McKulick’s late kick earns flower blanket with G1 Belmont Oaks Invitational score to kick off Caesars Turf Triple series
by Brian Bohl
Klaravich Stales’ McKulick had been knocking on the door for her first graded stakes win with three placings in three attempts before breaking through by overtaking With The Moonlight in the stretch and powering home a 1 3/4-length winner in Saturday’s Grade 1, $700,000 Belmont Oaks Invitational contested at 1 1/4 miles over the inner turf at Belmont Park.
The British-bred McKulick gave trainer Chad Brown his sixth career victory in the Belmont Oaks, which serves as the first leg of the filly division of the Caesars Turf Triple series for sophomores. It marked Brown’s first win in the race since 2017.
The 44th running of the Belmont Oaks will be followed by the Grade 3, $700,000 Saratoga Oaks Invitational at 1 3/16-miles on August 7 and the Grade 3 Jockey Club Oaks Invitational at 11 furlongs during the Belmont fall meet.
Jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., who earned a victory in the first of the four stakes on the Stars and Stripes Festival card at Belmont aboard Dynamic One in the Grade 2, $400,000 Suburban in Race 4, employed a similar patient approach out of the gate. McKulick tracked in fifth position as Cairo Memories led the 10-horse field through the opening three-quarters in 1:13.20 over the firm going.
Out of the final turn, the Charlie Appleby-trained With The Moonlight took brief command of the lead from the outside over Cairo Memories. But McKulick kept up the pressure from the far outside, responding to her rider’s left-handed encouragement to gain the edge and hit the wire in a final time of 1:59.62.
With The Moonlight fended off Brown trainee Consumer Spending [also owned by Klaravich] by a head for second. Concert Hall finished fourth, with Cairo Memories, Hot Queen, Know Thyself, New Year’s Eve, Haughty and Agartha completing the order of finish.
McKulick won her debut last August at Saratoga Race Course before closing her 2021 with a third-place effort in the Grade 3 Miss Grillo in October at Belmont. Following a seven-month respite, Brown saw her start her 3-year-old year with consecutive runner-up efforts at Churchill in the Grade 2 Edgewood in May and the Grade 3 Regret in June before earning the flower blanket on Saturday.
“She was really born to run a mile and a quarter. We were patiently waiting for a long time to get her to this distance and my whole team did a super job with this horse in all divisions this filly has been in throughout this year,” said Brown, who added to his Belmont Oaks victories that include 2012-15 with Samitar, Alterite, Minorette and Lady Eli, and New Money Honey in 2017. “She’s special and she finally got enough room to fully utilize that closing kick she has. Irad rode a beautiful race. He was lined up behind Haughty down the backstretch which I thought was a good decision by him. Haughty at least took them into the stretch, where he could take it from there.”
Fittingly, the daughter of Frankel won on July 9, which is the birthday of the late Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, for whom Brown served as an assistant before going out on his own. The filly is named after Brown's former bookkeeper, the late Mary McKulick.
“It’s an extra special win with it being Bobby Frankel’s birthday today. This horse is the first offspring of Frankel that I actually bought,” Brown said. “[Owner] Seth Klarman was nice enough to let me name this filly after my very first employee after I left Frankel, that’s why I chose this horse being by Frankel. And wouldn’t you know on his birthday she wins a Grade 1. The irony and the importance of it today, his birthday means everything to me personally.”
Ortiz, Jr., who was aboard Lady Eli in 2015 for that victory, said he was able to follow the pre-race plan to capitalize on McKulick’s strengths.
“I got a beautiful trip. I broke and followed the instructions – tried to save ground and let her get to some position,” Ortiz, Jr. said. “She broke sharp and she put me in a good position right in behind horses. I bided my time and saved some ground. At the three-eighths pole, I started asking her a bit and she just ran really good and nice. She responded really well and took off in the stretch and that was really nice.”
Off at 5-1, McKulick returned $12.80 on a $2 win bet. She improved to 2-2-1 in five starts and increased her career bankroll to $593,650.
“I think a mile and a quarter [made the difference]. If you see in her last two races, she came running late past the wire and kept galloping out nicely,” Ortiz, Jr. said.
“That’s what I see in the replays. We were very confident in her that she was going to get the mile and a quarter, so I rode her with confidence and she got it done.”
Three-time Champion Jockey Frankie Dettori, a winner of more than 3,000 races in Great Britain who made the trek to the United States from Europe to ride With The Moonlight, said he tried to be aggressive and it paid off with a stellar effort.
“I had a good trip. I forced the issue at the three-eighths because we weren’t going very fast and apart from one, she beat all the rest,” Dettori said.
Consumer Spending, who
improved from a sixth-place finish in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf in November at Del Mar to win the Memories of Silver in April at Aqueduct and the Grade 2 Wonder Again last month at Belmont, gave Brown two-thirds of the trifecta. Jockey Manny Franco was aboard for the effort in which the More Than Ready filly earned black type for the fourth time in five stakes starts.
“I had a very good trip, she [McKulick] just got the jump on us and that was it,” Franco said. “She felt great. I think she ran her race again and was ready today, too. It just wasn’t her day today.”
The Irish-bred Concert Hall, trained by Aidan O’Brien and ridden by fellow decorated European jockey Ryan Moore, was making her North American debut. The O’Brien-Moore duo won last year’s edition with Santa Barbara and in 2018 with Athena.
“It might have been quick enough [ground] for her, she was just lugging in down the straight,” Moore said. “They went hard and we had a nice run following the winner - just didn’t keep up with them, but she ran respectably.”
Sunday will mark Closing Day for the Belmont Spring/Summer meet, with a nine-race card featuring the $100,000 Saginaw for New York-bred 4-year-olds and up going 1 1/16 miles in Race 8. First post is 12:30 p.m. Eastern.
America’s Day at the Races will present daily coverage and analysis of the spring/summer meet at Belmont Park on the networks of FOX Sports. For the complete broadcast schedule, visit https://www.nyra.com/belmont/racing/tv-schedule.
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