Racing's top fillies collide in G1 Ogden Phipps
By John Scheinman | 06/04/2014 04:58 PM ET
Princess of Sylmar
The trainers of the top three older female racehorses in the country all know that the Grade 1, $1 million Ogden Phipps Handicap is a race that marks champions, and so Beholder, Close Hatches and Princess of Sylmar will meet in what shapes up to be a spellbinding showdown Saturday at Belmont Park.
The records of the three are awe-inspiring: Beholder, the Champion Two-Year-Old Filly of 2012 and Champion Three-Year-Old of 2013, has won five Grade 1 races, including the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Breeders' Cup Distaff. She has won her past four starts, all by open lengths, including a 4 ¼-length score over Close Hatches in the Distaff.
Close Hatches has won three Grade 1 starts, including the Apple Blossom in her most recent outing on April 11.
Princess of Sylmar won four straight Grade 1 races last year - the Kentucky Oaks, the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama at Saratoga Race Course and the Beldame Invitational at Belmont Park - before finishing sixth behind Beholder in her final race of the 2013, the Breeders' Cup Distaff.
"This is a huge race," said Princess of Sylmar's trainer Todd Pletcher. "It's a Breeders' Cup quality field, and it's exciting. We're very respectful of how good Beholder is and Close Hatches. At the same time we're excited about the opportunity to get to run against them on a track where [Princess of Sylmar] has had success."
The Ogden Phipps drew a field of six and will go off as the seventh race on a stakes-packed card. It is the second leg of a $1 million All Graded Stakes Pick 6 that climaxes with the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes.
The race also is a "Win and You're In" qualifier for the Breeders' Cup Distaff.
Formerly run as the Hempstead Handicap, the Ogden Phipps has produced a who's who of American champions, including Ginger Punch, Ashado, Serena's Song, Beautiful Pleasure, Sky Beauty, Personal Ensign, Wistful and Ta Wee.
The 4-year-old Beholder, owned by Spendthrift Farm and trained by Hall of Famer Richard Mandella, already is in that select company.
She has won nine of 13 starts and earned $3,123,300. After she won the Breeders' Cup Distaff last year, Mandella gave her a long rest before she returned April 20 in the ungraded Santa Lucia Stakes at Santa Anita, in which she easily dispatched four rivals.
"You've got the makings of a springtime Breeders' Cup with a day like this, and how great it is for the game," said Mandella, who worked Beholder an easy four furlongs in 49.49 on Monday at Belmont. "For New York to put this on is terrific."
While Close Hatches drew the rail and likely will attempt to make the pace, Beholder, the 7-5 favorite on the morning line, enjoys the lead as well. Still, she may wind up stalking close up under Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens.
"She can go either way," Mandella said. "She's very good to settle back, but she also can be on the lead. I'm just hoping to have her at her best."
Princess of Sylmar, 9-5 on the morning line, did everything last year but win the Eclipse Award, and Pletcher hopes to have her in top form for the Ogden Phipps. Like Beholder, she took a long rest after the Breeders' Cup and returned to crush a small field in an ungraded stakes, effortlessly winning Aqueduct's Cat Cay on April 6 by 3 ½ lengths.
Based at Belmont Park, she hopes to duplicate her performance in the Beldame, in which she knocked off reigning champion Royal Delta with a sweeping move under a hand ride.
"We were focused on the Phipps all along and felt like, 'What's the best way for us to get to the [race]?'" Pletcher said. "And we felt like one start with a little bit of space was the best way to do it."
Unlike Beholder and Princess of Sylmar, Close Hatches, 5-2, has been racing in graded company this year.
The 4-year-old, trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, opened her year with a gate-to-wire score in the Grade 2 Azeri over a wet track at Oaklawn Park. She followed that with another front-running victory in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap, defeating On Fire Baby, who in her subsequent start won the Grade 1 La Troienne Stakes at Churchill Downs.
The other three runners are outsiders but not without merit. Chief among them might be Classic Point, 20-1, trained by Hall of Famer Allen Jerkens, who is renowned for springing major upsets in his long career.
Classic Point, a 5-year-old mare by Flatter, has three wins over the Belmont strip, tops among those in the field. She also has shown class as a sprinter, nearly upsetting Dance to Bristol at odds of 14-1 last year in the Grade 2 Honorable Miss and then making all the pace in the Grade 1 Ballerina before weakening to fifth deep into the stretch, both at Saratoga.
She opened her 2014 campaign with two poor efforts and then bounced back with a 5 ¼-length victory April 26 at Gulfstream Park in a seven-furlong race.
"We're going to be a long shot in the race, but she'll try hard," Jerkens said. "Her last race was good, so we'll take a chance. We'll just let her run on her own the first part of it and see what happens."
Belle Gallantey, riding a three-race winning streak for trainer Rudy Rodriguez, and Antipathy, a Godolphin Racing runner who finished 3 ½ behind Belle Gallantey in her most recent start, complete the field.