ELMONT, N.Y. – A change of surface may have altered the significance – and for the time the being graded status – of Sunday’s Pilgrim and Miss Grillo stakes, but it didn’t alter the satisfaction of trainer Todd Pletcher when he swept both races at Belmont Park.
In the $154,500 Pilgrim for 2-year-old males, Eskendereya rallied inside of Western Player at the eighth pole and drew off to a convincing 7 1/4-length victory, his first in two career starts. Western Player, who alternated on the lead with Bricklayer held second, 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Chairman Now. Bricklayer and Deans Kitten completed the order of finish.
The Pilgrim victory came about an 90 minutes after the Pletcher-trained Dad’s Crazy rallied outside of Tapitsfly and Mary’s Follies in the stretch and bounded home a 3 1/4-length winner in the $156,000 Miss Grillo Stakes for juvenile fillies. Tapitsfly, the 1-2 favorite, held second by a neck over Mary’s Follies in a field that scratched down to three.
Speaking of three, Pletcher won three races for 2-year-olds on the card as Ailalea, a daughter of Pulpit, won a one-mile maiden race by four lengths. Pletcher has a meet-leading 10 victories at Belmont.
The Pilgrim and Miss Grillo were both scheduled for the turf and were both part of the Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In program. That meant the winner of the Pilgrim was to have gained an automatic berth into the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf on Nov. 7 at Santa Anita, while the Miss Grillo winner was to have earned a berth into the Juvenile Fillies Turf the day before. But approximately 2 1/2 inches of rain fell Saturday, forcing all five scheduled turf races Sunday at Belmont to the main track. With the change of surface, neither winner automatically qualifies for any Breeders’ Cup race.
Also, due to the change of surface both the Pilgrim and Miss Grillo lost their Grade 3 status pending a review by the North American Graded Stakes Committee.
Pletcher was hoping to use the Pilgrim as a stepping-stone to the Juvenile Turf for Interactif, who now may run in the Bourbon Stakes at Keeneland on Sunday. For Eskendereya, the switch to dirt worked out perfectly as he entered the race a maiden and exited a stakes winner.
Under Javier Castellano, Eskendereya trailed the field early, split horses at the quarter pole, and then rallied along the rail to take charge in midstretch. Eskendereya, a son of Giant’s Causeway, covered the mile in 1:37.85 over a harrowed good track and returned $7.20 to win.
“The horse had trained very well and we knew he was an improving horse,” said Pletcher, who trains Eskendereya for Ahmed Zayat. “He got excluded from a maiden race, so we decided to take a shot in the stake and then when it came off we had a decision to make, but we felt like the horse had improved in his training recently on the dirt and felt like it was worth taking a shot. I was particularly pleased with the way he finished up and the way he galloped out. I’d say that he’s typical of the Giant’s Causeways and probably good on any surface. We’ll talk to the owners about his next start; we have a lot of options.”
In the Miss Grillo, Dad’s Crazy sat back in third while Tapitsfly and Mary’s Follies dueled on the lead through modest fractions, made a three-wide move at the quarter pole before taking command inside the eighth pole. Dad’s Crazy, a daughter of Langfuhr owned by Smarch Racing, covered the mile in 1:40.04 and returned $10.20.
“It was too good an opportunity to pass up when the field scratched down,” Pletcher said. “She may be a better filly on turf but she had trained well on dirt. It worked out well.”
Le Grand Cru takes Kelso
Pletcher could not sweep the trio of off-the-turf stakes as Ready’s Echo could only manage a second-place finish to Le Grand Cru in the $250,000 Kelso. Scheduled for a mile on turf, the Kelso was run at the same distance over a sealed muddy track.
Le Grand Cru broke on top but was taken to the five-path by jockey Jose Lezcano, who was content to stalk Yield Bogey for five furlongs before taking control at the three-eighths pole. Lezcano had plenty of horse left to hold off Ready’s Echo in the stretch to win by 1 1/2 lengths.
Le Grand Cru, owned by Judson Streicher and trained by Allen Jerkens, covered a mile in 1:37.36 and returned $4.50.