Belmont at the Big A Picks | Victory Ride Stakes 2024 (2024)

Rigney Racing’s Halina’s Forte, winner of the seven-furlong Ruthless here in February, makes her return to the Big Apple in Thursday’s Grade 3, $175,000 Victory Ride, a 6 1/2-furlong sprint for sophom*ore fillies on Independence Day at the Belmont at the Big A meet.

The Victory Ride is slated as Race 8 on Thursday’s nine-race program which also features the Listed $150,000 Perfect Sting in Race 3. First post is 1:05 p.m. Eastern.

Belmont at the Big A Picks | Victory Ride Stakes 2024 (1)

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Trained by Philip Bauer, the Mitole bay picked up her first stakes win in the Ruthless, rallying five-wide from fourth position to overtake next-out stakes winner Ghalia Princess and secure the 1 3/4-length win.

Halina’s Forte [post 4, Jose Ortiz, 122 pounds] stretched out to two turns for the first time in the Grade 1 Ashland in April at Keeneland where she set the tempo before fading to last-of-8. She followed with a pace-pressing fourth in the seven-furlong Grade 2 Eight Belles over sloppy and sealed footing on Kentucky Oaks Day at Churchill Downs but returned to form last out on May 31 at the Louisville oval with a prominent two-length score in a six-furlong optional claimer under returning rider Jose Ortiz.

Bauer said Halina’s Forte deserved a try around two turns in the Ashland.

“In the early spring, you dream of maybe having an Oaks horse,” Bauer said. “We took a swing at it based on her good race up there going seven-eighths, but we’ll just keep her one turn. Maturity and racing always helps and we’ll see how far she can stretch it but six to seven [furlongs] for now is what we’ll do.”

Although the Eight Belles effort in the slop saw Halina’s Forte finish 7 1/4-lengths back of the victorious My Mane Squeeze, Bauer said he was pleased with how the filly performed and with how she responded last out.

“I’m not sure if she disliked it [wet track] so much, or if she was too close [to the pace]. I was pretty proud of her effort, and it was a pretty good race overall,” Bauer said. “I don’t think she got a whole lot out of the Ashland so maybe she came up a hair short to finish top three there, but she was able to rebound with that allowance win and now we’re back to trying graded stakes.

“We knew we could take on a stakes somewhere last time, but we felt she could be a superior horse in that heat and we could build from there,” he added.

Ortiz was aboard Halina’s Forte for a half-mile breeze in 49.40 seconds this morning at Churchill in company with recent maiden-winning sophom*ore filly Princess Madison.

“It was a half-mile to keep them happy. We were really pleased with it,” Bauer said. “She’s had a couple nice drills since she won the ‘2X’ here at Churchill at the end of May. We’ll send her up there with a bit of confidence – obviously, it’s a tall task at hand, but she’s doing well going into it.”

Bauer said he’s happy to have long-time New York-based rider Ortiz in the irons for the Belmont at the Big A feature on July 4.

Ortiz, the Eclipse Award winner for Outstanding Jockey in 2017, has won eight meet titles at Aqueduct Racetrack – including last year’s Belmont at the Big A spring/summer meet – and was the leading rider on the NYRA circuit in 2016 and 2020-21. He recently moved his tack to Kentucky where he is currently the second-leading rider at Churchill.

“Jose has made a good splash here in Kentucky and we’ve had some luck with him. He’s been able to hop aboard her last two breezes as well and knows her well,” Bauer said.

Halina’s Forte, a $250,000 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Select Yearling Sale purchase, is out of the stakes-winning Yes It’s True mare Lunarlady, who is a half-sister to both multiple graded stakes-winner Lunarpal and graded stakes-winner Astrology. She has banked $228,370 through a 7-3-2-0 record.

Stonestreet Stables’ Emery [post 3, Tyler Gaffalione, 122 pounds] has won 3-of-4 starts, including a 3 1/2-length score last out in the seven-furlong Leslie’s Lady on June 9 at Churchill Downs.

Trained by two-time Eclipse Award-winner Brad Cox, the More Than Ready dark bay is a perfect 2-for-2 this year after winning her seasonal debut by 5 1/4-lengths in April at Keeneland.

Emery broke outward from the outermost post 5 under Tyler Gaffalione and tracked from the back of the pack in the Leslie’s Lady as Moonlit Lady set splits of 22.74 seconds and 45.57 over the fast main track. Emery inched closer into the turn as she picked up momentum and took command in upper stretch en route to a comfortable score in a final time of 1:22.46. The winning effort garnered a career and field-best 86 Beyer Speed Figure.

The $235,000 weanling purchase form the 2021 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale graduated on debut over muddy and sealed footing in August at Saratoga Race Course, besting eventual Grade 3 Florida Oaks-winner Waskesiu by 5 3/4-lengths. Emery completed her juvenile campaign with a fourth-place finish in the Grade 1 Frizette contested on a sloppy and sealed main track in October at Belmont at the Big A.

Bred in Kentucky by Mary K. Grum, Emery is out of the multiple stakes-winning Street Sense mare Athena. Her second dam, Race Rocks, is a half-sister to 2004 Grade 1 Carter Handicap-winner Peeping Tom.

P and G Stable’s Autumn Evening [post 5, Manny Franco, 120 pounds] will look to complete a hat trick of wins while making her stakes debut.

The Malibu Moon bay was fifth on debut for trainer Daniel Damen in December at Tampa Bay Downs, but is now a perfect 2-for-2 at the Big A since being transferred to conditioner Rick Dutrow, Jr.

Autumn Evening posted a prominent 1 1/2-length score over next-out winner Roman Grace sprinting six furlongs in March and followed last out on May 4 with a dominant 5 1/4-length optional-claiming score when stretched out to a one-turn mile at Belmont at the Big A.

Dutrow, Jr. said Autumn Evening is ready to take the next step into stakes company.

“She’s a big filly, has plenty of size to her and a very good temperament,” Dutrow, Jr. said. “She’s showing like she’s been looking for more [a step up], so now she gets more and we’ll see how she takes it. If she passes this test, we’ll keep moving forward. She’s a nice filly.”

Autumn Evening posted a bullet half-mile breeze in 47.68 seconds over the Belmont Park dirt training track Tuesday with returning rider Manny Franco up.

“Franco has breezed her the last couple times. We’re very happy with her,” Dutrow, Jr. said. “She’s been training good. She’s a beautiful filly. She’s run big her last two starts and this is over the same course she’s won over. This is good for her. She’s doing really good and I’m excited to watch her run.”

The $135,000 OBS Spring Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training purchase is out of the winning Lookin At Lucky mare Lucky Long.

C2 Racing Stable and Stefania Farms’ Mystic Lake [post 1, Flavien Prat, 124 pounds] made the grade last out with a front-running 4 1/2-length win in the six-furlong Grade 3 Miss Preakness on May 17 at Pimlico Race Course.

Trained by Saffie Joseph, Jr., the Florida-bred Mo Town dark bay utilized pacesetting tactics to capture a pair of seven-furlong stakes this year at Tampa Bay Downs in the Gasparilla in January and the state-bred Sophom*ore Fillies in March.

The $130,000 OBS March Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training purchase is out of the Itsmyluckyday mare Salty Soul.

Rounding out a compact but talented field is Golden Degree [post 2, Jose Lezcano, 118 pounds], who arrives in career form for trainer Linda Rice, who co-owns with Bruce Golden Racing.

The Goldencents bay was claimed for $30,000 out of a fourth-place finish in April at Keeneland and graduated impressively at first asking here at Belmont at the Big A for current connections with a 32-length romp in an off-the-turf one-turn mile over muddy and sealed footing on May 16 when entered for a $40,000 tag.

Golden Degree followed last out with another front-running tour-de-force, taking a 6 1/2-furlong starter allowance against elders by 7 1/2-lengths on June 22 here at Belmont at the Big A. The winning effort garnered a career-best 83 Beyer.

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Belmont at the Big A Picks | Victory Ride Stakes 2024 (2024)


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