Forgive yourself if you look at Saturday’s Grade 1 Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park thinking you’re looking at a sneak preview of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff five months early.

Champion 3-Year-Old Malathaat won her lone 2022 race, the Grade 3 Doubledogdare at Keeneland in April. She’s the 5/2 second choice for Saturday’s Grade 1 Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park. (Image: Mathea Kelly)

There’s defending Ogden Phipps champion Letruska, who made last year’s race look like a glorified workout. Her 2 3/4-length gate-to-wire victory was easier than that margin of victory indicated and provided another brick in the unassailable foundation building Letruska into the Champion Older Dirt Female.

There’s also Malathaat. You know her as the Champion 3-Year-Old Filly. There’s Grade 1 winner Clairiere, who missed the board only twice in 12 races, and there’s Grade 1 winner Search Results. There’s also Bonny South, who kept Letruska company on the Personal Ensign and Spinster boards last year.

This year’s Ogden Phipps offers up what publicists call “a compact field” — code for “small.” But this “compact” field of five features four Grade 1 winners. It truly is a preview of this fall’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Keeneland, which is appropriate considering the winner earns a berth in that race courtesy of the Ogden Phipps being part of the “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series.

The Ogden Phipps is a race of champions

Of the eight Grade 1 races on Belmont Park’s Saturday card, the Ogden Phipps may be one of the most enticing from a racing standpoint. Starting with the inevitable, eye-catching duel between the two champions, Letruska and Malathaat.

Letruska rides into Belmont Park after defending her Apple Blossom title in April at Oaklawn Park. This victory, her fifth Grade 1 score in a year, came at Clairiere’s expense. Letruska went out fast in her customary front-running style, then turned aside a surging Clairiere at the top of the stretch.

“Nothing that happens with her is a surprise,” trainer Fausto Gutierrez told the New York Racing Association. “She keeps on confirming what we believe about her. To win two Apple Blossoms, she’s a part of history.”

Gutierrez throws down the gauntlet

Letruska tuned up for that with a routine three-length victory as the 1/10 favorite over a group of overmatched foes in the Grade 3 Royal Delta at Gulfstream. In the Ogden Phipps, that won’t likely be the case..

“Whatever is coming for us, we need to accept it. This is the way,” Gutierrez said. “We have a horse who has won 10 graded stakes in 20 months at different tracks and conditions.”

One challenger who’s definitely coming for Letruska is Malathaat. The last time these two tangled came in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff when Letruska finished a woeful 10th after getting sucked into a searing speed duel. Malathaat, meanwhile, finished third.

Malathaat had her own Ogden Phipps tune-up

She rides in off her tune-up victory in the April 22 Grade 3 Doubledogdare at Keeneland. That victory featured a marvelous ride from John Velazquez, who brought the daughter of Curlin back from 5 1/2 lengths back in fifth to score a three-quarter length victory over Bonny South.

Malathaat looms large over her fellow 4-year-olds. She beat Search Results and Clairiere in last year’s Kentucky Oaks. Then, later that summer, she turned aside Clairiere in last year’s Grade 1 Alabama at Saratoga.

This is Malathaat’s second race this year and her first around one turn. Trainer Todd Pletcher, who said Malathaat is “carrying her weight really well this year,” said that plays a big role in race tactics.

“It’s a one-turn race, so that will change the dynamics a little bit. Letruska will likely be the pace-setter, so we’ll have to keep an eye on her,” he said. “It’s a deep field with a lot of quality fillies in here. I’m looking forward to it.”

Two Grade 1 winners are also-rans here

Two of those quality fillies are Malathaat’s fellow 4-year-olds, Clairiere and Search Results. Steve Asmussen’s Clairiere comes in off her strong runner-up finish to Letruska in the Apple Blossom. Before that, she opened her 2022 ledger easily dismissing her rivals in a Fair Grounds allowance optional claimer.

“I think she’s better than she was last year,” Asmussen said about the Curlin filly, who won her Grade 1 — the Cotillion — at Parx Racing last fall. “She’s more mature and is simply a bigger, better, stronger, and faster filly.”

Grade 1 Ogden Phipps/Belmont Park

Morning Line (Jockey/Trainer)

  1. Letruska, 6/5 (Jose Ortiz/Fausto Gutierrez)
  2. Bonny South, 8/1 (Flavien Prat/Brad Cox)
  3. Malathaat, 5/2 (John Velazquez/Todd Pletcher)
  4. Clairiere, 3/1 (Joel Rosario/Steve Asmussen)
  5. Search Results, 9/2 (Irad Ortiz Jr./Chad Brown)

Search Results, who won her Grade 1 at last year’s Acorn at Belmont Park, also comes in off a victory. That was the May 8 Grade 2 Ruffian at Belmont Park, which cleansed the unpleasant taste of her frustrating third as the 3/5 favorite in the Grade 3 Distaff at Aqueduct in April.

That Distaff outing brought Search Results back from an eight-month break. This followed her third in the Grade 1 Test last summer at Saratoga.

“This is a really tough race, but she’s training really well,” trainer Chad Brown said. “Unfortunately, she has a habit of not changing her leads, but she has been in her training, so I’m hoping she does it in the afternoon on Saturday.”