OZONE PARK, N.Y.— Repole Stable, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Michael House’s Nest has proven her superiority amongst a highly competitive division of sophomore fillies all year long. On Sunday, the talented three-time Grade 1-winner will face a new task of taking on older fillies and mares in the 84th running of the Grade 2, $250,000 Beldame at Belmont at the Big A.
The Beldame has a history of 3-year-old fillies besting elders, including Champions Vagrancy , Next Move , Cicada , Susan’s Girl , Desert Vixen , Life’s Magic , Lady’s Secret , Personal Ensign , Go for Wand , Saratoga Dew , Heavenly Prize , Serena’s Song  and Yanks Music .
Boasting a 9-6-2-1 record and earnings of $1,735,550, Nest enters the nine-furlong test off a pair of dominant efforts at Saratoga Race Course in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks on July 23 and the Grade 1 Alabama on August 20.
The bay daughter of Curlin was an emphatic 12 1/4-length winner of the Coaching Club American Oaks, where she closely tracked an early tempo set by recent Grade 1 Cotillion winner Society before taking command down the backstretch. Met with a challenge from Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Oath around the far turn, Nest staved off her familiar foe and powered clear to an easy victory while being geared down by jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. The effort garnered a 104 Beyer Speed Figure – the highest figure recorded by a 3-year-old filly so far this year.
Despite stumbling at the start of the next-out Alabama, Nest was able to secure her desired forward position before making a sweeping move around the far turn under her own power. She drew off to a 4 1/4-length victory over Secret Oath, producing a 99 Beyer.
Nest’s pair of triumphs in Saratoga’s most prestigious races for sophomore fillies came following a game effort against males in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes, where she finished second behind stablemate and fellow Repole Stable color bearer Mo Donegal. Prior to the Belmont, she was second beaten two lengths to Secret Oath in the Kentucky Oaks, and captured the Grade 1 Ashland at Keeneland by 8 1/4 lengths.
Nest will seek to be the sixth Beldame victress for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher, who captured the prestigious race with Hall of Famer Ashado , as well as with Fleet Indian , Unbridled Belle , Life At Ten  and Princess of Sylmar . Pletcher currently shares the winningest record in the Beldame with mentor and fellow Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, with five wins apiece.
“She’s run well against the boys and all the best fillies of her generation, but first time against elders is always a challenge,” said Pletcher. “She showed a lot of talent and class in her races against 3-year-olds and we would expect her to handle the step up.”
Pletcher said he was highly impressed with how well Nest bounced out of the Belmont Stakes.
“I’ve run a lot of horses in the Belmont over the years and she’s the first that’s seemed to really thrive from it,” Pletcher. “She came out of it as well or even better than any horse we’ve run in the Belmont before. She gained weight and got bigger and stronger. She’s done great and I think that was reflected in her performances at Saratoga.”
Pletcher said he had considered training Nest up to the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff on November 5 at Keeneland.
“We weren’t a hundred percent sure if we wanted to give her another start between the Alabama and the Breeders’ Cup, but we felt that 11 weeks was a bit too much,” Pletcher said. “Hopefully, she runs well here and it sets her up well for the Distaff.”
The Beldame will be Nest’s first start at Aqueduct since her juvenile season finale, when capturing the Grade 2 Demoiselle by a neck over next-out winner and New York-bred Champion 2-Year-Old Filly Venti Valentine.
The Beldame, traditionally held around one turn at Belmont Park, will be a two-turn event this year at Aqueduct.
Pletcher said the idea of a two-turn Beldame was appealing and noted his desire to keep Nest at no shorter than a mile and an eighth, which is why Nest did not target the 1 1/16-mile Grade 1 Cotillion last month at Parx.
“That was part of the factor,” Pletcher said. “I think we might have reconsidered if it were one turn, but she did break her maiden going a one-turn mile and a sixteenth at Belmont. It was just more about getting a start into her and we wanted to stay at a mile and an eighth that’s why we didn’t consider going to Parx.”
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.
Ortiz, Jr., the pilot in all of Nest’s six career victories, retains the mount from post 1.
Among the elders looking to challenge Nest is OXO Equine’s Travel Column, who will see nine furlongs for the first time since finishing fifth in last year’s Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks. A dual graded stakes winner in her own right, Travel Column won last year’s Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks as well as the Grade 2 Golden Rod in November 2020 at Churchill Downs, when conditioned by Brad Cox.
Travel Column, by Frosted, emerged from a nearly 13-month layoff to capture a seven-furlong allowance event on June 29 at Churchill Downs in her first start for Hall of Famer Bill Mott. The triumph was her first start since a distant fifth in the Grade 1 Acorn last June at Belmont Park. She enters from a distant fourth in the Grade 1 Ballerina on August 28 at Saratoga, a seven-furlong event.
“She has [won] going a mile and a sixteenth but she still hasn’t won at a mile and an eighth,” said Mott, a three-time Beldame winner. “It might have been at a time where she was tailing off a little bit. She only ran the distance once and had one race after that.”
Hall of Famer Javier Castellano will pick up the mount from post 5.
Andrew Rosen’s First to Act will vie to keep her consistent record afloat, while seeking to provide Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey with his fifth Beldame win.
Never worse than second in five lifetime starts, the 4-year-old daughter of Curlin finished a close second last out in her stakes debut in the restricted Summer Colony on August 19 at Saratoga where she finished three-quarters of a length behind Leader of the Band.
First to Act owns two victories, including a second-out maiden victory over the Big A main track going a one-turn mile in April before defeating winners two starts later on July 10 at Belmont Park going 1 1/16 miles.
Jose Ortiz will ride First to Act from post 2.
Trainer Graham Motion will send out Medallion Racing, Charles H. Deters, Parkland Thoroughbreds and Mike Olszewski’s The Grass Is Blue, who returns to Aqueduct for the first time since a productive winter of 2021. The 4-year-old Broken Vow chestnut captured the Busanda that year for former trainer Chad Brown and followed with distant efforts behind then stablemate Search Results in the Busher Invitational [third] and Grade 3 Gazelle [fourth].
The Grass Is Blue made her first start for Motion a winning one, traveling five furlongs and defeating optional claiming company in May over a sloppy and sealed Pimlico main track. Second in the Caesars Wish on July 2 at Laurel Park, The Grass Is Blue enters off a sixth-place finish in the Seeking The Pearl on August 16 at Colonial Downs.
“She’s very difficult in the morning as far as just being tough to train,” Motion said. “That leads you to believe that she’s more of a sprinter, but one of her best efforts was around two turns. I think it’s a great opportunity in a graded race over a track she’s won on before.”
Jevian Toledo will ride The Grass Is Blue from post 4.
Completing the field is The Elkstone Group’s Hybrid Eclipse, who captured the Caesars Wish for trainer Brittany Russell. The 4-year-old Paynter filly will make her first start at the Big A since finishing third at allowance optional claiming level on December 19 behind next-out winners Maiden Beauty and Battle Bling.
Manny Franco will ride from post 3.
Inaugurated in 1939, the Beldame honors August Belmont II’s 1904 Horse of the Year and Champion 3-Year-Old Filly. Trained by Hall of Famer Fred Burlew, Beldame’s accolades included triumphs in the Alabama, Gazelle, and Ladies against fellow females, as well as the Carter and Saratoga Cup against the boys. She was one of only three fillies to earn more than $100,000 at the time of her retirement and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1956.
The Beldame is carded as Race 3 on Sunday’s nine-race program, which also includes the Grade 3, $150,000 Futurity – a “Win And You’re In” qualifier for the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint – and the Grade 3 $150,000 Knickerbocker. First post is 12:35 p.m. Eastern.
America’s Day at the Races will present live coverage and analysis of every day of Belmont at the Big A on the networks of FOX Sports. For the broadcast schedule and channel finder, visit https://www.nyra.com/aqueduct/racing/tv-schedule.
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By Ryan Martin – NYRA Press Office
Main photo: Nest after her runner-up effort in the Belmont Stakes (Susie Raisher)
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