Andy Serling has been playing the horses for almost his entire life, and is currently the co-host of NYRA Live. To follow Andy on Twitter, click here.
Every year that we have a Triple Crown hopeful heading into the Belmont Stakes, we also hear a lot of chatter about how a Triple Crown winner will save the game, or some such talk. While a superstar, horses like Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, do capture people’s attention, to me it is rivalries that ultimately can do the most for the game.
The prospect of supremely talented horses squaring off in repeated, and important, races generates excitement like little else ( besides betting ) in this game. People still talk of Affirmed and Alydar or Sunday Silence and Easy Goer. However, given the modest race schedules of today’s horses, seeing these kinds of rivalries play out on the racetrack has become all too rare.
This will not be the case on the sensational Belmont Stakes undercard, as the Ogden Phipps features the kind of matchup that racing fans can usually only dream about.
When Beholder and Princess of Sylmar met in the 2013 KY Oaks, Beholder was the much more heralded runner, having won a pair of Grade 1s over the winter to add to her BC Juvenile Fillies crown. Princess of Sylmar, a Pennsylvania bred, had dominated lesser foes on the inner track at Aqueduct before finishing second to Close Hatches in the Gazelle on the Wood Memorial undercard.
When the gates opened for the KY Oaks, it was actually Close Hatches, the then undefeated Juddmonte runner that was the shortest price at 7:1, with Beholder 9:1, and Princess of Sylmar dismissed at 38:1. When they hit the wire, it was Princess of Sylmar, who overcame a troublesome start, one that stymied strong favorite Dreaming of Julia, that ran down Beholder, who just missed surviving a blistering pace involving second choice Midnight Lucky. Close Hatches was an ineffective 7th after a wide trip.
Subsequent to that, these three fillies went their separate ways, with Princess of Sylmar dominating the summer landscape, reeling off victories in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks, Grade 1 Alabama, and finally the Grade 1 Beldame over reigning two time champion Royal Delta. Close Hatches proved no slouch either, running 2nd in the Grade 1 Acorn, and then annexing the Grade 1 Mother Goose in June as well as the Grade 1 Cotillion in September. However, it was ultimately Beholder that earned the 3YO Eclipse, as after a four month respite she reeled off two big late season victories, the first in the Grade 1 Zenyatta, and the much bigger one in the Breeder’s Cup Distaff, easily handling both Close Hatches and Princess of Sylmar, though the Princess clearly did not run her race in finishing a well beaten last.
All three of these fillies have not disappointed since returning in 2014, with Beholder winning the ungraded Santa Lucia in a gallop at Santa Anita, and Princess of Sylmar looking similarly impressive in the Cat Cay at Aqueduct. However, Close Hatches has been the most accomplished runner so far in 2014, winning two graded stakes at Oaklawn, including the Grade 1 Apple Blossom. However, the best is yet to come, as fortunately these three fillies will get to settle things on the racetrack in the $1,000,000 Grade 1 Ogden Phipps on Belmont Stakes Day at Belmont Park.
Will either Princess of Sylmar or Beholder take a 2-1 lead in their rivalry, or will Close Hatches make it one apiece? These are questions that normally, at best, seem to only get answered in either the BC late in the year, or worse, only in the dreams of horseplayers. Fortunately, this will not be the case this year.
While there is little doubt that the focus of the afternoon will be whether or not California Chrome can become the first Triple Crown winner in 36 years, there is also little doubt that the action will be fast and furious throughout the day, with no less than five Grade 1 Stakes besides the Belmont, and over $8 million in purses up for grabs. There is also little doubt that no race has been anticipated for longer than the Ogden Phipps, as this matchup has been on people’s minds for many months. No matter who wins, it’s going to be a great race, on a sensational day. Racing the way it’s supposed to be.
*Stakes Nomination Past Performances for the Ogden Phipps Stakes (.pdf)