Japanese-bred contenders Jodie and Master Fencer will add to the international flair of the inaugural $5.25 million Turf Triple Series, featuring the Turf Trinity and Turf Tiara for sophomores over three legs at Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course, set to begin Saturday as part of the Stars & Stripes Festival to be broadcast live nationwide on NBC.
Tadakazu Obama's Jodie, a daughter of Daiwa Major bred by Northern Farm, arrived at Belmont on Saturday morning. The talented bay breezed five furlongs on Belmont's dirt training track in 1:03.80 on Tuesday morning under Miyabi Muto, who will guide the filly in Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Belmont Oaks Invitational at 10 furlongs (2,000 meters) on the inner turf.
Trainer Hirofumi Toda said he was pleased with the filly's first serious training session in New York.
“I'm very satisfied with the time. We didn't want to over train her but also not too easy. The time tells us she did enough and it was a nice work,” said Toda, via racing manager and translator Hiroshi Ando.
Muto was just as pleased as Toda as he piloted Jodie through her training on a warm morning.
“She has really adapted well to being here and the warm weather. I felt comfortable on the horse and mentally she was very relaxed. I'm really pleased with how she traveled this morning,” said Muto, who is in New York for the first time. “She's a beautiful mover and I'm very pleased with her breeze.”
Following the breeze, Muto guided Jodie to the Belmont turf for a light jog.
“I thought the turns would be tighter, but it's actually very much like Tokyo Racecourse. The turf felt very similar to me, as well as the beautiful grandstand which is very big,” said Muto.
Toda said the similarities between Tokyo Racecourse and Belmont Park, in particular racing left-handed, will be important for Jodie, who had two wins and two third-place finishes in Tokyo ahead of her off-the-board effort in the 1 1/2 miles (2,400 meters) Japanese Oaks last out.
“She ran 2,000 meters at Tokyo Racecourse in a Group 2 and finished third, so I don't have any issue with the distance,” said Toda. “She is very good at racing left-handed, as it is here at Belmont, and that is more important than the distance.”
Toda expects Jodie to be prominently placed in the Belmont Oaks, but said she is maturing with every start and that the turn back in distance on Saturday will benefit.
“She's by Daiwa Major, who is a strong, hyper horse and with his babies, everybody likes to go close to the pace with them,” said Toda. “She's calmer than that now because she's growing and maturing. In the morning, in her stall, she is very friendly and loves people, but once she goes to train or race she switches on and is ready to work.
“As she has gotten more experience through racing, she has become calmer for racing and training,” added Toda. “She is maturing but she is still a young horse. In the Japanese Oaks, there was pressure on her and she was very excited but also the distance was too far. Now she's quite calm.”
A probable field of nine for the Belmont Oaks includes Rusty Arnold's multiple graded-stakes winner Concrete Rose; Aidan O'Brien shippers Coral Beach and Just Wonderful; Pascal Bary's French-bred Olendon; recent maiden winner Dyna Passer; and the Chad Brown-trained trio of Cafe Americano, Cambier Parc and the pacey Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner Newspaperofrecord.
Toda said he is not committed to setting the pace in the first leg of the Turf Tiara.
“If they want to go in front of us, that's okay. We're comfortable with her racing left handed and she will be able to sit close to the pace. If somebody wants to go, we don't need to go. The key, for her, is the left turn,” said Toda.
The Turf Trinity begins with the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Derby Invitational at 10 furlongs as the featured event on a loaded Stars & Stripes Racing Festival card that also includes the Grade 2, $700,000 Suburban Handicap, the Grade 3, $250,000 Dwyer, and the Grade 2, $300,000 John A. Nerud, a Breeders' Cup Challenge Series race offering a berth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.
Katsumi Yoshizawa's homebred Master Fencer, trained by Koichi Tsunoda, competed in the two-thirds of the Triple Crown with a rail-riding sixth in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby and a wide-rallying fifth in the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets, just a head shy of Tax for fourth.
The Japanese-bred son of Just a Way remained in New York following the Belmont Stakes effort. Previously piloted by Julien Leparoux in North America, Master Fencer was reunited with jockey Suguru Hamanaka on Tuesday morning and has the call in the Belmont Derby.
Hamanaka said he enjoyed the experience this morning training Master Fencer on the inner turf.
“We just had a very light training session today. It was more training for me, as a jockey, as it is my first time here,” said Hamanaka via translator Kate Hunter.
Hamanaka has ridden Master Fencer twice in races and won both outings, including a maiden win at Hanshin and an allowance score at Kyoto. Both those victories were on dirt surfaces.
However, Master Fencer made his first two starts on turf finishing second and fourth in maiden races at the 10 furlong distance of the Belmont Derby.
Hamanaka, who last rode Master Fencer competitively in January, said he has noticed a physical change in the chestnut.
“He's gotten bigger and stronger,” said Hamanaka. “He's always been a horse that breaks slow and is very far behind everyone else. In the two times I rode him I used that knowledge and started asking him earlier in the race to get him revved up.”
Master Fencer is slated to breeze on the dirt Wednesday morning as he continues preparations to square off against a full field of 14 Belmont Derby contenders expected to include O'Brien's raiders Blenheim Palace and Cape of Good Hope; the Brown-trained quartet of Demarchelier, Digital Age, Rockemperor, and Standard Deviation; the Todd Pletcher-conditioned Social Paranoia and Spinoff; as well as English Bee, Henley's Joy, Moon Colony, Plus Que Parfait and Seismic Wave.
For more information on the Stars & Stripes Racing Festival, visit NYRA.com.
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