Second time’s the charm for Occult (NYRA/Coglianese)
NYRA Press Office
OZONE PARK, N.Y.— As an owner and breeder who invests in fillies at auction, Jon Clay of Alpha Delta Stables has his sights set on one day winning the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs. On Saturday, Clay hopes his impressive maiden winner Occult will take him one step closer to his lofty goal when the Into Mischief dark bay makes her stakes debut in the $100,000 Busanda at Aqueduct Racetrack.
The Busanda, a nine-furlong test for sophomore fillies, is a qualifying event for the May 5 Kentucky Oaks and offers the top-five finishers points based on a 20-8-6-4-2 scale.
Trained by Chad Brown, Occult enters the Busanda off a sharp maiden score going a one-turn mile on December 18 at the Big A. After bumping with a rival at the break, she settled in fourth position before tipping out into the clear in deep backstretch. Occult matched strides with pacesetting favorite My Betsy around the far turn before drawing off to a 4 1/4-length score, registering a field-best 72 Beyer Speed Figure. The winning effort was a second-out graduation for Occult, who finished a distant fourth on debut to eventual stakes-placed Padma.
“We’re very optimistic that she can continue to move forward. We’re excited about the race tomorrow and hopefully we can hit the board,” said Clay.
Clay has bred a number of quality runners, including multiple Grade 1-winner Vekoma as well as Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner and 2022 Eclipse Award finalist Elite Power. He currently owns a band of about 20 broodmares that are boarded at both Mill Ridge Farm and Lane’s End Farm in Kentucky. The quality group of mares includes multiple Grade 1-placed Point of Honor, graded-stakes winner Jacaranda – a half-sister to prominent sire Constitution, as well as Vekoma’s three-time winning half-sister Bloody Point.
Clay said he is hopeful that Occult will one day be a shining addition to his broodmare band, citing her top-class pedigree. Bought for $625,000 at the 2021 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, she is out of the graded stakes-winning Empire Maker mare Magical Feeling.
“That’s what I look for when I buy fillies. I always look for pedigree,” Clay said. “That’s really important since I’m a commercial breeder. My program is if I buy at auction, I buy fillies. So, I look at winning the Kentucky Oaks as my equivalent of winning the Kentucky Derby. Getting to the Oaks is the most important thing for me. Hopefully, she can get some black type in here and join my broodmare band one day.”
Clay said he looks beyond the immediate family when buying fillies at auction, and dives deep into their maternal bloodlines. Occult’s third dam, Good Mood, is also the second dam of Golden Ticket, who dead-heated for first in the 2012 Grade 1 Travers. Additionally, Good Mood is the fourth dam of Grade 1-winning filly Dream Tree.
“I really like to look for fillies that have a good depth of pedigree,” Clay said. “That’s what attracted me to her. Into Mischief is a great and very well proven stallion and I don’t have a lot of Into Mischiefs, so I thought I would give it a go. I was interested in looking for a two-turn horse and hopefully she’ll be able to get the distance and move on from there. There’s 20 Oaks points up for grabs for the winner. That would go a long way in terms of getting in the starting gate in May.”
Clay came close to achieving his dream when his Brown-trained homebred Lewis Bay finished third in the 2016 Oaks, beaten three lengths by the victorious Cathryn Sophia. Lewis Bay, a five-time graded stakes-winning daughter of Bernardini, retired with $1,166,560 in earnings and is now part of Clay’s broodmare band.
“It was exciting to be there and hopefully Occult will keep moving forward and we can accrue some points,” Clay said. “But I don’t dream that far ahead, I just take it race by race and not worry about what’s a month or two months down the road. I just want her to have a good race and come out of it healthy. That’s the way I approach my racing.”
Clay garnered success last fall with homebred Raging Sea, who finished third in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies on November 4 at Keeneland. The Curlin filly will not make the Kentucky Oaks according to Clay, who said she will turn her attention to targeting prestigious races over the summer at Saratoga Race Course.
“She had to have a bone chip removed so she’ll miss the Oaks,” Clay said. “But hopefully, we’ll get her back so she can run later this season and hit all the good races at Saratoga. That was a disappointment but it’s great to have Occult step up in her place.”
Occult, who was tabbed the 7-5 morning line, will break from post 2 under Dylan Davis.