Beholder: a champion for the past two seasonsPICTURE: Wendy Wooley/EquiSport Photos
Ogden Phipps tops
Preview: USA, Saturday 8.14pm BST (live on ATR and RUK)
Belmont Park: Ogden Phipps Stakes (Grade 1) 1m½f, dirt, 4yo+ f/m
THE highlight of a stunning Belmont Stakes undercard on Saturday comes with a thrilling rematch between star fillies Beholder, Princess Of Sylmar and Close Hatches in the Ogden Phipps.
The race is one of six Grade 1 events on a drastically revamped card shown live in Britain on both ATR and RUK and featuring no fewer than four contests worth at least $1 million among a total of eight Graded stakes altogether. With a total of $7.7m (£4.63m) in prize-money, this is the most valuable day's racing ever held in North America outside the Breeders' Cup.
On any other card, the Ogden Phipps would be the centrepiece but here it is just a mouthwatering hors d'oeuvre before California Chrome bids to complete the Triple Crown in the main event.
Beholder (Richard Mandella/Gary Stevens) has been a champion in both her seasons on the track, winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies in 2012 before a sparkling success in last year's Distaff.
She won three other Grade 1s last term, and returned with an easy win in minor company at Santa Anita.
"It's not an easy race," said Richard Mandella, speaking to the Blood-Horse. "I know how good both of these fillies are, and I'm sure there are some other good ones in that bunch as well, but I couldn't love my filly any more. She's done more than we've ever imagined, so we're just excited to be here."
Beholder was beaten a half-length into second in last year's Kentucky Oaks, where Princess Of Sylmar (Todd Pletcher/Javier Castellano) won the first of a Grade 1 four-timer. Back on her own turf in New York, she is out for revenge after her connections' sporting decision to ship across country to face Beholder on that rival's home strip in California came to nought with a dull effort.
Breeders' Cup runner-up Close Hatches (Bill Mott/Joel Rosario) was the third name on the ballot paper for last year's Eclipse Award for champion filly after a pair of Grade 1 wins, including the Mother Goose at this venue.
Four lengths adrift of Beholder in the Distaff, she has already hit the mark in Grade 1 company this term in the Apple Blossom.
In this company, Godolphin's Antipathy (Kiaran McLaughlin/Irad Ortiz) and the other two are longshots.
Ladbrokes: 11-8 Beholder, 2 Princess Of Sylmar, 5-2 Close Hatches, 33 Antipathy, Belle Gallantey, Classic Point
Also on Saturday
Belmont Park: Acorn Stakes (Grade 1) 1m, dirt, 3yo fillies (7.34pm BST, live on ATR and RUK)
With dominant Kentucky Oaks winner Untapable sitting out this prestigious race for three-year-old fillies, the spotlight falls on several of those behind her at Churchill Downs including My Miss Sophia (Todd Pletcher/Javier Castellano) and Unbridled Forever (Dallas Stewart/Joel Rosario), who finished second and third.
Habitual front-runner Fashion Plate (Simon Callaghan/Gary Stevens) is a dual Grade 1 winner but she lost all chance when missing the break in the Oaks,
Fiftyshadesofgold (Bret Calhoun/Mike Smith) has won three stakes, including a good Grade 3 at Churchill Downs on Oaks day. In a deep field, both Sweet Reason (Leah Gyarmati/Irad Ortiz) and Artemis Agrotera (Mike Hushion/Jose Ortiz) won at Grade 1 level as two-year-olds.
Belmont Park: Just A Game Stakes (Grade 1) 1m, turf, 4yo+ f/m (9pm BST, live on ATR and RUK)
Godolphin have high hopes here via dual Grade 1 winner Better Lucky (Tom Albertrani/Joel Rosario) - but she'll need to get the better of last year's winner Stephanie's Kitten (Chad Brown/John Velazquez), who beat her a half-length here 12 months ago on yielding ground.
Last year's Del Mar Oaks winner Discreet Marq (Christophe Clement/Irad Ortiz) surely deserves another big one: she has been first or second in each of her last eight starts, including more than one near-miss in top company.
Unlimited Budget (Todd Pletcher/Rosie Napravnik), so good on the main track in the first half of 2013, is an interesting contender on her turf debut.
Belmont Park: Met Mile (Grade 1 hcap) 1m, dirt, 3yo+ (9.48pm BST, live on ATR and RUK)
Last year's Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice (Todd Pletcher/John Velazquez) returns to the scene of his greatest triumph in this $1.25m contest, which has been moved from Memorial Day weekend to join the Grade 1 jamboree.
Palace Malice has won all three starts so far this year in lesser grade, most recently with a 9 3/4-length romp over course and distance in the Grade 3 Westchester on May 11.
He has a few factors to overcome in this one-turn mile, though, as he is drawn on the rail and must concede 3lb and more to a strong field where rivals are headed by Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile victor Goldencents (Doug O'Neill/Mike Smith).
Belmont Park: Manhattan Stakes (Grade 1) 1m2f, turf, 3yo+ (10.45pm BST, live on ATR and RUK)
Yet another $1m contest. Grandeur (Jeremy Noseda/Gary Stevens) bids to turn the tables on Imagining (Shug McGaughey/John Velazquez) and Arlington Million winner Real Solution (Chad Brown/Javier Castellano), who got the better of him in a close finish last month over a furlong more in the Man o'War Stakes.
Former John Gosden-trained Seek Again (Bill Mott/Joel Rosario) will be well fancied in the Juddmonte colours after giving Wise Dan a fright last time at Churchill Downs. He won the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby in December on his final start for Gosden.
Belmont Park: Brooklyn Invitational (Grade 2) 1m4f, dirt, 4yo+ (5.40pm BST, live on ATR)
A prize-money boost of 150 per cent means this race - run at the unusual dirt trip of 1m4f - is now worth $500,000. Last year's Kentucky Derby runner-up Golden Soul (Dallas Stewart/Shaun Bridgmohan) is a notable name but he comes here woefully out of form. Ever Rider(Maria Munoz/Victor Espinoza) has won twice at this distance.
Belmont Park: Woody Stephens Stakes (Grade 2) 7f, dirt, 3yo (6.54pm BST, live on ATR)
The decision to run Preakness third Social Inclusion (Manny Azpurua/Irad Ortiz) here instead of taking on California Chrome again in the Belmont looks sensible as he wouldn't stay 1m4f in a taxi.
He is by no means the only big name on show in this $500,000 contest, however, which also features Coolmore's Breeders' Cup runner-up Havana (Todd Pletcher/John Velazquez) and the speedy Bayern (Bob Baffert/Gary Stevens).