The $350,000 Garden City Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Belmont Park Sept. 14 offers bettors an interesting dilemma. Two Eastern-based fillies from the powerful Bill Mott and Christophe Clement barns return home from their Grade 1 conquests in California to face a multiple Grade 1-placed filly from France. And the one-two finishers of the Lake Placid Stakes at Saratoga Race Course are also in the mix.
To sort this all out we start with Emollient, whose true niche still has not been determined. Juddmonte Farms' homebred daughter of Empire Maker, trained by Mott, still is a bit of an enigma. She won her only start on grass, the American Oaks at Betfair Hollywood Park, her only start on synthetic, the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland, and her only start on a sloppy track, an allowance/optional claiming score at Gulfstream Park.
Although she broke her maiden on dirt at Belmont last October, Emollient is 1-for-5 on that surface, with her only two graded stakes appearances on soil resulting in dismal performances -- a fifth in the Gulfstream Oaks and a sixth in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes. The question is, was her American Oaks victory on July 13 the beginning of a budding career on grass, or will she be exposed by this talented group of proven grass fillies?
Emollient drew the rail in the 1 ⅛-mile race on the inner turf course, and once again will be ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith.
Right alongside in post 2 is the Clement-trained Discreet Marq, who has won five of her nine grass starts and has been out of the first three only once, a close fourth-place finish in last year's 5 ½-furlong Selima Stakes at Laurel Park.
This year, the New York-bred daughter of Discreet Cat is 3-for-5 and is riding a three-race winning streak, with her latest victory coming in the Del Mar Oaks Aug. 17. She began her string of victories in the Grade 2 Sands Point at Belmont, so, unlike Emollient, she is a proven stakes filly on grass.
Both fillies can go to the front or come from just off the pace, which will make this a game of strategy.
Discreet Marq will be ridden for the first time by Garrett Gomez, and like Emollient will carry co-highweight of 122 pounds.
While you're trying to separate these two classy fillies, there is the French invader Alterite to contend with. Now with trainer Chad Brown, the daughter of Literado owned by Martin Schwartz is coming off a sixth-place finish in the Group 1 Prix de Diane Longines (French Oaks), but two races back was beaten a nose in the group I Pour Moi Coolmore Prix Saint-Alary at Longchamp. Last year, she finished third, beaten two heads, in the Prix Marcel Boussac-Criterium Pouliches.
She has three victories in her career, drops 10 pounds off her last four races, picks up Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, and gets Lasix for the first time. She hasn't run since June 16, but has been working steadily at Belmont since early August.
If you're looking for recent form, you have Caroline Thomas, from the Barclay Tagg barn; Watsdachances, also trained by Chad Brown; and the English-bred Concise, trained by Graham Motion, all of whom were flying at the end of the 1 ⅛-mile Lake Placid. Caroline Thomas and Watsdachances moved up from second and third, respectively, to first and second. Although Concise remained fourth, she was beaten only three-quarters of a length.
Watsdachances has also placed in the Lake George and Sands Point, and was second behind French invader Flotilla in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf.
Other fillies to watch are the George Weaver-trained Summer of Fun and the Rick Violette-trained Effie Trinket, one-two finishers of the restricted Auntie Mame Stakes at Saratoga Aug. 10.
The remainer of the field is made up of Darley Stable's With Sugar On Top, an allowance/optional claimer winner last time out; Praia, a close second in the Virginia Oaks but fifth in the Auntie Mame; and Precarious, who has only a maiden victory to her credit.