A British invader by way of France taking on a Kentucky-bred horse sporting a French name. The prime storyline surrounding Saturday’s Grade 1 Belmont Oaks can be confusing, to say the least.
Just remember, Magic Attitude is the foreign invader and Antoinette is the home-bred filly in the five-filly field. Those two figure to take most of the money and write much of the story in Belmont Park’s first Grade 1 race of its 27-day fall meet.
Belmont’s fall meet began Friday and runs through Nov. 1, with races running every Thursday through Sunday. The exception comes Columbus Day weekend, with a Monday card on Oct. 12. Racing resumes four days later on Oct. 16.
Morning Line (Jockey)
- Setting the Mood, 6/1 (Luis Saez)
- Magic Attitude, Even (Javier Castellano)
- Key Biscayne, 8/1 (Manny Franco)
- Neige Blanche, 5/1 (Jose Lezcano)
- Antoinette, 9/5 (John Velazquez)
As the first of 22 graded stakes events, the $250,000 Belmont Oaks sends the five 3-year-olds on a 1 ¼-mile jaunt around Belmont Park’s inner turf course. It was due to be one leg of a turf triple with the Saratoga Oaks and Jockey Club Oaks Invitational Stakes, but Martin Panza, the New York Racing Association’s senior vice president for racing operations, told Bloodhorse the Jockey Club Oaks Invitational would be suspended this year for scheduling reasons.
Antoinette Angling for Saratoga-Belmont Oaks Double
That leaves the Belmont Oaks as the second and final leg of NYRA’s proposed turf triple – now turf double. It also leaves Antoinette (9/5) in position to win both legs. The Bill Mott-trained filly seized on a lack of speed, easily taking the 1 3/16-mile Saratoga Oaks last month. A victory brought about by an observant John Velazquez, who will again pilot Antoinette in the Belmont Oaks.
Velazquez illustrated why he’s a Hall of Fame rider between the ears. He watched Antoinette’s previous races and noticed her habit of staying close to the pace, but lacking that finishing kick. Then, he paid attention to the running styles of her six rivals. Velazquez saw they all had one thing in common – no early speed.
So he put Antoinette out early, then held off Stunning Sky in deep stretch for a half-length victory. That came one start after she finished third on dirt in the American Oaks at Saratoga in July.
With only four other horses to contend with, Velazquez could employ similar tactics. Antoinette seeks her fourth victory in nine races. She’s hit the board in seven of her eight campaigns, racking up three wins and four thirds.
Quality Won’t Scare Away Magic Attitude
Whether those tactics work this time largely depends on Magic Attitude. The British-bred daughter of the famed Galileo comes into Belmont Park off a solid fifth in the Group 1 Prix de Diane at Chantilly. That 1 5/16-mile test is considered the French Oaks and regularly features one of the strongest 3-year-old filly fields in Europe.
“She’s right there with them. When she ran in the Prix de Diane, all the form was solid,” trainer Arnaud Delacour told NYRA. “It was a very good edition of the French Oaks this year, and the fillies that finished in front and around her have come back and won graded stakes. So the form is excellent.”
So is Magic Attitude’s class. She already owns a Group 3 victory, coming in the Prix Vanteaux in May. That came after an eight-month layoff for her previous trainer, Fabrice Chappet. After a second in the Group 1 Prix Saint Alary at Chantilly in June, Magic Attitude came to Delacour. He set her up at the Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland and waited for a suitable turf race.
New Trainer, New Digs, New Racetrack
Magic Attitude won her Group 3 after a 7 ½-month layoff. She’s coming into her North American debut off a two-month break, but Delacour is still getting acclimated to his new charge and her running style. The biggest question surrounding the even-money favorite is how will she handle firmer turf than the French tracks offer.
“When she came to us, she was ready to run, Delacour said. “We just had to maintain her. So I don’t think the time off should be a problem.”
The pick: Antoinette. The small field and Belmont Park’s firm turf lends itself to her newfound pacesetting style and solid form. But put Magic Attitude somewhere. Her class could find a way to prevail.