Discreet Marq and Emollient, a pair of New York-based horses exiting Grade 1 wins in California, will face each other for the first time on Saturday in Belmont Park's Grade 1, $500,000 Garden City for 3-year-old fillies.
The Garden City, a 1 1/8-mile race on the inner turf course, attracted 11 entries, including a pair from trainer Chad Brown's barn.
Emollient, an Empire Maker filly who began her career racing on the dirt, has found her niche competing over the grass and artificial surfaces.
After finishing a well-beaten fifth in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks in March, Emollient returned seven days later to post a nine-length victory in Keenland's Grade 1 Ashland, her first start over a synthetic track. The Juddmonte Farms homebred was a non-threatening sixth in the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan in May at Pimlico, then rebounded to capture her turf debut, the Grade 1 American Oaks, by a half-length on July 13 at Betfair Hollywood Park.
"She'd run so well on the synthetic at Keeneland," said Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott of the decision to try turf in the American Oaks. "We'd worked her on the turf and that went extremely well. So we decided to try her away from dirt, since obviously that wasn't working out.
"Empire Makers seem to run very well on the synthetic, but they can be dirt or turf as well," he added. "They can do anything, you just have to test them out. You see a lot of them win at Keeneland when you put them on synthetic, which she did. She's been good enough to win on all three, but at this point in time I'd say she's best on turf, or synthetic."
Mike Smith, aboard Emollient in the Ashland and the American Oaks, will ride her once again. Emollient drew the rail as the 3-1 morning-line favorite.
Patricia Generazio's Discreet Marq, winner of an overnight stakes at Aqueduct Racetrack as a 2-year-old, has hit her best stride at the age of 3, winning all three of her starts since being transferred to trainer Christophe Clement during the spring.
In her first start for Clement, Discreet Marq led from the start to win the Grade 2 Sands Point by three-quarters of a length in May at Belmont. The daughter of Discreet Cat employed similar front-running tactics to win Belmont's Eventail overnight stakes for New York-breds by 6 ¼ lengths, then came from just off the pace to take the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks on August 17.
Clement, who also shipped Rutherienne west to win the 2007 Del Mar Oaks, said he plotted a course for Discreet Marq that would maximize the chances for the filly to make multiple Grade 1 starts over firm ground.
"It seems to me that year after year, you're always guaranteed to have firm ground in the Del Mar Oaks, but not always at Belmont or Keeneland," said Clement. "Let's go for the [Del Mar Oaks] - at least we'll get firm ground. She ran very well, and obviously she did stay a mile and an eighth over firmer ground, and now we'll go for No. 2."
Garrett Gomez has picked up the mount aboard Discreet Marq, who was installed as the 7-2 morning-line second choice. They'll depart from post 2.
Alterite, one of two European-bred horses entered in the Garden City by Chad Brown, will make her stateside bow on Saturday. Previously trained in France by Jean-Claude Rouget, Alterite won a pair of listed stakes and missed by just a nose when second in the Group 1 Prix Saint-Alary and by a neck when third in the Group 1 Prix Marcel Boussac-Criterium des Pouliches.
In her most recent start, the Martin Schwartz color-bearer was sixth in the Grade 1 Prix de Diane (French Oaks) on June 16. She'll be running with Lasix for the first time in the Garden City.
Hall of Famer John Velazquez will ride Alterite, 4-1, from post 4.
Watsdachances, also trained by Brown, seeks her first win since taking the Grade 3 Miss Grillo last October at Belmont. Since then, she hasn't finished worse than fourth while racing exclusively in graded stakes.
Second in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf in her 2-year-old finale, Watsdachances began her 2013 campaign with a fourth in the Grade 3 Appalachian in April at Keeneland, and then was third in the Grade 2 Sands Point behind Discreet Marq and second in the Grade 2 Lake George in July at Saratoga Race Course. Most recently, she was carried out in the stretch by Nellie Cashman in the Grade 2 Woodford Reserve Lake Placid and was third, beaten a neck, at the finish. Nellie Cashman was disqualified for interference and Watsdachances was awarded second place.
Watsdachances, 6-1, will depart from post 10 with Javier Castellano in the irons.
The Garden City attracted three fillies - Summer of Fun, Effie Trinket, and Praia - out of the restricted Auntie Mame on August 10 at Saratoga.
In the Auntie Mame, Summer of Fun rallied from fifth and overtook Effie Trinket to defeat that rival by 1 ½ lengths. Praia raced evenly and finished fifth, beaten 2 ¾ lengths.
The field also includes With Sugar On Top, winner of a Saratoga optional claimer on August 22; Concise, fourth in the Woodford Reserve Lake Placid; Precarious, sixth in an optional claimer on August 19 at the Spa; and Caroline Thomas, who was promoted to victory via the disqualification of Nellie Cashman in the Woodford Reserve Lake Placid.
The field for the Grade 1, $500,000 Garden City:
M E. Smith
W I. Mott
Discreet Marq (NY)
G K. Gomez
With Sugar On Top (KY)
I Ortiz, Jr.
K P. McLaughlin
J R. Velazquez
C C. Brown
E S. Prado
H Graham Motion
Summer of Fun (KY)
J Rocco, Jr.
Effie Trinket (NY)
R A. Violette, Jr.
C H. Velasquez
H James Bond
K G. McPeek
C C. Brown
Caroline Thomas (KY)