parilly. She needed every yard of about 6 1/2 furlongs to break her maiden over the Marseille Pont-de-Vivaux all-weather, and proved more authoritative going about 7 1/2 furlongs over same track.

Chipolata earned a step up in grade for the Prix d’Aumale (G3) at Chantilly, where she led early but was swamped in a distant fourth behind future Group 1-placed Soustraction. That solid renewal included next-out Prix Marcel Boussac (G1) winner Wild Illusion, the eventual Epsom Oaks and Ribblesdale runner-up, as well as Efaadah, who recently beat older males in the Prix de la Porte Maillot (G3).

An ensuing conditions race (restricted to Arqana October grads) over the same course and distance didn’t offer much class relief for Chipolata, but more patient tactics produced a much better fourth. Reserved well back early, she held her own in scrimmaging versus the boys, got free, and flashed home to miss the placings in a photo. The victorious Dice Roll would go on to add the Prix Djebel (G3) and finish third in the French 2000 Guineas (G1), while third-placer Louis d’Or was just third in the French Derby (G1).

Back to her provincial base for the listed Prix Delahante at Marseille Borely, Chipolata was once more a meritorious fourth against the boys. She made a big move from last down the backstretch to vie for the lead rounding the far turn, tried to hang tough in upper stretch, but understandably tired late in the 1 1/4-mile test.

Chipolata made her sophomore debut at Marseille Pont-de-Vivaux and wound up fifth behind a couple of stakes-caliber males – the only time she’s finished out of the top four. Rank early, whether from being too fresh or not getting along with a different rider, she didn’t improve position much in the stretch.

But Chipolata advanced off that tightener to place in listed races to smart rivals at ParisLongchamp. Taking a strong hold early in the about 1 3/8-mile Prix de la Seine, she rallied for third to the Aga Khan’s homebred Shahnaza (seventh as the favorite in the French Oaks) and Pollara (next-out Prix de Royaumont winner over Waldlied).

In the June 10 Prix Melisande, Chipolata was best of the rest behind Baron Edouard de Rothschild’s homebred Victorine, whose change of gear overwhelmed them all. Chipolata deserves credit for not getting discouraged by Victorine clearing right away from her, but sticking resolutely to her job.

While this marks Chipolata’s first test at the top level, she’s held her own in good company, and her consistency makes her a possible overlay at 15-1.

Capla Temptress photo courtesy of WEG/Michael Burns Photography