By Nicholas Godfrey
USA: Top equine females across the generations provide the highlight of Saturday’s US programme, with leading three-year-old Swiss Skydiver taking on her male counterparts at Keeneland and champion racemare Monomoy Girl in action at Belmont. All of the action is live on Sky Sports Racing in Britain.
Santa Anita Oaks winner Swiss Skydiver (Kenny McPeek/Mike Smith) is only second filly ever to run in the Blue Grass Stakes (10.30pm BST), at $600,000 the richest race among six graded stakes worth a total of $1.9 million at Keeneland’s rescheduled behind-closed-doors five-day summer meet. The other one came fifth in 1944.
Usually held in April, the Blue Grass is a major trial for the Kentucky Derby, this year postponed until September 5 owing to coronavirus.
Swiss Skydiver gets a 5lb sex allowance from her opponents, who are headed by Arkansas derby runner-up Basin (Steve Asmussen/Ricardo Santana) and west-coast visitor Rushie (Mike McCarthy/Javier Castellano), while Art Collector (Tom Drury/Brian Hernandez) has looked good in lesser grade.
A more conventional spot for a three-year-old filly with Classic aspirations is the G1 Ashland (9.24pm BST), in which Bonny South (Brad Cox/John Velazquez), Tonalist’s Shape (Saffie Joseph/Tyler Gaffalione) and Venetian Harbor (Richard Baltas/Joel Rosario) are out to press Kentucky Oaks claims.
Rushing Fall (Chad Brown/Javier Castellano) goes for a repeat victory in the Jenny Wiley (9.57pm BST) on turf, in which she bids to join Lady Eli and Beholder as the only horses since 1976 to win G1 races at ages two, three, four and five.
West-coast pair Jolie Olimpica (Richard Mandella/Mike Smith) and Toinette (Neil Drysdale/Flavien Prat) look the main threats.
Yet more top fillies turn out in the G1 Madison (8.18pm BST), where Guarana (Chad Brown/Jose Ortiz) will start hot favourite after a strong effort on her seasonal debut last month at Churchill Downs.
At Belmont Park, Monomoy Girl (Brad Cox/Florent Geroux) continues on the comeback trail in the G2 Ruffian (7.55pm BST). Having landed an Eclipse Award during a magnificent three-year-old campaign culminating in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, the five-year-old missed the whole of 2019 owing to colic and a hamstring injury.
She returned to action on May 16 with an easy win in minor company on a sloppy track at Churchill Downs.
Shall we talk about it?
“I’d sure rather be in post three than 13. He is doing good; he has had to earn his way into this spot. There was a question if he really wants to go two turns, but he checked that box and did it maybe with an exclamation point. He drew away at the end and had his ears up while galloping out afterwards. It is time to jump in to the deep end of the pool and see how he stacks up against this kind.”
Tom Drury (trainer)
“This nine weeks since the Arkansas Derby has really helped him. The Arkansas Derby really took a lot out of him trying to keep up with Charlatan all the way around there. So on these nine weeks he got good weight and he’s really looking good. We’ll be forwardly placed for sure.”
Ryne Poncik of Jackpot Farm (owner)
“I think the ultimate goal is the Breeders’ Cup and the shot at another championship. There’s no reason to stretch her out to two turns in her second start in 18 months. This seems like the logical spot. I’ve seen her and physically she looks fantastic. She’s large, she’s powerful and she’s beautiful.”
Michael Dubb (part-owner)
“I really wanted to stretch her out further and she’s training well in blinkers. You can’t ever not run because of one horse and it’s an opportunity in a small field to get a big graded-stakes placing. I know Monomoy Girl on paper looks imposing, but my dad always said, ‘if Secretariat can get beat, anybody can get beat.’ So, we’ll take our chances and I think a one-turn mile at Belmont will really suit her.”
Carlos Martin (trainer)
“I’ve got another filly [Envoutante] in the Ashland that we’re fond of, and I hate running against each other if I can help it. She gets a bit of a weight break in the Blue Grass, and we did Triple Crown nominate her. It seems to be pretty wide open.
“She’s doing super and she gets weight from all these colts. I think she’s going to like the added distance. I like the mile and an eighth better than the mile and a sixteenth.”
Kenny McPeek (trainer)