by Ryan Martin
Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher will team up with Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable with a pair of formidable contestants in maiden winner Agate Road and stakes-placed Triple Espresso for Sunday’s 45th running of the Grade 2, $200,000 Pilgrim for juveniles going 1 1/16 miles over the outer turf at Belmont at the Big A.
The Pilgrim, which honors the late Joseph Widener’s winner of the 1919 Remsen, is carded as Race 7 and is a “Win And You’re In” qualifier, offering an automatic entry into the Grade 1, $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf on November 3 at Santa Anita Park. Sunday’s program will also co-feature the Pilgrim’s sister race in Race 5 – the Grade 2, $200,000 Miss Grillo, which boasts “Win And You’re In” status for the Grade 1, $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. First post is 1:05 p.m. Eastern.
Three of the last seven winners of the Pilgrim went on to capture the Juvenile Turf, including Oscar Performance , Structor  and Fire At Will .
Agate Road made his debut on the main track, finishing a late-closing second beaten a nose to Trade Imbalance in an off-the-turf maiden special weight on August 5 going one mile at Saratoga Race Course. The bay son of Quality Road switched surfaces for his next effort on September 2 at the Spa, where he was placed toward the rear, went seven wide exiting the far turn and avoided a traffic jam when ninth at the stretch call, but was able to secure a neck victory.
Following his maiden score, Agate Road worked twice over the Oklahoma training track most recently covering a half-mile in 49.95 seconds on Sunday.
Pletcher will seek his third consecutive, and sixth overall, Pilgrim coup after saddling last year’s winner Major Dude and 2021 victor Annapolis.
“His last breeze was very good. He’s training well and came out of his race in good order,” said Pletcher, whose other Pilgrim winners include Seabhac , Eskendereya  and The Leopard . “He got a very wide trip, which maybe turned out to be a blessing with all that was going on at the eighth pole. Turning for home, I thought he had way too much to do, and he really kicked in late. He’s had a little bit of experience, so hopefully that pays dividends.”
Bred in Kentucky by CHC, Inc., Agate Road was bought for $650,000 at the 2022 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. He is out of the Grade 1-winning Gemologist mare Yellow Agate, who captured the 2016 Frizette over the Belmont main track.
Irad Ortiz, Jr. also will pursue his third straight Pilgrim win, and will guide Agate Road from post 3.
While Agate Road looks to build on his winning ways, Triple Espresso will seek his first trip to the winner’s circle after a late-closing runner-up effort on debut in the Kitten’s Joy on September 9 going the Pilgrim distance at Colonial Downs. The bay colt was 12th-of-13 from the start to the stretch call, but launched a devastating rally in deep stretch to finish second beaten 1 1/4 lengths and authoritatively galloped out past the victorious Tok Tok.
A victory would provide Triple Espresso’s freshman sire Omaha Beach with his first graded stakes winner. He is out of the Indian Charlie mare Natural Rush, whose dam was multiple graded stakes-winner and multiple Grade 1-placed millionaire Lu Ravi. Triple Espresso was acquired for $350,000 from the 2022 Keeneland September Yearling Sale and was bred in Kentucky by Ashview Farm and Colts Neck Stables.
Jose Ortiz, who piloted 2016 winner Oscar Performance, will ride from post 7.
Trainer Christophe Clement will be in pursuit of his first Pilgrim conquest when sending out two-time starting maiden Spirit Prince [post 9, Joel Rosario], who was a last out third in the Grade 3 With Anticipation on August 31 at Saratoga.
The gray son of Cairo Prince raced an even fourth along the hedge and in behind horses and was five wide in pursuit at the top of the stretch, but could not stave off the outside rallies from one-two finishers Gala Brand and Carson’s Run. Gala Brand, a filly, is entered in the Miss Grillo, and Carson’s Run was a next out winner of the Grade 1 Summer on September 16 at Woodbine Racetrack.
Spirit Prince sported blinkers for the first time in the With Anticipation, which came following a runner-up effort at the Spa where he finished a half-length in arrears to Noted – the next-out winner of the main-track Sapling at Monmouth Park.
“It was a good race. He’s had two starts and he ran well both of those times,” Clement said. “He’s a touch immature and the blinkers were to allow him to mature. There wasn’t a huge difference, but it seemed to help him a little bit.”
Purchased for $110,000 out of the 2022 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, Spirit Prince is out of the Curlin mare Dottie’s Spirit. He is owned by Oakwood Stables, Scott D. Krase, Donarra Thoroughbreds, Kenneth G. Beitz and Gail P. Beitz.
Starlight Racing and Mark B. Grier’s Fulmineo [post 8, Flavien Prat] enters from a triumphant turf debut at Colonial Downs for trainer Arnaud Delacour.
The son of second crop sire Bolt d’Oro made his career debut in July going 5 1/2 furlongs over the Delaware Park main track, finishing third behind next-out Grade 1 Hopeful winner Nutella Fella. He tried turf and two turns for the first time next out at Colonial Downs, coming from seventh-to-eighth early on to win by 2 1/4 lengths.
Bred in Maryland by Country Life Farm and Starr of Quality LLC, Fulmineo is out of the stakes-winning First Dude mare Starr of Quality and is a direct descendant of Reine de course mares Natashka, Vagrancy and Frizette.
Shadwell Stable’s Kentucky homebred Tifareeh [post 4, Declan Cannon] enters from a triumphant turf debut on September 3 going one mile at Kentucky Downs. Trained by Brendan Walsh, the Speightstown bay was a distant eighth as the favorite on debut at Ellis Park before making the surface switch and winning by 3 3/4 lengths.
Tifareeh is out of the Tapit mare Azm, whose dam is dual Grade 1-winning multimillionaire Marketing Mix.
Completing the field are two-time starting maiden Liam’s Journey [post 1, Manny Franco] for trainer Mike Maker, four-length maiden winner Tropandhagen [post 2, Tyler Conner] for trainer Dimitrios Synnefias, the Linda Rice-trained last-out maiden winner B D Saints [post 5, Kendrick Carmouche], and Carem Stables’ Grade 3 With Anticipation fourth-place finisher Get Spooled [post 6, Jose Lezcano] for Hall of Famer Bill Mott.
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