OZONE PARK, N.Y.— Godolphin’s multiple graded-stakes winning Kentucky homebred Pixelate will make his third start of the campaign in Sunday’s Grade 3, $150,000 Knickerbocker, a nine-furlong inner turf test for 3-year-olds and upward, at the Belmont at the Big A fall meet.
Trained by Michael Stidham, the 5-year-old City Zip dark bay has endured troubled trips in a pair of title defenses this year, closing to finish third in the Prince George’s County in July at Laurel Park ahead of a sixth-place finish last out in the Grade 3 Mint Million on September 10 at Kentucky Downs.
In the Prince George’s County, he saved ground behind rivals but was blocked from the top of the lane to the three-sixteenths pole, angling out late to finish third while trying to split nose winner English Tavern and Eons, who was a neck better than Pixelate. Eons, who is also entered in the Knickerbocker, was elevated to victory after an inquiry determined English Tavern drifted out in the stretch run.
Last out, Pixelate was shuffled back to sixth position under Joel Rosario in the Mint Million as Somelikeithotbrown led the charge in a gate-to-wire score. Pixelate attempted to split rivals at the top of the lane for an outside run, but eventually dove to the rail for racing room and wrapped up while defeated just 3 3/4-lengths.
“He had another rough trip the whole way there,” Stidham said of the Mint Million effort. “Everywhere Joel went with him seemed to be the wrong spot and he never really had any clear sailing. Another rough trip is what I would call it.”
A wide-open field of 10 includes a trio of Chad Brown trainees, led by 7-2 morning line favorite Public Sector, a multiple graded stakes-winner in search of his first win this year.
Stidham said Pixelate, listed at 8-1 from post 6 under Jose Ortiz, will likely be more prominent in what, on paper, appears to be a paceless race.
“I’m sure he will be [closer] unless the pace is real fast for some reason,” Stidham said. “Usually, when the pace slows down he’s in more of a stalking spot. Especially going a mile and an eighth, he should be laying a little closer. He’s doing well. He came out of his last race in good shape and is doing good coming into this race.”
A six-time winner from 25 starts, Pixelate captured the 2019 Central Park over yielding going in his lone start over the Big A turf. He has since taken the 2020 Grade 2 Del Mar Derby along with the 2020 Woodchopper at Fair Grounds.
Stidham said Pixelate was given some time off after a nine-race campaign last year that concluded on Boxing Day with a runner-up effort in the Buddy Diliberto Memorial at Fair Grounds.
“He’d never had a break since his 2-year-old year, so when things quieted down on the turf front we decided to give him a freshening,” Stidham said. “He was sound. There was nothing wrong with him. By the time we got him back, he’d been off about six months.”
Stidham will also face a formidable, Brown-trained trio in Saturday’s Grade 1 First Lady at Keeneland when he sends out Susan and John Moore’s Kentucky homebred Princess Grace to face Technical Analysis, In Italian and Regal Glory.
Princess Grace, a 5-year-old Karakontie mare, boasts a record of 13-7-3-2 for purse earnings in excess of $1.3 million and boasts a perfect in-the-money record through six starts at the one-mile First Lady distance.
Stidham said it would be very special to see the multiple graded-stakes winner break through at Grade 1 level.
“It would mean everything. That’s the only thing she hasn’t done,” Stidham said. “She’s a Grade 2-winner on dirt and turf and Grade 1-placed. She’s over a million in earnings, so a Grade 1 would be the cherry on top of the cake.”
Princess Grace made the grade in an off-the-turf edition of the 2020 Grade 2 Mrs. Revere at Churchill Downs and has since added graded scores in the Grade 3 Dr. James Penny Memorial [2021-22] at Parx, the Grade 2 Yellow Ribbon Handicap  at Del Mar, and the Grade 3 Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf .
Stidham said only one thing stands between Princess Grace and a first Grade 1 score.
“We need to beat Chad,” said Stidham, with a laugh. “With his three in there and all being very solid contenders, it’s a tough task. But we’re going to give it a try.”
Princess Grace, who is listed at 6-1 on the morning line, will exit post 2 under Florent Geroux.
NYRA Press Office
Main photo: Pixelate wins the 2021 edition of the Mint Million (Coady Photography)
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