07/02/2017 11:03AM

Watchmaker: Sistercharlie could spoil day for Belmont Oaks field


Aidan O’Brien is fresh off his eighth training title at Royal Ascot where, with a trio that just oozed class, he won the Prince of Wales with Highland Reel, the Coronation with Winter, and the Commonwealth Cup with Carvaggio. Oh yeah, O’Brien also just won the Irish Derby with Capri, who was “only” his 12th winner in that event.

On Saturday, Belmont Park will have two Grade 1 turf races for 3-year-olds with seven-figure purses in the Belmont Oaks and the Belmont Derby, won last year by the O’Brien-trained Deauville. It’s no surprise those races are on O’Brien’s radar again.

At this writing, the New York Racing Association has the O’Brien-trained War Decree and Whitecliffsofdover as likely starters for the Belmont Derby, and his Rain Goddess and Key To My Heart as possible starters for the Belmont Oaks.

War Decree is probably O’Brien’s biggest gun from this quartet. War Decree was a Group 2 stakes winner last year, when he was solidly favored in all three of his starts, and most recently was a close fifth of 12 in the Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club (the French Derby) at Chantilly. And as evidence of the high regard given War Decree, he was only 4-1 at Chantilly despite an uninspiring effort in his first start this year.

Whitecliffsofdover was Group 1 stakes-placed last year at 2, but he was an ineffective 15th of 20 last time in the Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot in his first attempt this year at the group stakes level. Whitecliffsofdover also hasn’t raced beyond seven furlongs this year, so that he is even mentioned in the context of the 10-furlong Belmont Derby makes me wonder if he might not be considered as a pacemaker for War Decree.

If so, that would have a significant impact on some U.S.-based Belmont Derby prospects. Oscar Performance absolutely walked on the lead when he most recently won the Pennine Ridge Stakes, the local prep for the Belmont Derby. A pacemaker for War Decree could adversely affect Oscar Performance, while helping Good Samaritan and Ticonderoga, who ran very well finishing second and third in the Pennine Ridge while being severely pace-compromised. It would also aid Yoshida, who was ideally set up when he came from the clouds to win the James W. Murphy on the Preakness undercard, but who still looked like something special doing it.

It should also be noted that there is one other European invader listed as likely for the Belmont Derby: Called To The Bar. Called To The Bar finished second in his first two career starts and won his last two, including a decisive score in the Group 3 Prix du Lys most recently going 12 furlongs at Saint-Cloud.

Of O’Brien’s two possible starters for the Belmont Oaks (both, incidentally, by the amazing Galileo), Rain Goddess is easily the strongest on paper. Rain Goddess recently finished second in the Sandringham Handicap at Royal Ascot behind Con Te Partiro. Now, Con Te Partiro is well known to U.S. racing people as she is based here with Wesley Ward, and is known as being somewhat limited; her biggest claim to fame here was a win in a listed turf sprint stakes last summer at Saratoga. Nevertheless, the Sandringham had 24 starters, and any horse who can finish in front of 22 horses like Rain Goddess did is okay in my book.

Still, if Sistercharlie comes for the Belmont Oaks as NYRA expects, then the rest of the field could be in big trouble. Sistercharlie, winner of a Group 3 stakes at Saint-Cloud two starts back, comes off a sharp second of 16 in the Group 1 Prix de Diane (the French Oaks), and a repeat of that effort would very likely be too much to match for this Belmont Oaks lineup - even O’Brien’s candidates.

Saturday notes:

** It’s rare to hear people gush about a 1-5 shot who wins by only a neck, but the San Carlos at Santa Anita was just such an occasion. Off strong triple-digit Beyer Figure wins in his last two starts, including the Lone Star Park Handicap, Danzing Candy was the prohibitive San Carlos favorite and was expected to win. He did, by the aforementioned neck, but don’t be misled by the length of his win margin.

Danzing Candy was under severe pace pressure from the start from Coastline, whose job was to soften Danzing Candy up for his stablemate Ransom the Moon. When Coastline called it a day late on the far turn, Danzing Candy was immediately tackled by Ransom the Moon, who up to that point enjoyed a perfect stalking trip just off the speed duel.

Right here, it’s important to note that after a lengthy string of starts going long on turf and synthetic surfaces, Ransom the Moon switched to sprinting on the dirt this year, and responded with two monster wins, including a romp most recently in the Kona Gold.

So not only was Danzing Candy being tackled by a good horse in peak form, he was also being tackled by such a horse who was ideally set up. And Danzing Candy, in a display of pure guts, still turned him back.

** Imperial Hint was also an impressive sprint winner, taking the Smile Sprint at Gulfstream in runaway fashion.

Yes, Imperial Hint benefitted from a big opening on the rail. He was also making his first start in nearly five months after illness knocked him out of an intended start in the Dubai Golden Shaheen. Imperial Hint has now won his last four starts, three of them stakes, by margins of 6, 3 1/4, 2 1/4, and 4 3/4 lengths.

** It was easy to understand why the pace set up like it did in the San Carlos, but I will admit I don’t have a clue why the paces in the United Nations at Monmouth and the Mother Goose at Belmont unfolded the way they did. And I know I am far from alone on that score.

I still find it hard to fathom why Itsinthepost shipped all the way from California to engage in a suicidal speed duel in the U. N. with Beach Patrol. In fact, I’m not even sure where Itsinthepost even got the speed to contest fractions of 23.31 and 46.97. I am all for speed horses showing the speed they are supposed to, but what’s so weird here is Itsinthepost is not a speed horse.

If Itsinthepost’s sole purpose was to get Beach Patrol beaten, then job done. Beach Patrol was overtaken late by Bigger Picture and Can’thelpbelieving, and finished third. Itsinthepost wound up fifth.

The Mother Goose was the flip side of this coin. Unchained Melody took the Mother Goose by three lengths to improve her record to three wins from four starts, and she might be a very nice filly. But Unchained Melody was allowed a completely uncontested lead when the other potential Mother Goose pace players (Moana, My Miss Tapit) showed zero interest in the early lead, so we don’t know yet how good she really is.