New Money Honey gets her chance on dirt in Alabama – finally!

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

August 15th, 2017

Ever since the press conference following the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1), when trainer Chad Brown floated the idea of New Money Honey trying dirt on the Kentucky Oaks (G1) trail, I’ve been waiting for her surface switch.

As it turned out, New Money Honey didn’t pursue the dirt option then, focusing instead on a turf campaign through the $1 million Belmont Oaks Invitational (G1). Fair enough for connections to stick with a winning formula, even though the Kentucky Oaks ended up being a more open affair after Unique Bella was sidelined.

But now, at long last, the time for the grand dirt experiment has come in Saturday’s Alabama (G1) at Saratoga.

New Money Honey strikes me as the type to excel on dirt, partly on a pedigree basis, but particularly in light of her running style. The pedigree angle is clear enough: by Medaglia d’Oro and out of a full sister to Any Given Saturday. New Money Honey is bred along the same lines as Medaglia d’Oro’s best fillies, Rachel Alexandra and Songbird, all produced by Forty Niner-line mares.

As far as the running style angle goes, New Money Honey is more of a tactical stalker who wins through superior positioning, not the typical deep-closing turfiste who slays them with a lethal burst of acceleration. She has a kick, to be sure, but one best deployed nearer the pace. In that respect, her ability should translate as effectively to dirt – at least in theory.

New Money Honey’s debut performance at Saratoga may be instructive. The 9-5 favorite in a 1 1/16-mile turf maiden, she was off a half-step slowly and patiently handled near the back. The eventual winner, La Coronel, was just a couple of lengths ahead of her, but displayed a potent rush around the far turn. New Money Honey couldn’t match it, and settled for a rallying second.

Of course, La Coronel was quite a rival to bump into first out, especially one who’d had a couple of races under her belt. But the point remains, since New Money Honey doesn’t usually race so far back. Her typical pattern ever since (note one telling exception below) has been taking up closer order, suggestive of cruising speed.

Brown pitched the maiden New Money Honey straight into the Miss Grillo (G3), where she broke alertly, took a snug hold a couple of lengths off the pace, and stayed on strongly:


With the Miss Grillo characterized by a slow pace on yielding turf, it wouldn’t be definitive. But her Breeders’ Cup trip was similar, despite coming in radically different conditions – a scorching pace on firm ground:


In her seasonal reappearance in the Appalachian (G3) at Keeneland, New Money Honey found herself farther back in the pack on the inside – that aforementioned exception to her preferred pattern. La Coronel, in contrast, got the perfect passage off the slow pace and again quickened on a dime. New Money Honey didn’t get involved and wound up sixth. Listen to track announcer Kurt Becker’s early comments on her trip:


Next seen in the Wonder Again (G3) back at Belmont, New Money Honey seized the initiative in a paceless race to wire the field:


New Money Honey didn’t have to carve out the pace in the Belmont Oaks, but kept within close range of the target and thereby held a decisive tactical edge:


Can’t you envision New Money Honey working out the same kind of trip on dirt?

Although there is a parallel with Good Samaritan, the fine turf three-year-old who ran away with the Jim Dandy (G2) in his dirt debut, the circumstances aren’t totally comparable. Good Samaritan has been beaten three times by the top performer in his division, Oscar Performance. Instead of chasing him again in the Secretariat (G1), connections tried the dirt, as they’d previously considered for the Harlan’s Holiday colt with a strong dirt pedigree. The Jim Dandy made sense as an opportunity to see if he could expand his portfolio, even though Good Samaritan had to face Kentucky Derby (G1) hero Always Dreaming and Preakness (G1) winner Cloud Computing. Few could have predicted that they’d both run poorly, and Good Samaritan added another plot twist to the page-turner that is the 2017 classic crop.

New Money Honey is in a different position, having turned the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf/Belmont Oaks double. Another Grade 1 turf title would be great, but shipping for Saturday’s Del Mar Oaks (G1) wouldn’t enhance her resume as much as beating a presumably deeper cast, including an international presence, in the Queen Elizabeth II (G1) later in the season at Keeneland. And Saturday’s Lake Placid (G2) at the Spa obviously isn’t as enticing when she can boost her profile considerably in the Alabama. And that’s not even getting into the fact that Brown has to deploy a battalion of turf fillies, all needing their own best placement in stakes.

Aside from the allure of the Alabama in its own right, New Money Honey arguably isn’t in as tough a spot as Good Samaritan was in the Jim Dandy. Division leader Abel Tasman is sitting it out and might not resurface until the Cotillion (G1) at Parx. That’s not to minimize the rest of the projected cast, but to recognize that they too have various questions to answer.

Her most exciting opponent, Holy Helena, has looked more emphatic over Woodbine’s Tapeta in the Queen’s Plate and Woodbine Oaks than she did on dirt. And now Holy Helena must step out of Canadian-bred into open company.

Of the other probables, Mother Goose (G2) winner Unchained Melody will be making her two-turn debut. Lockdown, Close Hatches’ full sister, has turned in strong placings in the Kentucky Oaks and Mother Goose, but has to prove she can win a big one. Gulfstream Oaks (G2) heroine Salty was a massive second to Abel Tasman in the Acorn (G1), and third after a poor start in the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1). But she’s not one who necessarily shouts she wants 1 1/4 miles.

Black-Eyed Susan (G2) vixen Actress shapes like one who’d appreciate the added distance, but she can leave herself too much to do. Her lagging back early in the Delaware Oaks (G3) forced her to use up a lot of energy to catch up on the far turn, she flattened out when vainly pursuing It Tiz Well down the lane, and came home a close third. It Tiz Well is a trier but maybe not quite Grade 1-winning caliber. Fellow California shipper Mopotism posted commendable placings in the Summertime Oaks (G2) and Indiana Oaks (G3), but has class concerns after being well beaten in her Grade 1 attempts.

So between New Money Honey’s own profile, and the nature of her opposition, I’m hopeful of a bold show in the Alabama.

Interestingly, this is the very race that renowned bloodstock agent Mike Ryan, who bought New Money Honey for newcomer e5 Racing Thoroughbreds, mentioned for her all the way back in November.

“It is a dirt pedigree, and we think she is a filly who can show a lot on both surfaces,” Ryan told the Blood-Horse’s Ron Mitchell. “She has a lot of quality and I think a mile is her minimum distance.

“I think she is the type that could win the Alabama Stakes.”

Photo courtesy NYRA/Coglianese Photography