Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher conveyed a strong sense of satisfaction after Mo Donegal and Nest worked in company Friday in preparation for the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on June 11.
Nest, a filly by Curlin with Jose Ortiz aboard, and Mo Donegal, who was piloted by Irad Ortiz, Jr., went to the fast main track under cloudy skies and temperatures in the 60s. Nest worked to the inside of Mo Donegal as both horses completed their five-furlong moves in 1:02.99, followed by an extended three-eighths gallop out.
“The main thing I tried to emphasize to Jose and Irad was that I wanted a good, steady, long gallop out breeze. I wasn’t concerned about how quickly they went,” Pletcher said. “They got into a good rhythm. I had them out in 1:02 and 4, but what I particularly liked was the three-eighths after the finish line, they galloped out strongly. Both riders said that when I told them on the radio to let them go ahead and go out another eighth, both horses jumped up underneath them and showed they still had something left in the tank, so I was happy. I think both horses have good foundations. I just wanted a good, steady, stamina-building breeze and I thought we were able to accomplish that.”
Mo Donegal Looks to Improve Off Fifth in Derby
Mo Donegal, owned by Donegal Racing and Repole Stable, was fifth in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby on May 7 at Churchill Downs, where he broke awkwardly from the rail in the 20-horse field and was forced wide in the final turn, still managing to make up ground in deep stretch. He entered the Derby from a neck win over eventual Grade 1 Preakness winner Early Voting in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial on April 9 at Aqueduct Racetrack.
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“He hopped at the start. I didn’t anticipate that we would be a part of the pace, but I also didn’t want to be 19th going around the first turn either. He stood in the gate a long time and he’s a well-behaved horse. He got a little quiet and just didn’t jump and it compromised his position,” Pletcher said. “I thought he put in a good run. He had to angle out around horses and have Barber Road laying on him the whole way down the lane. He ran a race that was good enough to win if things would have maybe gone his way along the way, but he kept trying until the end. He was still closing ground that last sixteenth of a mile.”
By Uncle Mo, Mo Donegal is out of the Pulpit mare Callingmissbrown whose dam was Grade 1-winning millionaire Island Sand.
Nest was an open-lengths winner of the Grade 1 Ashland at Keeneland en route to a runner-up effort as the lukewarm favorite in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks on May 6 at Churchill Downs. Nest made a six-wide move down the lane to finish second to Secret Oath.
“From the three-eighths pole to the quarter pole when Secret Oath was able to spread the race a little bit, Nest was bottled up and waiting for a place to go, had to angle out,” Pletcher said. “Same thing as Mo Donegal – we went all the way down the lane with another horse laying on top of us. I thought she kept closing resolutely and Secret Oath was better that day.”
Nest has Pedigree to handle Distance
Nest is out of multiple black-type producer Marion Ravenwood, whose sire A.P. Indy won the 1992 Belmont and produced 2007 Belmont winner Rags to Riches, who also was trained by Pletcher.
Pletcher said Ortiz, who was aboard Nest for the first time, was pleased with the breeze.
“Jose said the further they went, the better she got,” said Pletcher, who added there is a “good possibility” that Ortiz could ride if she runs in the Belmont. “When he asked her to keep galloping out, she jumped right underneath him. It was what we were expecting to see, but it was good to see all the same.”
Pletcher said her stamina-rich pedigree is one reason why the Belmont is under strong consideration for Nest. He had considered 2021 Kentucky Oaks winner Malathaat, also by Curlin, for the Belmont last year, but subsequently altered course.
“Pedigree wise, it’s a no brainer. You’ve got Belmont all over her pedigree, so I think she’ll run that far. That’s a huge part of the consideration,” Pletcher said. “She’s given us every indication since the Oaks that she’s doing well. She’s had a very good appetite. Last year with Malathaat, we gave [the Belmont Stakes] some consideration, but we felt like she had lost a little weight and needed a little more time. This filly hasn’t done anything to discourage me from thinking about it. I’ll get together with the connections later, we’ve all been on the same page of letting her sell us on the idea of running.”