Decisions, decisions

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One year removed from making the bullish decision to stay home and take on older females for the first time with a filly coming off two strong races at Saratoga, Todd Pletcher found himself in a nearly identical situation last week as he assessed the best spot to run Stopchargingmaria.

Last year it was Princess of Sylmar, winner of the Kentucky Oaks in May and the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama Stakes during the summer at Saratoga. This year it’s Stopchargingmaria, who skipped the Kentucky Oaks but won the Black-Eyed Susan in May and added the CCA Oaks and Alabama in her most recent two starts.

Princess of Sylmar didn’t run in the Cotillion as Pletcher opted to wait a week and she upset Royal Delta in the Grade 1 Beldame Invitational during Belmont Park’s Super Saturday program. Stopchargingmaria was entered in last week’s Cotillion – she was scratched and Untapable went on to a dominating victory – and is the 5/2 morning-line favorite against six others entered in Saturday’s Beldame.

“We kicked around the idea of running her in the Cotillion, but felt the little extra time and staying home was, without really knowing how the Parx track would play, that it presented the least risk going into this race,” Pletcher said earlier this week. “The spacing was good, we got the extra week. It was six weeks if I recall and that was good.”

Whether Pletcher was speaking about Princess of Sylmar or Stopchargingmaria is probably irrelevant since the scenario is the same. For the record, he was speaking about the former and added “it worked out pretty well” at the end.

Pletcher went on to elaborate a bit more on the similar circumstances and the way he sees things, it’s more than just how and what races he picked for the two fillies.

Princess of Sylmar turned in what he called “the most powerful race she ran” in the Coaching Club American Oaks last summer, a 6-length win off an 11-week layoff.

“It would have been tough for anyone to beat her that day,” Pletcher said of the CCA Oaks for Princess of Sylmar, who was recently retired and will be sold in the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November mixed sale.

Princess of Sylmar then returned four weeks later and although she won the 10-furlong Alabama by 2 1/2 lengths, she wasn’t quite as visually dominant.

Stopchargingmaria won the CCA Oaks by 5 lengths in a fast time off a nine-week layoff. The daughter of Tale of the Cat, who races for Mike Repole’s Repole Stable, came back four weeks later and gutted out a three-quarter length victory over Joint Return in the Alabama in a pedestrian 2:05.14 for the 1 1/4 miles.

“I was talking to someone earlier today about Stopchargingmaria and [Princess of Sylmar] and the parallels a little bit,” Pletcher said. “The exception being Stopchargingmaria going in the Black-Eyed Susan, but it’s the sort of same thing. The Coaching Club was a real dominant performance and then you worry about running back in four weeks in the Alabama. Both fillies ran well, got the job done but weren’t quite as explosive as they were in the previous race.”

The assigned weight and the distance of the Cotillion were two other factors that led Pletcher to consider Stopchargingmaria for the Beldame, where she will meet Grade 1 winner Belle Gallantey and graded winners Fiftyshadesofhay and Stanwyck.

Stopchargingmaria would have carried 124 pounds in the Cotillion, the same amount as fellow Grade 1 winners Untapable and Sweet Reason but more than six of the others in the field.

“A lot of the same reasons,” Pletcher said. “We were worried about the track (being speed-favoring) at Parx, the weight spreads, carrying 124 pounds and some of those things can make a difference. With Stopchargingmaria, in addition to running well fresh, having three wins at a mile and an eighth and a win in the Alabama at a mile and a quarter, it just felt like staying home and running a mile and an eighth was more enticing.”

The Beldame is one of six graded stakes that make up Saturday’s Super Saturday card at Belmont and the first of five Grade 1s that will be run. The Grade 2 Kelso Handicap going 1 mile on the main track gets things started at 2:27 p.m. ET, followed by the Beldame at 3 p.m. After an allowance race, four Grade 1s will be run – the Flower Bowl Invitational at 4:07, Vosburgh Invitational at 4:41, Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational at 5:16 and the Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational at 5:50.

 

Equibase entries for Saturday at Belmont Park.

Read more about Stopchargingmaria’s wins in the CCA Oaks and Alabama from the pages of The Saratoga Special.

Read more about Princess of Sylmar’s victories in last year’s CCA Oaks and Alabama from the pages of The Saratoga Special.