Xcellence faces 10 in Belmont Oaks

The $1 million Belmont Oaks, formerly the Garden City Stakes, has found a new identity as part of the New York Racing Association's July 5 Stars and Stripes card, which also features the Belmont Derby.

The 1 ΒΌ-mile race at Belmont Park for 3-year-old fillies has attracted a strong, deep field, with Europe well represented. For a million dollars and Grade 1 status -- not to mention an automatic starting berth to the winner in this fall's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf -- it is not surprising that four fillies from overseas were entered.

To add to the international intrigue, trainer Kenny McPeek has entered Rosalind, who will be seeking redemption after traveling all the way to Royal Ascot for the Coronation Stakes only to throw jockey Kieran Fallon one step out of the gate.

A good deal of the focus will be on Martin Schwartz's Xcellence. She captured the Prix Imprudence at Maisons-Laffitte April 3 before finishing third in a pair of classics -- the Group 1 Poule d'Essai des Pouliches (French One Thousand Guineas) and Prix de Diane Longines (French Oaks) -- at odds of 11-1 and 25-1, respectively.

The daughter of Champs Elysses, trained by Francois Doumen, was bred in France by Haras D'Ecouves and Henri de Pracomtal. Gerald Mosse, who rode her in the Prix de Diane, will be back aboard and will break from post 7.

Irish great Dermot Weld, who won the 1990 Belmont Stakes with Go and Go, will send out Khalid Abdullah's Flying Jib, winner of three straight in Ireland including the Canford Cliffs E.B.F. Athasi Stakes at the Curragh in her last start. The daughter of Oasis Dream gets Lasix for the first time and will be ridden by Pat Smullen.

The French-trained and -bred Goldy Espony, now in the care of trainer Chad Brown, is coming off a poor effort in the Pour Moi Coolmore Prix Saint-Alary, but won her two previous starts, including the group III Prix Penelope at Saint-Cloud. The daughter of Vespone also gets Lasix and will be ridden by Jose Lezcano.


Finally, no international event would be complete without Aidan O'Brien and Coolmore, who will send out Wonderfully. The regally bred daughter of Galileo who has been a big disappointment this year, finishing ninth in the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches and Etihad Airways Irish One Thousand Guineas last time out. She was a Group 3 winner last year, capturing the Silver Flash Stakes at Leopardstown.

While Xcellence will be particularly tough to beat, the Americans are well represented in the 11-horse field.

Wayne Catalano, who is always dangerous in big races, will saddle Gary and Mary West's red-hot Room Service. She is coming off three straight graded stakes victories -- the Herecomesthebride Stakes at Gulfstream, the Ashland Stakes in a dead-heat on the Polytrack surface at Keeneland, and the grade I American Oaks at Santa Anita Park in her last start. The daughter of More Than Ready again will be ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan and will break from post 2.

Mark Casse sends out the dangerous My Conquestadory, winner of last year's Grade 1 Alcibiades Stakes and Grade 2 Summer Stakes at Woodbine against the boys in her career debut. The daughter of Artie Schiller, owned by Conquest Stables, closed out the year with a good fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. In her only start this year, she was beaten a nose in the Selene Stakes after setting all the pace, which is not her style of running. Javier Castellano picks up the mount.

Just about every American filly entered has the credentials to win this race. Christophe Clement sends out a pair of lightly raced and improving fillies in Sea Queen, who has won three of her five starts, and the undefeated New York-bred Summer Solo, who makes her stakes debut.

Brown also will saddle Coolmore's Minorette, second to Sea Queen in the recent Wonder Again Stakes at Belmont Park. The daughter of Smart Strike, who raced in Ireland last year for Aidan O'Brien, will be ridden for the first time by Joel Rosario.

Jimmy Toner has a live one in Recepta, who is coming off third-place finishes in the Appalachian Stakes at Keeneland and the Wonder Again, in which she was getting Lasix for the first time.

Finally, we have the unfortunate Rosalind, who ran a huge race to finish a close third in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies after placing in the Alcibiades and Pocahontas Stakes. This year, the daughter of Broken Vow was a dead-heat winner of the Ashland Stakes before finishing a well-beaten fourth behind Untapable in the Kentucky Oaks. She was then sent to Royal Ascot, where she went off at 20-1 in the Coronation and dumped her rider over her head leaving the starting enclosure.

Owned by Landaluce Educe Stables, she will be ridden by Julien Leparoux.