Already a stakes winner in France, the British-bred Esquisse looks to notch her first such stateside victory in Friday's Grade 2, $600,000 New York presented by NYRA Bets at Belmont Park, one of six stakes on the second day of the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival.
The Dansili filly will be stretching out to 1 ¼ miles in the New York, having finished third going a mile at Keeneland in her American debut and second at the same distance in an optional claimer on May 18 at Belmont.
“Her races here have been very good,” said trainer Graham Motion of Esquisse, bred and owned by Wertheiner et Frere. “Perhaps she's showing more in the morning than in the afternoons. Her mother [the Rahy mare Legerate] ran 1 ½ miles, so perhaps the difference might be the extra quarter-mile.”
Esquisse drew post 7 under Flavien Prat.
Among those lining up for the New York will be the streaking Holy Helena, who is 3-for-3 this year since trainer Jimmy Jerkens transferred her to turf.
The Ontario-bred Ghostzapper filly made her grass debut a winning one, taking an optional claimer on February 4 at Gulfstream Park, and followed that with a victory in the Grade 3 The Very One, also at Gulfstream. Most recently she scored by a half-length in the Grade 2 Sheepshead Bay on May 5 at Belmont.
“Her first race on turf was an allowance, and it was only a mile, but she was relentless until she got there,” said Jerkens. “This is going to be a lot tougher race than her last one … but she's three-for-three on the turf and each succeeding race has had a little better quality horses in it and she's been able to handle it. I hope she does it this time.”
The Stronach Stables' color-bearer, who captured the Woodbine Oaks and the Queens' Plate over the synthetic surface at Woodbine, tuned up for the New York with a half-mile breeze in 49.45 seconds on Sunday.
Manny Franco will ride Holy Helena from post 2.
Trainer Chad Brown, who won the 2016 New York with Dacita, returns with two entrants: Michael Dubb, Bethlehem Stables and Gary Aisquith's graded stakes winner Fourstar Crook, runner-up in the Jenny Wiley last time out behind her stablemate, Peter Brant's Irish-bred Sistercharlie.
The pair breezed a half-mile on the inner turf at Belmont Sunday, with the 6-year-old Fourstar Crook caught in 49.44 and the 4-year-old Sistercharlie clocked in 49.52.
“I'm pleased with the way both of them are coming into the race,” said Brown, who will give a leg up to Irad Ortiz, Jr. on Fourstar Crook (post position 8), while Hall of Famer John Velazquez will pilot Sistercharlie from post 5.
The well-traveled Daddys Lil Darling returns to Belmont for the first time since July 2017, when she placed fourth in the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks Invitational for trainer Ken McPeek and Normandy Farm. Having closed out her sophomore campaign with a game win in the Grade 1 American Oaks at Santa Anita Park, the Pioneerof the Nile filly this year finished fourth in the Grade 2 Hillsborough at Tampa Bay Downs and most recently second in the Grade 3 Bewitch on April 27 at Keeneland.
Daddys Lil Darling will leave from post 6 under Hall of Famer Mike Smith.
William Clifton, Jr.'s Empressof the Nile (post 4, Jose Ortiz) will be seeking her first stakes victory in the New York, as will BranJam Stable and David Clark's Fahan Mura, who drew the rail under Edwin Maldonado.
Rounding out the field are English import Snowy Winter, making her American debut from post position 3 under Hall of Famer Javier Castellano) and the Joe Sharp-trained Mom's On Strike (post 9, Adam Beschizza), shortening up after taking the Grade 3 Bewitch at 1 ½ miles at Keeneland.
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