Seven of the East’s best distaffers are set to square off over 1 1/16 miles in the 48th running of the Ogden Phipps Handicap (GI), which has been carded as Belmont’s fifth race on Saturday’s Belmont Stakes card. Post time for the $1 million event is set at 1:52 p.m. EDT.
Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners’ Curalina is a lukewarm early 3-1 favorite in this field of overflow talent off her impressive seven-length La Troienne Stakes (GII) romp at Churchill Downs five weeks ago. It was the first start of 2016 for the Todd Pletcher-trained daughter of Curlin after a sophomore season that saw her win last year’s Acorn Stakes (GI) and place in four other Grade Is, including a third the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI). This year may be her year, judging by the way she got it started, and she has never lost at this distance in two previous attempts. A confirmed stalker, her post position of five is ideal for her to get into her comfortable early spot off the pace and rate patiently under John Velazquez until he asks her for her best run for the stretch drive.
One thing is abundantly clear about Cavorting: she likes Belmont Park, having won three over her four career starts over the New York oval, including a five-length romp in the Ruffian Stakes (GI) three weeks ago. The daughter of Bernardini is a multiple Grade I winner handled expertly by trainer Kiaran McLaughlin and she has shown her running style versatility, either winning in gate-to-wire fashion (as she did in her last race) or sitting off the pace, which produced several stakes wins in 2015. Hot jockey Florent Geroux will be aboard the Stonestreet Farm color-bearer for the first time and the pair will break from post position four.
Stopchargingmaria rarely runs a bad race and after ending 2015 on a high note by winning the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, she probably needed her first start of this year and finished a close second to today’s rival, Sheer Drama, in the Madison Stakes (GI) at Keeneland nine weeks ago. She’s never won at today’s distance — or at Belmont Park — and she may actually prefer more distance, but anything is possible for the talented daughter of Tale of the Cat if she gets a decent pace in front of her. Javier Castellano is back aboard for owners Town and Country Stable and trainer Todd Pletcher and the pair will break from post position two.
Charles Fipke’s homebred Unbridled Forever is riding a three-race graded win skein, which includes the Apple Blossom Handicap (GI) at Oaklawn Park two months ago, and with her best will be a tough customer in here. The daughter of 2006 Kentucky Oaks winner Lemons Forever will be making her Belmont Park debut, but is accomplished at the distance, having won half of her six starts at 8 1/2 furlongs, and has been working extremely well at her base of Churchill Downs since her last race. The daughter of Unbridled’s Song, who is trained by Dallas Stewart, will have Joel Rosario back in the saddle as John Velazquez chooses to ride Curalina, but the rider knows her and visited the winner’s circle before with her after the pair won the Houston Ladies Classic (GIII) at Sam Houston Park in January. Another pace stalker, she’ll no doubt be forwardly placed after breaking from post position six.
Over her outstanding career, Sheer Drama has shown her affinity for this 1 1/16-mile distance with two wins, two seconds and a third from six starts. After a nice winter freshening, the now 6-year-old daughter of Burning Roma began her 2016 campaign with a nice win in Keeneland’s Madison Stakes (GI) in April and followed it up with a troubled trip in the La Troienne Stakes (GI) on Derby Day, where she was third, beaten 7 1/2 lengths. A clean trip today for the David Fawkes trainee under Joe Bravo from the far outside post may be all she needs under regular rider Joe Bravo.
Top Flight Handicap (GII) winner Carrumba will lead the field to the gate under jockey Jose Ortiz and the Phipps Stable homebred will no doubt be hoping for a clean break to get to her spot on or near the early lead. This will be the Shug McGaughey trainee’s first start at this distance, but she’s won at a mile and nine furlongs before and is is bred for the route, so that shouldn’t be much of a problem for her. This is her first attempt in Grade I company and will need to improve off her five-length defeat to Cavorting in the Ruffian last out, but anyone who knows anything about her connections knows it’s never smart to leave a runner in the black and cherry red silks, a nice representation of who the event is named after, out of any exotics play.
Former claimer Desert Valley is a good filly, but will need the performance of her life to be a factor against this bunch.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily state or reflect those of US Racing.