This is the first in a series of six preview articles for the six graded stakes that will take place this coming Saturday at Belmont Park.
Check back tomorrow for a preview of the Vosburgh Invitational (G1), Wednesday for the Beldame Invitational (G1), Thursday for the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1), Friday for the Kelso Stakes (G2), and Saturday for the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (G1).
Ramon Dominguez has had his work in Illinois over the past two years scrutinized more than anyone this side of disgraced former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Many observers have been critical of the rides that the reigning Eclipse Award winner has given to Gio Ponti in the state’s signature race, the Arlington Million (G1). The 2011 edition, in particular, saw Dominguez take a ton of fire from many people on various social media platforms, including this website.
What went ignored, as the internet critics attacked their keyboards with a vengeance, was the picture-perfect ride that the champion gave, 30 minutes earlier, to 5-year-old mare Stacelita in the state’s second-biggest race, the Beverly D (G1). Saving ground the whole way, Dominguez guided Stacelita through an opening on the rail when it presented itself as the horses turned for home. The mare –who was bred in France, where she spent much of her career - took advantage of the great trip. She unleashed a potent stretch kick on her rivals, and went on to score by 1¼ lengths, thanks in no small part to Dominguez.
Fresh off the road conquest, Dominguez will reunite with Stacelita this Saturday on the much more familiar terrain of Belmont Park. Together, they will look to capture a second consecutive Grade I – the $500,000 Flower Bowl Invitational – one of the five Grade I events to be contested on Saturday at Belmont.
Dominguez was aboard for Stacelita’s final work prior to the Flower Bowl on Sunday morning, and was, according to trainer Chad Brown, impressed.
“Ramon is happy, so I am happy,” Brown reported, after Stacelita went an easy five furlongs in 1:02.4. “We’re on target for the Flower Bowl.”
The Flower Bowl, according to Brown, was first set as a target months ago by Stacelita’s owner, Martin Schwartz.
“When Mr. Schwartz hired me,” said Brown, who took over the training of Stacelita from French conditioner Jean-Claude Rouget back in July. “He had three specific races in mind. We won the first one (the Beverly D) so we have two more to go.”
The one that Brown’s referring to after the Flower Bowl is, of course, the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf (G1), to be run on Friday, November 4. He would be wise not to look past the Flower Bowl, however, as there are some heavy hitters lined up to take a shot against his brilliant mare.
Graham Motion-trainee Aruna heads the list of prospective challengers. The Flower Bowl would mark Aruna’s seventh start in the United States. In the previous six, she has finished either first or second. Five of those six races were stakes, and four of them were graded. Aruna is nothing if not consistent.
In her last start, Aruna – a 4-year-old daughter of Mr. Greeley – closed solidly to finish second in the Diana (G1) at Saratoga. Her solid stretch run that day offers hope to her connections that she’ll be able to successfully negotiate the added panel she’ll have to run in the Flower Bowl.
Deluxe is an intriguing Flower Bowl candidate. Bill Mott will send out the 4-year-old Storm Cat filly for the second time in the United States. Her first domestic start came in the ungraded Paris Opera Stakes on closing weekend at Saratoga. She finished second going a flat mile that day, but she came from way out of it to do so. She seems to be another who will relish the added ground.
Despite the solid credentials of the others, though, make no mistake about it. This race is Stacelita’s to win or lose.
By proxy, this means it is also Dominguez’s to win or lose.
The armchair jockeys will be watching.