OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Repole Stable, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Michael House’s Nest passed her first test against elders with aplomb, posting a 9 3/4-length score in Sunday’s nine-furlong Grade 2, $250,000 Beldame for fillies and mares 3-year-olds and upward, at the Belmont at the Big A fall meet.
Trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, Nest’s emphatic score as the 1-9 mutuel favorite under Irad Ortiz, Jr. will propel the Curlin bay to the nine-furlong Grade 1, $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff on November 5 at Keeneland. The Beldame kicked off a lucrative nine-race card that includes the Grade 3, $150,000 Futurity in Race 6 – a “Win And You’re In” qualifier for the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint; and the Grade 3, $150,000 Knickerbocker in Race 8.
“I was a passenger,” Ortiz, Jr. said. “She’s doing so good right now. I broke good. Before, she used to break a step slow. Now, the last couple of times she’s been breaking good out of there and that’s a big advantage because I don’t have to use that much. She put herself in the race and I just waited for my time to go. Then I let her do her thing. She’s so nice.
“She’s been improving every time she runs and she’s doing so good right now,” he added. “I’m just enjoying being on top of her.”
Nest broke alertly from the inside post and settled in third position as multiple graded stakes-winner Travel Column, who stumbled at the break, rushed up to take the lead through an opening quarter-mile in 24.52 seconds over the fast main track.
The Jose Ortiz-piloted First to Act tracked outside the pacesetter in second as the field maneuvered through the opening turn with Ortiz, Jr. electing to take Nest off the rail and into the clear down the backstretch through a half-mile in 49.01.
Nest advanced willingly into the final turn as three-quarters elapsed in 1:13.16 and took the lead in hand, drifting wide to the center of the track at the top of the lane and drawing clear to score under a hand ride in a final time of 1:52.38. First to Act completed the exacta by 5 1/2-lengths over Hybrid Eclipse with Travel Column and The Grass Is Blue, who was squeezed back at the start, completing the order of finish.
Nest coming around on the outside on the final turn. Photo by Dom Napolitano
Ortiz, Jr. won a pair of Grade 1 races on Saturday at Keeneland for Pletcher, taking the Turf Mile with Annapolis and the Breeders’ Futurity with Forte. He also piloted the Wesley Ward-trained Golden Pal to victory in Saturday’s Grade 2 Woodford at the Lexington oval.
The Belmont at the Big A fall meet’s leading rider secured his first Beldame score with ease.
“I got the one-hole and wanted to break good and try to be close in the race, and that’s where I was,” said Ortiz, Jr. “After that, I said whatever happens, happens. She’s been in the back and inside, so it’s not like she hasn’t done it before. I wasn’t afraid of anything. By the backside, they slowed it down a little bit and I looked, and no one was inside of me. I decided to go around and stay out of trouble because she looked like she was much the best in the race on paper. That’s the way I rode her.”
The victory provided Pletcher with a record sixth Beldame, having previously captured the prestigious event with Hall of Famer Ashado , as well as with Fleet Indian , Unbridled Belle , Life At Ten  and Princess of Sylmar .
“I thought she broke well and Irad let the speed go ahead of him into the first turn,” said Pletcher’s New York-based assistant Byron Hughes. “Coming down the backstretch, he kicked her out to the outside, got her face in the clear three-wide on the second turn and she kicked on with it at the end. It looked like she was in top form, and she continues to impress. It’s exciting for the whole team.”
The happy connections greet Nest on the track after her victory. Photo by Adam Coglianese
In victory, Nest maintained a perfect in-the-money record of 10-7-2-1, led by Grade 1 scores in the Ashland in April at Keeneland along with commanding efforts at Saratoga Race Course in the Coaching Club American Oaks in July and the Alabama in August. Her Ashland coup was followed by runner-up efforts to Secret Oath in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks in May at Churchill and to stablemate Mo Donegal in June in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets.
Co-owner Mike Repole said the two-turn Beldame at the Big A, which would have been contested around one-turn at Belmont, served as the perfect bridge to the Breeders’ Cup.
“For Eclipse, myself and Todd, she’s been an incredible filly,” Repole said. “She had two tough races in Saratoga, even though she won impressively. We didn’t want to give her 11 weeks off, so we needed to find the right spot and get her a good start where she would have to assert herself but save something for four weeks from now and I think we found a perfect spot.”
Repole said he does not take the short-priced win for granted, recalling Uncle Mo’s third-place finish at odds of 1-9 in the 2011 Grade 1 Wood Memorial at the Big A.
“They got to run the race. I lost on this track at 1-9 with Uncle Mo in the Wood Memorial, so 1-9 doesn’t mean a guaranteed win,” said Repole, who added that Nest will return for a 4-year-old campaign. “She’s so special. She’s by Curlin and she’s getting better. Those were three ‘wow’ performances we just saw out of her and she’s improving every start. It’s great for racing. She’s a special filly.”
Bred in Kentucky by Ashview Farm and Colts Neck Stables, Nest is out of the stakes-winning A.P. Indy broodmare Marion Ravenwood and was bought for $350,000 at the 2020 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. She banked $137,500 in victory, pushing her career earnings beyond $1.87 million. Nest returned $2.10 for a $2 win bet.
Live racing resumes Thursday at the Belmont at the Big A fall meet with a nine-race card. First post is 12:35 p.m. Eastern.
By Keith McCalmont
Main Photo by Susie Raisher