Highway Star, Holiday Disguise Face Off in Critical Eye Stakes

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May 25th, 2018

Monday’s $200,000 Critical Eye Stakes at Belmont Park might be restricted to New York-breds, but don’t let that distinction trick you into thinking that the race is among the less significant events on the holiday weekend.

Actually, the one-mile race has attracted a talented group of fillies and mares that includes two graded stakes winners, so it’s entirely possible that the Critical Eye Stakes could produce a starter or two for the Breeders’ Cup at the end of the season.

Leading the field is Highway Star, who enjoyed a productive year in 2017 for trainer Rodrigo Ubillo, winning the Distaff Handicap (gr. III), Ruffian Stakes (gr. II), and Gallant Bloom Handicap (gr. II) while finishing second by just a head in the Ballerina Stakes (gr. I) to stamp herself as one of the best female sprinters in the country. The daughter of Girolama hasn’t won a race yet this year, but did finish a good second in the Ruffian Stakes (gr. II) earlier this month, stamping her as the horse to beat in the Critical Eye.

Then again, Highway Star could face a stiff challenge from Holiday Disguise, winner of the Distaff Handicap (gr. III) in April and third in the Vagrancy Handicap (gr. III) at Belmont just over two weeks ago. Trained by Linda Rice, the daughter of Harlan’s Holiday is 4-for-5 against New York-breds, including stakes wins at Belmont and Aqueduct, so her record certainly suggests that she could give Highway Star a run for the money.

Verdant Pastures might not be proven at the graded stakes level, but she did win the Empire Distaff Handicap at Belmont last October over fellow Critical Eye starters Might Be and No Hayne No Gayne, a quality effort that would put her in the mix on Monday.

Bluegrass Flag hasn’t come close to winning in her last three starts, but the daughter of Bluegrass Cat won two stakes races last spring and will have the services of top jockey Javier Castellano for the Critical Eye. Her regular rider, Kendrick Carmouche, will jump ship to ride the stakes winner Frost Wise, beaten just a neck against open company in the Top Flight Invitational at Aqueduct last month.

Rounding out the field are Playinwiththeboys, a winner of two straight state-bred allowance races; and Jcs American Dream, third in a $12,500 claiming race at Belmont on May 20th

The Critical Eye Stakes is the fourth race of the day, with a post time of 3:09 p.m.