ELMONT, N.Y. - The inaugural running of the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Oaks Invitational attracted a diverse cast of 3-year-old fillies who will be traveling 1 ¼ miles over Belmont Park's turf course on Saturday.
The Belmont Oaks is a Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" race in the Filly & Mare Turf division. It was formerly contested in September at Belmont as the Grade 1, 1 1/8-mile Garden City. The NBC Sports Network will show the race live during a broadcast that will run from 5-6 p.m.
Trainer Dermot Weld, who is based in Ireland and has won major races all around the world, will attempt to win his third Grade 1 race at Belmont Park when he sends out Flying Jib in the Belmont Oaks. Previously, Weld took the 1990 Belmont Stakes with Go and Go and the 2003 Flower Bowl Invitational with Dimitrova.
As a 2-year-old, Flying Jib was fourth in her debut at the Curragh before breaking her maiden by 4 ¼ lengths over the all-weather track at Dundalk. In her final start as a juvenile, she registered a 1 ½-length victory in the listed Silken Glider at one mile when switching back to turf at the Curragh.
Flying Jib, a Juddmonte Farms homebred, has made only one start this year, showing speed and holding on to take the Group 3, seven-furlong Athasi on May 5 at the Curragh. The Belmont Oaks will be her first start beyond one mile.
"[The distance] has to be the biggest concern," said Weld. "She, as a filly, is very well and she traveled very well, but [the distance] has to be the doubt. She was a winner as a 2-year-old at a mile. This is unknown territory for her, but she has given every indication that she will get the trip."
Pat Smullen will ride Flying Jib, the 5-1 morning-line third choice, from post position 5.
Also coming in from Ireland is Wonderfully, who is trained by Aidan O'Brien for Michael Tabor. Wonderfully, who won the Group 3 Silver Flash at Leopardstown in Ireland one year ago, has made two starts in 2014, finishing ninth in both the Group 1 Poule d'Essai des Pouliches on good-to-soft ground on May 11 at Longchamp and the Group 1 Irish 1,000 Guineas over the heavy going on May 25 at the Curragh.
Wonderfully, 12-1 on the morning line, drew post 12. Colm O'Donoghue will ride.
Xcellence, the 3-1 morning-line co-favorite, has proven herself over all sorts of ground in France. She concluded her juvenile campaign by finishing second by a nose in the Group 3 Prix Miesque on heavy ground in November and opened her 3-year-old account by getting up by a neck in the Prix Imprudence on firm turf in April, both at Maisons-Laffitte. She finished third in her past two starts, the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches (beaten 3 ¾ lengths) on good-to-soft grass in May and the Prix de Diane (beaten 1 ¼ lengths) over a firm course on June 15 at Chantilly. The one-mile Poule d'Essai des Pouliches and 1 5/16-mile Prix de Diane are the two Classic races in France for fillies and were swept this year by Avenir Certain.
Francois Doumen trains Xcellence for Martin Schwartz, who purchased her following the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches.
Gerald Mosse has the assignment aboard Xcellence, who drew post 7.
Flying in from Canada is Conquest Stables' My Conquestadory, who is based at Woodbine with trainer Mark Casse.
My Conquestadory won the Grade 2 Summer against males last September at Woodbine in her first start before taking the Grade 1 Alcibiades in October at Woodbine and finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf in November at Santa Anita after breaking from post 14.
The Belmont Oaks will be My Conquestadory's second start as a sophomore, having finished second by a nose after setting the pace against three opponents in the Grade 3, 1 1/16-mile Selene on May 18 at Woodbine.
Javier Castellano will ride My Conquestadory for the first time in the Belmont Oaks.
"It was a small field with no speed," said Casse of the Selene. "[That was] not where we wanted to be. Hopefully, Javier can get her to relax. That will be a key to getting her to go 1 ¼ miles."
My Conquestadory, 12-1, will depart from post 3.
Co-favored with Xcellence at 3-1 is Room Service, a Gary and Mary West homebred who demonstrated she can handle 1 ¼ miles when she came from well off the pace to take the Grade 1 American Oaks by 2 ¼ lengths on May 31 at Santa Anita. She enters the Belmont Oaks on a three-race winning streak, capturing the Grade 3 Herecomesthebride by two lengths in March at Gulfstream Park and dead-heating with Rosalind in the Grade 1 Ashland over Keeneland's Polytrack in April for trainer Wayne Catalano.
Trainer Christophe Clement, one of the three locally based trainers who will have representation in the Belmont Oaks, will send out Wonder Again winner Sea Queen and unbeaten Summer Solo.
Stonetower Stable's Sea Queen has won two straight at 1 1/8-miles, taking an entry-level Keeneland allowance by three-quarters of a length in April before prevailing by a half-length in the Wonder Again on May 25 at Belmont.
Irad Ortiz, Jr. will guide Sea Queen, 10-1, from post 11.
Summer Solo will make her stakes debut in the Belmont Oaks. She beat New York-breds in her first two starts, a maiden race in November at Aqueduct Racetrack and a Belmont allowance in May, before winning an optional claimer by 1 ¼ lengths on June 11 at Belmont.
Owned by Sarah J. Leigh, Summer Solo, 30-1, drew post 3. Cornelio Velasquez will ride.
"It is not an easy race, but you don't have many chances to run a mile and a quarter for a million dollars, so let's go," said Clement.
Bradley Thoroughbreds' Goldy Espony, one of two entrants for Chad Brown, will make her stateside bow in the Belmont Oaks. She won a pair of races at St. Cloud in France - the listed Prix Rose de Mai and Group 3 Prix Penelope in April - before lagging home seventh in the Prix St Alary on May 25 at Longchamp.
Minorette, who like Wonderfully will carry the colors of Michael Tabor, began her career in Ireland before she came to the United States, where she has finished third in an allowance in Keeneland and second to Sea Queen in the Wonder Again.
"Minorette came to us in terrific shape and made a great impression in the barn when she arrived over the winter," said Brown. "From the way she's been training, I think she's sitting on a new top and we're very excited about running her. I like what I've seen of Goldy Espony. Off her last breeze (five furlongs, 1:01.00, June 29) she deserves a spot in the starting gate."
Jose Lezcano will ride Goldy Espony (10-1) from post 1, while Joel Rosario has the call aboard Minorette (12-1) from post 9.
The field also includes Rosalind, who has returned to the United States after unseating her rider at the start of the Grade 1 Coronation on June 20 at Royal Ascot, and Recepta, who won the Chelsea Flower last fall and was third in both the Grade 3 Appalachian and Wonder Again.