Sea Calisi Stands Out in New York Stakes

Sea Calisi Stands Out in New York Stakes

Photo by NYRA/Coglianese Photos

Sea Calisi winning the Sheepshead Bay Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont Park - Photo by NYRA/Coglianese Photos
Sea Calisi winning the Sheepshead Bay Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont Park – Photo by NYRA/Coglianese Photos

On Friday at Belmont Park, seven fillies and mares will head to post for the $500,000 New York Stakes (gr. II), a ten-furlong race on the inner turf course that has drawn several talented runners in recent years, including Stephanie’s Kitten, Aruna, and Riposte.

In recent years, trainer Chad Brown has dominated turf racing in the U.S., but somewhat surprisingly, he has yet to win the New York Stakes. That could change when he sends out three of the seven starters on Friday, including the talented four-year-old Sea Calisi, who looks very difficult to beat.

Unraced as a two-year-old, the France-based Sea Calisi flashed talent from the start when making her debut in an 11-furlong maiden race at Lyon-Parilly on April 23rd, 2015. Trained at the time by Doumen Francois, Sea Calisi finished third by a length in a solid performance, then tackled a similar race three weeks later and won impressively by 2 1/2 lengths over soft ground.

That effort warranted a step up into stakes company, and Sea Calisi ran well when second by a neck over a firm course in the Prix de Royaumont (Fr-III) at Chantilly. The winner that day was the capable filly Kataniya, and Sea Calisi showed improvement to turn the tables on that rival when winning the Prix de Malleret (Fr-II) over firm going at Saint-Cloud.

After that, Sea Calisi competed exclusively in group I company, finishing third by a half-length in the Darley Yorkshire Oaks (Eng-I) and third–beaten a half-length for second–in the Qatar Prix Vermeille (Fr-I) won by the two-time Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) winner Treve. Her last run of the season yielded her only off-the-board finish, as she came home seventh in the QIPCO British Champions Filly & Mare Stakes (Eng-I) in October at Ascot.

But on the whole, Sea Calisi showed a lot of talent and versatility during her first season of racing, and while she wasn’t quite up to beating the best fillies in Europe, she could more than hold her own in decent group I races. Brought to the U.S. for a 2016 campaign and transferred to the barn of Chad Brown, Sea Calisi made her U.S. debut a winning one in the Sheepshead Bay Stakes (gr. II) on May 7th at Belmont, turning in a breathtaking performance to win decisively. Trailing the field for much of the race through pedestrian fractions of :52 flat and 1:17 4/5, Sea Calisi absolutely exploded in the final three furlongs, unleashing a tremendous burst of acceleration to run her fifth quarter-mile in approximately :23 1/5 and win easily by 2 1/2 lengths. The “yielding” course conditions probably helped her chances–she showed an affinity for softer going in Europe–but I suspect that she can be effective on firm turf as well, and it might not matter since there’s a chance of rain at Belmont this week. Although she’ll be facing a very solid field in the New York Stakes, I find it difficult to envision Sea Calisi losing.

Sea Calisi’s stiffest challenge might come from Photo Call, a consistent graded stakes performer that won the Violet Stakes (gr. III) at Rodeo Drive Stakes (gr. I) last year, the latter racing being at the same ten-furlong distance at the New York. She led past the eighth pole in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. I) before finishing a solid fifth, and after being transferred to trainer Todd Plecther, Photo Call opened 2016 with a respectable fourth behind Tepin in the Endeavour Stakes (gr. III) before returning to the winner’s circle with a pace-setting win in the eleven-furlong Orchid Stakes (gr. III) at Gulfstream Park.

Perhaps Photo Call’s biggest asset is her versatility, as she’s been successful racing on the lead, tracking the pace, and coming from several lengths back. In a race that has very little speed on paper, Photo Call figures to be close to the early lead in the New York Stakes, which could give her a significant tactical advantage if the pace is slow. I think Sea Calisi has the talent and acceleration to reel her in, but Photo Call could be a great choice for the exacta.

In addition to Sea Calisi, Chad Brown will also send out Dacita and Guapaza in the New York, and both bring solid credentials to the race. Dacita is known best as the last filly to defeat Tepin, doing so by a head in the Ballston Spa Stakes (gr. II) at Saratoga last summer, and enters off a decent fourth behind Tepin in the Jenny Wiley Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland. Dacita has won going ten furlongs in her native Chile and ran second by a neck in the 9.5-furlong The Very One Stakes (gr. III) at Gulfstream earlier this year, so the distance shouldn’t be an issue, but course conditions could be a concern–Dacita is at her best on firm ground and probably wouldn’t appreciate a rain-soaked course in the New York Stakes, so keep an eye on the weather forecast when handicapping the race.

In contrast, Guapaza shouldn’t mind a wet course since she finished a solid second to Sea Calisi over yielding ground in the Sheepshead Bay Stakes (gr. II), but turning the tables on that rival and even Dacita could be a challenge. Guapaza is also from Chile and ran against Dacita on three occasions in group stakes company, losing to her rival by at least two lengths each time. Guapaza did get closer in the The Very One Stakes (gr. III) at Gulfstream this year, but still missed catching Dacita by three-quarters of a length.

Trophee, a half-sister to the above-mentioned Treve, has shown a lot of ability in races at ten furlongs or longer, but could only finish fourth, fourth, and fifth in her graded stakes attempts at the end of last year. She did make a solid return to the races on April 20th at Aqueduct, overcoming a slow pace to win an 11-furlong allowance optional claiming race by 3 1/2 lengths, but is taking a fairly significant step up in class today while cutting back to ten furlongs, a distance that is arguably a bit short of her best. I think she has a chance to hit the board, and the jockey/trainer combination of Joel Rosario and Christophe Clement is always one to watch, but a victory by Trophee in the New York Stakes would be a bit of an upset.

Rounding out the field are the international shippers Havana Moon and Kyllachy Queen. The former picks up the services of the talented rider Florent Geroux, but was soundly beaten in her lone group stakes attempt, and her only victory to date came in a handicap race over the all-weather track at Deauville last October. Kyllachy Queen has better form–she’s a two-time stakes winner, albeit in Italy and on the all-weather track at Kempton in Great Britain, but when stepped up in class for the Dahlia Stakes (Eng-II) at Newmarket last month, she was soundly beaten by Usherette and the group I winners Arabian Queen and Amazing Maria. It’s not out of the question that Kyllachy Queen could run a huge race in the New York, especially since she has decent tactical speed and could be forwardly placed, but her foreign form falls short compared to Sea Calisi, and their respective career-best Racing Post Ratings–102 for Kyllachy Queen and 112 for Sea Calisi–suggests that Sea Calisi will have the edge.

So to recap, I find it hard to look past Sea Calisi in the New York Stakes, and I think she’s a solid single for the multi-race wagers. For the vertical exotics, Photo Call and Dacita warrant a lot of respect, although if the course comes up wet, replacing Dacita with Guapaza and/or Kyllachy Queen could be a good approach.

Good luck to all, and enjoy the race!

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Follow J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman"):

J. Keeler Johnson is a writer, blogger, videographer, and all-around horse racing enthusiast who was drawn to the sport by Curlin's quest to become North America's richest racehorse. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He lives in Wisconsin and also writes for the blog Unlocking Winners.

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