Speaking on a racing podcast earlier this week, Phillip Shelton summarized the reason for the formation of the Medallion Racing syndicate: to compete in the game at the highest level and win stakes races.
That’s what prompted Shelton and a larger group of partners to buy Estilo Talentoso from owner and trainer Juan Arriagada after the 4-year-old filly ran third in the Grade 1 Derby City Distaff on the May 1 Kentucky Derby undercard. She made them look smart Friday, closing from mid-pack to win the Grade 3 Bed O’Roses in the slop at Belmont Park.
The 7-furlong stakes was run after a 46-minute weather delay, as severe rain, thunder and lightning moved in shortly after the True North Stakes.
“Our whole partnership is designed to run in the big races,” said Shelton, who runs Medallion for Taylor Made. “Our goal is to try to win graded stakes. And in America, it doesn’t get much bigger than the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival, other than the Breeders’ Cup.”
Estilo Talentoso, by Maclean’s Music out of the Afleet Alex mare Bazinga Baby, had been plagued by a severe case of second-itis in her career, with eight runner-up finishes in 13 starts heading into Friday’s race. But she’s a perfect 1-for-1 for her new owners, who also include Barry Fowler, Parkland Thoroughbreds, Little Red Feather Racing and BlackRidge Stables LLC.
“She had run second and third in Grade 1s, so it was a question of, does the price make sense?” Shelton said of contacting Arriagada after the Derby City Distaff. “Sometimes, it’s easier to buy from smaller connections because a big price means a lot more to them than it would to larger outfits.”
Arriagada, who bought the filly for $15,000 at the 2019 OBS June sale of 2-year-olds and horses in training, got the best of both worlds, as Medallion kept him as the trainer and he won his first graded stakes.
“I feel like I’m blessed. To be in Belmont today and to win with her, it’s one of the more beautiful things that could happen in my life right now,” said Arriagada, who has been training since 2017 and is based at Delaware Park, and Tampa Bay Downs in the winter. “I appreciate the owners giving me the opportunity. She (Estilo Talentoso) is very special to me, that’s the only thing I can tell you.”
Favorite Victim Of Love set the pace, putting up fractions of :22.90 and :45.87 before fading to fifth. Lake Avenue took the lead in the stretch, but Estilo Talentoso came off a seven-wide move turning for home to get up by a neck.
“Everything worked out perfect, the way it was set up,” said winning rider Javier Castellano. “When I asked her, she responded very well.”
Kelly Breen said he was going to run Firenze Fire in the Grade 2 True North Stakes even if the track had come up muddy, which was a distinct possibility based on the forecast. As it turned out, Breen’s horse beat the rain by about 10 minutes and the other six runners by at least 1 1/2 lengths in furthering his legacy as an all-time Belmont horse-for-course.
“We were going to run even if it was muddy,” Breen said, just outside the Belmont winner’s circle, as the dark clouds rolled in. “We didn’t have another race for him, so we were going to run.”
Firenze Fire, with Jose Ortiz filling in for his injured brother Irad, and Flagstaff ran 1-2 all the way around the track, battling through fractions of :22.77 and :45.39. The favorite gradually extended the lead, winning by 1 1/2 lengths in 1:15.52.
“I’m just glad I didn’t mess it up,” Ortiz said.
As an earner of just under $2.5 million, Firenze Fire is a horse that can run anywhere; in fact, he has won at seven racetracks. At Belmont, however, he is simply a different animal, with seven wins and a second in 10 career starts. Friday’s winner’s share of $165,000 made him a Belmont millionaire, with $1,083,000 earned at Big Sandy.
“He’s been training this way,” said Breen, who saddled Firenze Fire for the ninth time, after taking over training duties from Jason Servis, who is under federal indictment for alleged horse doping. “I’m getting to know him more and maybe he’s getting to know me, also. It’s a pretty good combo right now.”
Friday notes: No big surprise to see Wesley Ward with a 2-year-old winner to get the stakes portion of the program started. Owned by Peter Leidel (of Lady Aurelia fame) and ridden by Joel Rosario, Overbore was sent off as the 3-5 favorite in a Tremont Stakes field that scratched down to four. The son of Speighstown sat third, took the lead at the eighth pole and held off Kavod to win by 3/4-lengths. … They don’t come much tougher than Mean Mary, who led the Grade 2 New York Stakes field every step of the 10 furlongs on a turf course listed as yielding after the deluge. Owned by Alex G. Campbell Jr. and trained by Graham Motion, Mean Mary held off a furious charge from Thundering Nights to win by a nose. A tepid 5-2 favorite, Mean Mary broke sharply, as usual, and responded to urging from Luis Saez in the stretch to hold off Joseph O’Brien’s Irish import. … O’Brien didn’t have to wait too long to get the runner-up taste out of his mouth, as his Baron Samedi rallied from fourth to take the Grade 2 Belmont Gold Cup, a 2-mile turf marathon. It was the seventh straight win for the English-bred. “He hadn’t been that far before, but he had handled that kind of track, so we weren’t worried about the rain. He is a very good horse and Johnny (Velazquez) gave him a great ride.” … After scratches, Irad Ortiz would have had eight mounts Friday. Five jockeys combined to pick up his mounts, with Velazquez and Jose Ortiz winning. The other six horses compiled three fourth-place and three off-the-board finishes.