09/29/2012 6:04PM

Belmont Park: Nahrain regains top form in Flower Bowl Invitational

Michael Amoruso
The European filly Nahrain spurts clear to win the Flower Bowl and earns a berth in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf.

ELMONT, N.Y. - After Nahrain finished second in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Churchill Downs, her European-based connections were hopeful of returning to the U.S. for another try at that race this year.

But Nahrain hadn’t run a race worthy of Breeders’ Cup consideration. Until Saturday, that is.

Energized by a horse to her outside in the stretch, Nahrain, under John Velazquez, battled all the way to the wire and outfinished Zagora to win the Grade 1, $600,000 Flower Bowl Invitational by one-half length over a yielding Belmont Park turf course.

Zagora, coming off a record-setting performance in the Ballston Spa at Saratoga, finished second by a nose over her stablemate, Dream Peace.

Nahrain and Velazquez had to withstand a claim of foul by Julien Leparoux, the jockey of Dream Peace for a bumping incident at the top of the stretch. But the stewards did not see the incident as affecting the outcome of the race and let the result stand.

David Cohen, the rider of sixth-place finisher Bizzy Caroline, also claimed foul on fifth-place finisher Hessonite and Jose Lezcano, for coming up on his heels in upper stretch. But the stewards dismissed that claim as well.

With the Flower Bowl being a Win and You’re In race, Nahrain earned a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and mare Turf. Last year, she finished second in that race, three-quarters of a length behind Perfect Shirl.

 “From when she was second last year we were keen to have another [try] this year,” trainer Roger Varian said. “It just took until now that she’s in good enough form to warrant going. She’s shown that today, hasn’t she?”

 Nahrain went into last year’s Breeders’ Cup having won four straight races, including the Group 1 Prix de l’Opera. After a lengthy vacation following the Breeders’ Cup, Nahrain had run poorly in her first two starts in Great Britain before running a decent third in a Group 2 stakes at The Curragh.

 That performance was the impetus for Varian to run in the Flower Bowl and see if she was Breeders’ Cup worthy.

 Nahrain raced in fifth position and three wide down the backside behind a dawdling pace of 1:17.43 for six furlongs.

 With three furlongs remaining, Velazquez began working on Nahrain to get her into position for a stretch drive but the response was not instant.

 Nahrain came together with Dream Peace at the quarter pole and the two began closing together at the leaders. Zagora took the lead at the eighth pole, but could not hold off Nahrain, who accelerated past in the final strides.

 Nahrain covered the 1 1/4 miles in 2:05.56 and returned $12.

“I got to the three-eighths pole, she was going easy then I had to ride her really hard,” Velazquez said. “When the other horse came to her on the outside then she decided to run really good.”

 Varian said watching his filly come to the quarter pole, he wasn’t confident she was going to get the job done.

 “She was under pressure quite a long way from home,” Varian said. “Speaking to Johnny afterward it wasn’t until the horses came up on the outside and sort of squeezed her in between [Zagora] that she really sort of put her head down and got into top gear. I really think she’s coming right at the right time of year.”

 Varian, who is based in Newmarket, said he hadn’t decided yet whether to ship Nahrain home before the Breeders’ Cup or leave her in the U.S. She is tentatively scheduled to leave for Newmarket on Wednesday.