Belmont at Big A: Eternal Hope rallies, wins Jockey Club Oaks

Belmont at Big A: Eternal Hope rallies, wins Jockey Club Oaks
Photo: Sue Kawczynski / Eclipse Sportswire

Godolphin’s Ireland homebred Eternal Hope, patiently handled by Jamie Spencer, arrived in the final jumps to capture Saturday’s Grade 3, $350,000 Jockey Club Oaks Invitational, a 1 3/8-mile, inner-turf test for sophomore fillies at the Belmont at Aqueduct meet.

Trained by Charlie Appleby, the Teofilo chestnut rallied wide from last of seven as the even-money favorite to post a neck score over 14-1 long shot Neecie Marie, who had dived to the rail with an impressive inside rush under Abner Adorno.

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“She struggled a lot from the three-eighths to the straight. Once it straightened up, she was able to get balanced, then she surged up,” Spencer said. “It’s a difficult track, and there’s not a track in Europe as tight as this. It’s really fast ground, so it’s a speed test. I think you can up her performance based on what happened today.”

Eternal Hope was off slow and settled at the back of the pack as the Junior Alvarado-piloted Stephanie’s Charm, the longest shot on the board at 52-1, opened an ambitious, 12-length lead through splits of 24.12 and 47.52 seconds over the firm footing with Quarrel tracking from second position.

Quarrel took over from a tiring Stephanie’s Charm late in the final turn. Highland Grace launched her bid from third, and Neecie Marie and Eternal Hope got into gear from the rear of the field.

Spencer guided Eternal Hope to the outside through the turn and had clear sailing traveling six wide for the stretch drive. Abner Adorno took a ground-saving path with Neecie Marie, surging to the inside of the fading Quarrel.

The two foes dueled from the sixteenth pole to the wire, but there was no denying Eternal Hope, who gained ground with every stride and secured the narrow win with a final time of 2:16.47. It was one length back to the closing Speirling Beag in third with Highland Grace, Quarrel, Stephanie’s Charm and Last Call rounding out the order of finish.

Spencer said he changed plans from a close, stalking trip after breaking a step slow.

“She was good in the gate, but when the attendant came in with the number 7 (Speirling Beag) and stood beside her, she was looking at him rather than when the gates opened and missed a beat,” Spencer said. “The pace was fine, and I was always kind of only two or three lengths off the ones I wanted to be close to anyways, so it worked out good.”

Adorno said Neecie Marie fought gamely to the finish.

“She went inside, and there wasn’t anything else I could have done. She just kept on going, and she got beat by a very nice horse,” Adorno said. “I got my spot on the rail, and I knew she was running, but I knew someone else was coming with her. It is what it is.”

In England,Eternal Hope captured the 1 1/2-mile Oaks Trial over the Lingfield synthetic in May ahead of a distant seventh in the Epsom Oaks (G1) in June. She arrived from a strong, third-place finish in the 1 1/4-mile Prix Alec Head (G2) over soft going on Aug. 20 at Deauville, finishing 1 1/2 lengths in back of the victorious Group 1 winner Jannah Rose. The runner-up of that event Lumiere Rock came back to win the Blandford (G2) on Sunday at the Curragh.

Eternal Hope’s victory was bookended within minutes by a pair of Grade 1 efforts from Appleby-trained Godolphin homebreds at Woodbine, where Dazzling Star was a troubled third in the Natalma followed by a dominant score from Master Of The Seas in the Woodbine Mile.

“Very happy to get the win on the board,” said Chris Connett, traveling assistant for Appleby. “Jamie came back and said the ground is a bit on the quick side for her, so it was nice that she was able to put forth a performance on ground that’s probably not ideal for her.

“Ideally, we’d be in the box seat right off the pace and start making a run a little earlier. But she was a bit tardy and Jamie lost a bit of ground going wide, but he needed to get her rolling, because it’s quite sharp around here. When she straightened up and leveled out, she ran to the line so that was good.”

Michael Milam’s Pennsylvania-bred Neecie Marie, trained by Butch Reid, entered from a rallying 2 1/4-length score in the Pennsylvania-bred Mrs. Penny on Aug. 21 at Parx. She is out of the Ontario-bred Posse mare Lode Lady, who is a half-sister to 2022 Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike and Grade 2-winning turfer Llanarmon.

“She proved that she belonged at this level. It’s big,” Reid said. “It was a little shorter field, and she was able to save ground on all three turns. Abner did a fantastic job. It was just a question of a mile-and-three-eighths, but I don’t think there’s any limit to how far she can go. She really gave us a thrill there for a little while.”

The Jockey Club Oaks was the final leg of the Fillies Turf Triple series, which began with Aspen Grove’s victory in the 1 1/4-mile Belmont Oaks Invitational (G1) on July 8 at Belmont Park and saw Elusive Princess capture the middle leg in the 1 3/16-mile Saratoga Oaks Invitational (G1) on Aug. 4 at Saratoga.

Eternal Hope, who returned $4.00 for a $2 win bet, is out of the Dubawi mare Voice of Truth, who is a half-sister to multiple group winner and sire Rio de La Plata. She banked $192,500 in the victory while improving her record to 6: 3-0-2.

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