Sure, all eyes will be squarely on California Chrome on Saturday as the colt bids to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. However, there are plenty of other equine stars that will be in action, including in two Breeders’ Cup Challenge races.
Winners of the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In’ series of races throughout the year earn automatic starting berths in the corresponding Breeders’ Cup race, which will be run this year on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 at Santa Anita, with 13 races offering a total of $26 million in purses in the championship event.
On Saturday at Belmont Park, the top older females will battle in the Grade 1, $1 million Ogden Phipps, while the boys will line up in the Grade 1, $1.25 million Metropolitan Handicap, better known as the Met Mile.
The Ogden Phipps will be televised live on NBC Sports Network with a post time of 3:14pm (ET), and the Met Mile has a post time of 4:48pm (ET) and will be shown on NBC during their Belmont Stakes Day coverage.
Traditionally run on Memorial Day, the New York Racing Association moved this race to Belmont Stakes Day, and it drew a stellar field, including a very familiar face. Last year’s Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice is the 8-5 morning line favorite.
Trained by Todd Pletcher, the colt was perfect in his three starts this year, last out winning the Grade 3 Westchester by nine-and-three-quarter lengths.
If there is going to be an upset, it may come from Shakin Up who drew the outside 13-post and will have jockey Rosie Napravnik aboard. The colt was beaten by just a head last out in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs on May 3.
“While he has never attempted the mile distance he looks like a pure miler and the distance is perfect for his running style,”” Beychok wrote.
Co-star of the Esquire Network reality show is Peter Rotondo, Sr., and he is swinging for the fences with 30-1 long shot Capo Bastone. “He is capable on any given day to run a huge one and his favorable post and at huge odds, I will take a shot for him to upset this very good field.”
I am going to stick with the favorite Palace Malice who just crushed his competition in his last two starts.
1. Palace Malice
2. Shakin It Up
3. Normandy Invasion
The race only drew six fillies and mares, but what the race lacks in quantity, there is no shortage of quality. The 7-5 morning line favorite is Beholder, last year’s Eclipse Award winner for top three-year-old filly. She won five of her seven starts in 2013, capping off the year winning the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
She will face the brilliant filly Princess of Sylmar, who is the 9-5 second choice on the morning line. The Todd Pletcher trainee reeled off four straight Grade 1 races last year and was a contender for Horse of the Year, but she failed to fire in the Distaff, finishing a well-beaten sixth.
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott will saddle Close Hatches (5-2) who has won seven of her 10 career starts. She is coming off a victory in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park and won the Grade 1 Mother Goose over the Belmont Park main track last year.
Completing the field is a trio of long shots—Antipathy (30-1), Belle Gallantey (30-1) and Classic Point (20-1).
Close Hatches appears to be the value of the race. The filly was no match for Beholder in the Breeders' Cup Distaff last fall but ran a good second, and her career-best speed came over the surface here last June when she won the Mother Goose.
The winner of the race earns an automatic starting berth in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
1. Close Hatches
3. Princess of Sylmar
The next Breeders’ Cup Challenge race to be televised by NBC Sports Network will be the Grade 1, $500,000 Gold Cup at Santa Anita on Saturday, June 28.
Follow Michael Dempsey on Twitter @turfnsport.