Spanish Loveaffair could be a price: Preview of Saturday's Belmont Oaks Invitational (G1) @Belmont Park

The Grade I Belmont Oaks Invitational helps to kick off the final weekend of the Meet. Have a look at this Preview of the race on the turf for the fillies ...
The Grade I Belmont Oaks Invitational helps to kick off the final weekend of the Meet. Have a look at this Preview of the race on the turf for the fillies ...

1¼ (Turf), Belmont Oaks Invitational (G1), Purse $700k, 3F

Over the past 10 years, the “BEL Invite” for the females has sparkled as a major sendoff for the Belmont Summer Meet.

Back in 2019, it became part of the inaugural “Turf Triple Series,” which was specifically geared for 3-yr-old fillies. The series continues at Saratoga Race Course with the $700,000 Saratoga Oaks, held at 1 3/16-miles (1,900 meters) 8 Aug. on the Saratoga sod. The final leg, the $700,000 Jockey Club Oaks at Belmont Park, will be contested at 1 3/8-miles (2,200 meters) 18 Sept. on their turf course.

As for this kickoff, some lovely winners have graced the semi-round enclosure at the end, and celebrated a Grade 1 victory. Those include the likes of Winter Memories, 5 from Chad Brown’s midst—including Lady Eli and New Money Honey—and others like Catch a Glimpse and Concrete Rose. Though the last edition of this race had to be moved to September because of COVID-19, it still produced a deserving favorite and eventual victor in Arnaud Delacour’s Magic Attitude (GB).

Though typically a short field, this race tests both stamina and a jockey’s resolve to settle their mounts early. If they can do that … they could be on their way to a nice score for their connections.

Now, let’s find out about this field…


#1 Con Lima (Jky: F. Prat/Trn: T. Pletcher):

Trainer Todd Pletcher’s turf year in 2021 has shaped up well, and investors are enjoying some nice quarterly returns. It seems he really has taken some of his sodbusters to the next level. Here is a filly owned by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners who is coming into this G1 with a pair of wins under her saddle. The Gulfstream Park Honey Ryder75k and the Belmont Wonder Again (G3) were excellent tries, and she bested a couple of quality fields. The latter saw her roll late with Prat aboard over fellow competitor Plum Ali #7. If she can do that kind of running, she might win the day at a reasonable price.

Grade: B


#2 Cirona (Jky: J. Lezcano/Trn: C. Ferland):

Here is a filly coming over from running in France for trainer Christophe Ferland that could be sneaky good, depending on how you interpret her form. Ferland is probably not a conditioner you are familiar with, but he has been around the Euro Circuit for some time now. This Bradley Thoroughbreds turfer has Group 1 experience, and she should not be discounted because she has battled the likes of Joan of Arc, Incarville, and Silverstri, just to name a few. If you are running in the Prix de Diane (G1) at Longchamp, then that is saying something. What Jose Lezcano can do with her, is anyone’s guess.

Grade: B-


#3 Higher Truth (Jky: J. Ortiz/Trn: C. Brown):

Trainer Chad Brown only has 1 entry in this year’s Oaks, and here she is … the well-bred daughter of Galileo (IRE). Loads of bettors will take note of her last pair of wins that were at the 1¼ distance. She led the charge late in both a MSW90k and an ALLW92k at Belmont, and I am sure Brown has her affixed in the proper position. This would be a class jumping play, probably more than any other in this race. Jose Ortiz is going to have to be patient and find an opening in which to strike. That puts undue pressure on his role in this race, but he has been riding well of late. Still, that may not be enough …

Grade: C+


#4 Spanish Loveaffair (Jky: T. Gaffalione/Trn: M. Casse):

Here is another entrant from the ownership group known as Eclipse. Aron Wellman, who heads that excellent organization, did well to get this son of Karakontie into the capable hands of HOF-er Mark Casse. He could be sitting on a big day at Belmont. Much to like in this filly as she has some nice performances dating back to last year. Her connections are certainly glad to not be running up against the 2-yr-old version of Cox’s Aunt Pearl; on 2 occasions, the BC Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) was one. In 2021, she has the opportunity to build on her 2nd place finish last out in the Regret S. (G3) at Churchill. That race saw her fail as the favorite to Gam’s Mission #8, who is drawn in here too. I like Casse’s chances to go longer here. She will probably be my top pick on Saturday.

Grade: A-


#5 Santa Barbara (Jky: R. Moore/Trn: A. O’Brien):

The Aidan O’Brien train once again makes the trip across the Atlantic to Belmont Park. His long arm can reach around the world, and he sends a good one over to compete this time. He has a history of shipping some not so great ones, but this is not the case in the Oaks. Even though this filly out of Camelot (GB) is somewhat lightly-raced, those contests she has entered look formidable. The 1000 Guineas (G1)? The Cazoo Oaks (G1)? The Pretty Polly S. (G1)? All solid measuring sticks if you ask me. Though she did not record a victory in any of these, experience was well-earned. I fully expect her to be competitive in here, and celebrated Ryan Moore makes the trip over to ride. He continues to prove that he is one of the best in the business.

Grade: B+


#6 Nazuna (Jky: J. Velazquez/Trn: R. Varian):

Trainer Roger Varian has had more than his share of winners over the years in Europe, and he makes the trip to Belmont with his daughter of Kodiac (GB) in tow. She is no stranger to the states, since she ran in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Filly Turf (G1) last fall at Keeneland. Even though Aunt Pearl ran away with that race, it was good to see Varian’s entry compete under COVID conditions. Her return at Epsom in a G3 could be called a success with a 2nd place finish. I do not mind using her underneath, as John Velazquez offers his services in the saddle. She will be an overlay when post time rolls around. Still, it is going to be a major challenge for her to stretch out to a distance like this one—she has pretty much remained a sprinter until last month.

Grade: C


#7 Plum Ali (Jky: J. Rosario/Trn: C. Clement):

Michael Dubb, Madaket, and Co. might have the favorite in this race because the filly out of First Samurai has some solid back class in the turf division. I would imagine bettors will gravitate to the partnership of Christophe Clement and Joel Rosario in droves. They have that history. To prep for this shot in the Derby, her conditioner sent her into the Wonder Again (G3), and made some nice moves late. Just missing behind Con Lima #1 was a promising move to a longer turf distance. Recall, that most of her turf moves have come at 1 Mile, so the ratchet up to 1 1/8th was promising. I will give her a shot to win this one, since Clement knows what his charges can do. Rosario … he speaks for himself. Watch out jocks, he will be rolling late.

Grade: A-


#8 Gam’s Mission (Jky: A. Beschizza/Trn: C. DeVaux):

Trainer Cherie DeVaux has a sparkling diamond in her barn that I will wager she thinks quite highly of when it comes to ability. These Noble Mission offspring like the turf, and this homebred for Lazy F Ranch comes into this spot on a 3-race win streak. Her last was a signature win, the Regret S. (G3) @CD. She held well in the latter stages, and Adam Beschizza utilized dexterity down the lane. Besting Casse’s “Spaniard” was quite a feat. Now, the waters are getting really deep, as her conditioner goes for the gusto against this powerful group. I am skeptical, but quietly rooting for DeVaux. She is a class act.

Grade: B-


Join us Saturday for all of our selections! Should be a great set of races wrapping up the Belmont Meet!