Mother Goose Takes Saturday Spotlight at Belmont Park

This year marks the 61st running of the historic Mother Goose Stakes (GII) — the first time it’ll be run as anything other than a Grade 1 since grades were first assigned to races in 1974. The 1 1/16-mile main track test for 3-year-old fillies was not named for a fabled nursery rhyme, but, rather, for notable owner/breeder Harry Payne Whitney’s 1924 Futurity Stakes winner, who is one of only 13 fillies in history to have defeated the boys in the historic Belmont Park stakes.

This year, seven will race for the lion’s share of the $250,000 pot and, while loaded with talent, it’s a bit lacking in star quality, as the division leaders, like Kentucky Oaks (GI) winner Abel Tasman, juvenile filly champion Champagne Room or spring standouts Unique Bella and Farrell, will not be in the lineup. But many of the best-of-the-rest will be, so an exciting feature is expected.

Classic winner and Hall of Famer Rachel Alexandra won this race before being honored as the 2009 Horse of the Year and joined a list winners that features some of the best sophomore fillies to have ever raced, let alone raced in the East, including Dark Mirage, Shuvee, Chris Evert, Ruffian, Davona Dale, Life’s Magic, Mom’s Command, Open Mind, Go For Wand, Meadow Star, Sky Beauty, Serena’s Song, Ajina, and most recently Close Hatches and Untapable.

To say the Mother Goose’s list of winners is star studded is an understatement.

Saturday’s weather forecast around the New York City area calls for a strong probability for thunderstorms, especially in the later hours of the afternoon, and a high in the low- to mid-80s, so we’ll probably see a wet surface come post time for the Mother Goose, which has been carded as the day’s ninth and will leave the gate at 5:50 p.m. ET.

Lockdown (photo by Jordan Sigmon).

Lockdown (photo by Jordan Sigmon).

Juddmonte Farms’ homebred and Busanda Stakes winner Lockdown is the early 2-1 favorite in her first start since a really troubled third-place finish in the May 5 Kentucky Oaks (GI), and while the daughter of First Defence got a bit of a break after that effort, she has trained tremendously at Saratoga throughout the month of June. If the Belmont track comes up wet Saturday at all, it may serve this Bill Mott trainee well, as she broke her maiden on a “good” surface and ran a bang-up third on the sloppy Churchill track in the Oaks.

This half-sister to Grade 1-winning champion (and 2013 Mother Goose winner) Close Hatches owns some strong speed, pace and class figures and also a tactical turn of foot. She may need to adjust to the pace depending on who goes to the lead, but since this race seems to lack a clear frontrunner, that’s where we may see Lockdown in the early going. The shorter distance may help her, as will a shorter field to help avoid the traffic issues she faced last time, and she’ll also have top jock Jose Ortiz aboard when she breaks from post four. She’ll be bet heavily, but she’ll also be tough to beat.

Unchained Melody makes her graded stakes debut in here and found a nice spot to do it for trainer Brian Lynch. The daughter of Smart Strike is coming off a nice, two-length, non-winners-other-than score at this distance over this track where she earned her third consecutive improving speed figure. She’s certainly bred for the stretch-out and she may be maturing at just the right time to earn her first graded stakes score.

Joel Rosario rides and, since this filly has shown some speed so far in her brief career, she will likely be up near the front in the early going and conserving energy to hold off the late charge from her closing rivals.

Southern California-based Vexatious finished a half-length behind Lockdown in the Oaks last time and is also trained by a Hall of Famer in Neil Drysdale, so it’s reasonable to think that this daughter of Giant’s Causeway and the Grade 1 winner Dream of Summer (making her a full sister to Grade 1 winner and young sire Creative Cause and Grade 2 winner Destin) would not be here if her capable conditioner didn’t think she had a big shot. Her Oaks trip also wasn’t ideal, as she raced mostly wide and ran out of gas, so we’ve got to think this shorter distance will help. She hasn’t finished better than third since breaking her maiden at Del Mar last year, so she’ll need to show some improvement to knock off the top choices here.

Kent Desormeaux is in town for the mount.

My Miss Tapit won the seven-furlong Game Face Stakes at Gulfstream Park last time and steps way up in class here and makes her two-turn debut for her first crack at a graded win. This $550,000 Keeneland September yearling is well-bred for sure and has Todd Pletcher managing her career, but she will need every ounce of potential and a jump in performance to upset the top choices.

Yes, stranger things have happened and she has been training well, but she will need everything to go right and maybe a few things to go wrong for her chief competitors to be a factor for a win under jockey Manny Franco.

The Pletcher-trained Lights of Medina, who was second after a very wide trip in the sloppy May 19 Black Eyed Susan Stakes (GII) last out, will lead the field to post under jockey Feargal Lynch. The chestnut Eskenderya filly was a two-length non-graded stakes winner over a sloppy track and has been training well for the past six weeks over this track. She regressed off her last win last out, but figures to bounce back and be a factor here if she gets her preferred trip stalking the frontrunners.

Pletcher also sends out Moana off a disappointing fifth-place finish as one of the more highly regarded runners in the Black Eyed Susan at Pimlico. The $300,000 daughter of Uncle Mo may not have cared for the sloppy track in Maryland that day, which isn’t a good sign if the thunderstorms do come as forecasted, but maybe the step to facing winners in a graded stakes for the first time proved too much and she’ll be more prepared this time. She’s bred to stretch out and will have Pletcher’s go-to jockey John Velazquez aboard, but she needs her absolute best to have a say in a larger share of the purse.

Midwest Thoroughbreds’ Spanish Harlem was a 29-length allowance winner two back over a sloppy Belmont track. Even though she only faced two rivals — yes, you read that right — she still won by 29 lengths. Unfortunately, she followed it up with a dismal sixth (of seven) in the grassy Pennsylvania Oaks for trainer Danny Gargan.

Now, back on the main track she’s already won over, she figures to finish better than last time, especially with a wet track. Overall, her figures are average, so it’s hard to say where she belongs, but this $370,000 daughter of More Than Ready clearly has some talent.

Margaret Ransom
California native and lifelong horsewoman Margaret Ransom is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. She got her start in racing working in the publicity departments at Calder Race Course and Hialeah Park, as well as in the racing office at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. She then spent six years in Lexington, KY, at BRISnet.com, where she helped create and develop the company’s popular newsletters: Handicapper’s Edge and Bloodstock Journal.

After returning to California, she served six years as the Southern California news correspondent for BloodHorse, assisted in the publicity department at Santa Anita Park and was a contributor to many other racing publications, including HorsePlayer Magazine and Trainer Magazine. She then spent seven years at HRTV and HRTV.com in various roles as researcher, programming assistant, producer and social media and marketing manager.

She has also walked hots and groomed runners, worked the elite sales in Kentucky for top-class consignors and volunteers for several racehorse retirement organizations, including CARMA.

In 2016, Margaret was the recipient of the prestigious Stanley Bergstein Writing Award, sponsored by Team Valor, and was an Eclipse Award honorable mention for her story, “The Shocking Untold Story of Maria Borell,” which appeared on USRacing.com. The article and subsequent stories helped save 43 abandoned and neglected Thoroughbreds in Kentucky and also helped create a new animal welfare law known as the “Borell Law.”

Margaret’s very first Breeders’ Cup was at Hollywood Park in 1984 and she has attended more than half of the Breeders’ Cups since. She counts Holy Bull and Arrogate as her favorite horses of all time. She lives in Pasadena with her longtime beau, Tony, two Australian Shepherds and one Golden Retriever.

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