Divine Huntress to $135K Wilton at Saratoga; Highland Chief has summer options
ELMONT, N.Y. – Trainer Graham Motion will hope to see Head of Plains Partners’ graded stakes-winner Sy Dog score the first Grade 1 victory of his career in Saturday’s $1 million Caesars Belmont Derby Invitational at Belmont Park.
Sy Dog, by Slumber, arrives at the Belmont Derby from a third-place finish in the Grade 2 American Turf on May 7 at Churchill Downs where he was defeated just 2 1/4 lengths by returning foe Stolen Base after closing from ninth-of-10 under Irad Ortiz, Jr. It was the first loss for the dark bay, who was undefeated through his first three starts that included a gutsy triumph in the Grade 3 Transylvania in April at Keeneland.
“We gave him plenty of time after his last race in order to point for the Belmont Derby,” said Motion. “I wasn’t crazy about running him back [in the American Turf] so quickly after the race at Keeneland. It was either that or we had to wait a couple of months. Irad left him alone early, and I thought he made a really game effort to come running at the end. He was kind of unlucky not to get there. I think it was a solid effort over a turf course that’s been a little tricky.”
The 1 1/4-mile Belmont Derby will be the farthest Sy Dog has run in his career, and Motion said he believes the distance should suit him.
“I think that’s what he wants. It’s what the stallion did,” Motion said of Slumber, who won the 10-furlong Grade 1 Manhattan at Belmont in 2015. “He acts like a horse that wants to. This is going to be a huge test – it’s a very good race.”
The pace of the Belmont Derby could set up to Sy Dog’s liking with front-running Grade 2 Pennine Ridge winner Emmanuel and the prominent Classic Causeway looking to be the likely pacesetters.
With Irad Ortiz, Jr. slated to ride Emmanuel in the Belmont Derby, Motion said he is hopeful Manny Franco will be able to work out a trip from post 7.
“There’s going to be a legitimate pace in there,” Motion said. “Manny is a good replacement and hopefully he gives a good account of himself.”
The French-bred Royal Patronage will find himself in Motion’s barn once he completes his run in the Belmont Derby for trainer Charles Johnston. A bay Wootton Bassett colt, Royal Patronage posted wins in the Group 3 Acomb in August at York and Group 2 Royal Lodge in September at Newmarket. He enters the Belmont Derby from a distant off-the-board finish in the Group 1 Derby in June at Epsom.
Motion said owner Highclere Thoroughbred Racing reached out to him about taking over training duties when they decided to give Royal Patronage an extended American campaign beyond the Belmont Derby.
“After he runs, he’s coming back to Fair Hill with us,” Motion said. “I know the people at Highclere a little bit and they approached me when I was at Ascot and asked if I would be interested in taking him. He’s run plenty, so we’ve discussed possibly giving him a little break after this. But we’ll see how he feels after. He’s run some serious races and he’s a classy horse.”
Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Long Valley Stables’ Divine Huntress will make her next start in the $135,000 Wilton on July 14 at Saratoga Race Course out of the newly-revived one-mile Wilson chute. She finished second last out to Matareya in the one-mile Grade 1 Acorn on June 11 at Belmont.
The daughter of Diving Rod will get class relief after starting in four consecutive graded stakes, beginning with the Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra in February at Fair Grounds Race Course and most recently in the Acorn. She kicked off her sophomore campaign with an eye-catching 12 3/4-length romp in a first-level allowance at Parx Racing in January before her string of graded stakes starts.
“It wasn’t really the race I was planning on, but it came up a very small field for a Grade 1 and I thought it was a huge opportunity,” Motion said of the Acorn. “She ran a game race and got a piece of it. We’ll probably come back in the Wilton. I think going a mile is more her trip.”
Motion enjoyed a Grade 1 victory at Belmont this spring with Man o’ War victor Highland Chief (IRE), who stunned the field at odds of 19-1 in his second stateside outing. He followed with a good fourth-place finish in the Grade 1 Resorts World Casino Manhattan on June 11 going 1 1/4 miles and was just bested out of show honors by dual Grade 1-winner Gufo.
The Gleneagles bay overcame a bumpy start and a three-wide trip around the final turn to run on gamely under Trevor McCarthy, who won his first career Grade 1 aboard Highland Chief in the Man o’ War.
Motion said Highland Chief’s run in the Manhattan was better than it may appear on paper.
“Coming back a month after the Man o’ War was not ideal, but again, we would have had to wait two months,” said Motion.
Motion said Highland Chief could start in either the Grade 1 United Nations on July 23 at Monmouth Park or the Grade 2 Bowling Green at Saratoga on July 31, both at 1 3/8 miles, with the Grade 1, $750,000 Resorts World Casino Sword Dancer on August 27 as the main summer goal.
“I’m a little torn between the United Nations and Bowling Green, but I think we’ll probably wind up coming to Saratoga,” Motion said. “I think he’ll appreciate a mile and three-eighths and a mile and a half more than the mile and a quarter. It’s more what he wants to do.”
Motion also started the Exosphere gelding Easter (FR) to a fourth-place finish behind Highland Chief in the Man o’ War. Easter returned with a game runner-up effort in allowance company on June 30 at Belmont, closing from last-of-9 to come up 3 1/4-lengths shy of the Chad Brown trainee Balthus in the 1 3/8-mile test.
Motion said that Easter could be more effective cutting back in distance.
“I thought he ran really well. Obviously, Chad’s horse has got a real future, so I was very happy with his effort,” Motion said. “I would say we’ll take advantage of that allowance condition next. I’m not convinced he needs to go that far, so if there’s a mile and an eighth race, that would be ideal for him.”
Owned by Madaket Stables, Easter earned a stakes placing in his native France at Saint Cloud when second in the Prix Omnium II last year. His other start this year was a third going 1 1/16 miles over firm Aqueduct turf in April for his American debut.
NYRA Press Office
Photo Graham Motion give a smile to jockey Trevor McCarthy aboard Highland Chief in the winner’s circle at Belmont. (NYRA/Coglianese)