Jul 6, 2022
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Stone Age, Concert Hall arrive for Caesars Turf Triple series

by NYRA Press Office

  • Stone Age, Concert Hall arrive for Caesars Turf Triple series
  • Bella Sofia could start in G2 Honorable Miss; maiden winner Apple Picker to target G1 Spinaway
  • Wolfie’s Dynaghost to G3 Forbidden Apple

A pair of top contenders for internationally-acclaimed trainer Aidan O'Brien arrived at Belmont Park on Wednesday in Stone Age and Concert Hall for the 10-furlong first legs of the lucrative Caesars Turf Triple series.

Stone Age, bred and co-owned by Peter Brant with Coolmore partners Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and Westerberg, will line up in the 13-horse Grade 1, $1 million Caesars Belmont Derby Invitational for sophomores; while Westerberg, Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith's Concert Hall takes on nine other rivals in the Grade 1, $700,000 Belmont Oaks Invitational for 3-year-old fillies.

Stone Age was a prominent winner of the Group 3 Derby Trial in May at Leopardstown over 10 furlongs before finishing sixth last out in the 12-furlong Group 1 Epsom Derby on June 4.

O'Brien said he was impressed by the performance of Stone Age in the Derby Trial.

"He showed plenty of pace that day. He traveled very strongly and galloped through the line very well. There's a chance that going back to 10 furlongs might suit him better," O'Brien said. "We thought he would have no problem with the mile and a half [last out], but there might be a chance that it was too far for him. He seems to have come out of the Derby well."

The Galileo colt ran a strong second as a maiden in the Group 1 Criterium International in October at Saint-Cloud before graduating in March over 10 furlongs at Navan in his seasonal debut. 

O'Brien said Stone Age is a well-built colt and should have the tactical ability to make a trip when leaving the outside post under returning rider Ryan Moore.

"He's a good moving horse and a good, strong traveler," O'Brien said. "He's very happy to be forward and to take the lead. He's drawn wide, but he's very uncomplicated, we think."

O’Brien and Moore teamed up last year to sweep both the Belmont Derby and Belmont Oaks with Bolshoi Ballet and Santa Barbara, respectively. He also captured the 2016 renewal of the Belmont Derby with Deauville in rein to Jamie Spencer.

O'Brien said the Belmont Derby provided a unique opportunity for Stone Age to race against fellow sophomores rather than take on older company in the Group 1 Coral-Eclipse won last weekend at Sandown by Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club-winner Vadeni over multiple Group 1-winning older horse Mishriff.

"We had the choice of going here [to New York] or going to the Eclipse and we decided to come to your race, which is a race we thought would suit him well," O'Brien said. "Your race suits perfectly to give him another chance against his own age and then we can step up again against older horses after if we want."

O'Brien will seek his third Belmont Oaks victory when sending out Group 1-placed Concert Hall, who enters off two fourth-place finishes at Group 1 level in the 12-furlong Epsom Oaks on June 3 and most recently when elevated from fifth in the 10-furlong Pretty Polly on June 26 at The Curragh. 

O'Brien said Concert Hall ran deceptively well last out in a roughly run race won by La Petite Coco.

"She didn't have much luck inside the last couple of furlongs," O'Brien said. "She got a bad enough bump and squeeze and had to stop and go back to last and come around them again. She was staying on well at the line."

As a 2-year-old, Concert Hall won The Curragh’s Group 3 Weld Park going seven furlongs and in April captured the listed Salsabil over 10 furlongs at Navan. She picked up Group 1 blacktype with a third-place finish in the one-mile Irish 1000 Guineas in May at The Curragh.

"She's straightforward," O'Brien said. "She ran a great race in the Oaks at a mile and a half. She won her Oaks trial over a mile and a quarter. She's a Group 3-winner over seven furlongs. So, she's versatile and I think somewhere around a mile and a quarter might be her best trip."

O'Brien said Concert Hall, a bay daughter of European classic winners Dubawi and Was, should appreciate the American style of racing with firm ground expected when she exits the outermost post 10 under Moore.

"She's a good mover. She's a compact filly and has a genuine way of galloping with her head out and down," O'Brien said.

The Caesars Belmont Derby Invitational will again launch the male division of the Turf Triple series that encompasses the Grade 1, $1 million Caesars Saratoga Derby Invitational at 1 3/16-miles on August 6 and the Grade 3, $1 million Caesars Jockey Club Derby Invitational at 12 furlongs during the Belmont fall meet.

The Belmont Oaks Invitational commences the female division of the Turf Triple series, which will be followed by the Grade 3, $700,000 Saratoga Oaks at 1 3/16-miles on August 7 and conclude with the Grade 3, $700,000 Jockey Club Oaks at 11 furlongs during the fall.


Bella Sofia could start in G2 Honorable Miss; maiden winner Apple Picker to target G1 Spinaway

Trainer Rudy Rodriguez originally planned to train Grade 1 Longines Test winner Bella Sofia up to her next start later this summer at Saratoga Race Course. Instead, he may start the 4-year-old Awesome Patriot filly in the Grade 2, $200,000 Honorable Miss Handicap on July 27 as a prep for the Grade 1, $500,000 Ballerina on August 28, a “Win and You’re In” for the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint in November at Keeneland. 

“I’m not sure what race we run in yet, but there’s a lot of options for her and she’s nice and healthy,” said Rodriguez. “There are two races at Saratoga. Maybe we run in one, but we’re 80 percent to run in both. We’ll keep our fingers crossed with the Breeders’ Cup as the goal. We’ll look at the race on the 27th.”

Owned by Michael Imperio, Medallion Racing, Sofia Soares, Vincent Scuderi, and Parkland Thoroughbreds, Bella Sofia has posted two gutsy victories at Belmont this year in the Grade 3 Vagrancy on May 14 and the Grade 2 Bed o’ Roses on June 10. The Vagrancy was a hard-fought victory for Bella Sofia, who made her first start off a six-month layoff and battled to the wire with multiple graded stakes-winner Frank’s Rockette to prevail by a nose. 

She returned a month later to take on Grade 1-winner Obligatory and two other rivals in the Bed o’ Roses. Sent to the lead by regular rider Luis Saez, Bella Sofia was unfazed by early pressure from Easy to Bless and widened her margins at every point of call to post a half-length victory over the fast-closing Obligatory. 

“She’s doing nicely. She bounced out of her last race very well. She’s a fresh filly and she’s very lightly raced,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t need to do too much with her because she can run good fresh. My job with her now is to keep her healthy and happy. We let her tell us and we take it from there.” 

Rodriguez may have another graded stakes contender on his hands after Michael Dubb’s first-time starter Apple Picker coasted home a four-length winner in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden special weight on Saturday at Belmont. 

A dark bay daughter of Connect, Apple Picker led each step of the way under Hall of Famer John Velazquez and needed just one shake of the reins to open up on her six rivals and complete the race in 1:05.83. 

Rodriguez said he liked what he saw from Apple Picker and will now target the Grade 1, $300,000 Spinaway on September 4 at Saratoga Race Course. 

“She’s a nice filly and she always showed promise,” said Rodriguez. “She was well behaved in the gate and everything. She broke sharp, the way she does in the morning. She performed much better than we expected, and that’s always good. I’m going to try to get her ready for the Spinaway. That’s my main goal.” 


Wolfie’s Dynaghost to G3 Forbidden Apple

Woodslane Farm’s Kentucky homebred Wolfie’s Dynaghost will target the Grade 3, $175,000 Forbidden Apple on July 15 at Saratoga Race Course after a game runner-up finish in the Grade 3 Poker last out on June 18 at Belmont for trainer Tom Albertrani. 

A 4-year-old son of Ghostzapper, Wolfie’s Dynaghost arrived at the Poker from a distant third-place effort in the Seek Again on May 22, where he led the field of three through the first half-mile but faltered over the good going and faded in the turn. He came back to post a strong effort in the Poker over firm turf when he once again set the pace but showed determination and was only defeated 1 1/4 lengths by Grade 1-placed Masen. 

“He ran really well in the Poker and that was a good effort,” Albertrani said. “I think the race before that, the soft ground wasn’t to his liking, and he was beaten quite a far distance that day.”

Wolfie’s Dynaghost earned another graded placing this year when a close second in the Grade 3 Appleton in April at Gulfstream Park when he skimmed the rail after stalking in third and just missed the win by a half-length behind Phantom Currency. The versatile bay has earned victories on dirt, turf and synthetic, including a strong handicap victory over Gulfstream’s all-weather surface in January that garnered a 93 Beyer Speed Figure. 

“We’ve tried him on dirt and he’s won on Polytrack and grass, so he’s pretty tough, but I think grass is his preferred surface,” said Albertrani. “He put in a good effort in the Poker, so we’ll head for the Forbidden Apple.”

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Trainer Ken McPeek has garnered plenty of knowledge and experience since starting his first runner in 1985. He’s known for his fearlessness when taking a gamble with his horses, like when he sent out Sarava to a shocking 70-1 victory in the 2002 Belmont Stakes for the dark bay’s first try against graded company, and more recently, scored a Grade 1 Preakness victory with upset filly Swiss Skydiver in 2020.