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Aspen Grove’s Pedigree Proves Fruitful in Belmont Oaks

Glen Hill Farm’s Craig Bernick, breeder and co-owner of 3-year-old Aspen Grove , saw his Justify   filly trounce the field in the July 8 Belmont Oaks Invitational Stakes (G1T) at Belmont Park, proving much the best in the 1-1/4 mile inner turf test against eight rivals.

Though she was born across the Atlantic Ocean, the filly boasts an American pedigree of elite runners. The lightly raced James ‘Fozzy’ Stack pupil broke her maiden on third asking in the Newtownanner Stud Irish EBF Stakes (G3) at the Curragh at 2. She followed the win up yesterday with her first start/win in the States for owners Glen Hill Farm and Susan Magnier.

“She was born in Ireland, Glen Hill Farm owns her in partnership with Coolmore, and they let me pick the trainer,” Bernick said Sunday while traveling home from the race. “Fozzy has been one of my main trainers over in Europe; he always had a really high regard for the filly, but a lot of her races, she hasn’t really ‘done it.’ She’s a little bit temperamental, but when she’s well, she’s a top-class horse.”

This year while in Ireland, she debuted with a third-place effort in the Cornelscourt Stakes (G3) at Leopardstown at the beginning of May and failed to fire in the May 28 Irish One Thousand Guineas (G1) at the Curragh before shipping to New York.

“She won a group 3 last year as a maiden (at 2), she had been disappointing in the two previous maiden races. She was third in a group 3 this year, and our plan was always two starts this year then the Belmont Oaks. Fozzy thought (during) training, she would be a better horse over a mile and a quarter this year,” Bernick said.

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“We were pointing for this race, but it was a little scary after her last race (and) being last in the field. She was in season that day, and a lot of time fillies won’t run well when they are in season. You hear that but when they don’t run well you start running out of excuses. Her good races were good enough to win, and she’s nowhere to be found in her bad races.”

The filly’s page reads like a classic pedigree story with leading sire Scat Daddy siring her Triple Crown-winning father Justify and her dam, Data Dependent , being by the prolific breed-shaping sire More Than Ready.

She comes from the first crop of runners for Coolmore sire Justify and on the female side, has Moyglare Stud Stakes (G1) winner Skitter Scatter  and Superlative Stakes (G2)-placed Victory Dance . Under the third dam—group 3-placed Daneleta—is 2008 Dewhurst Stakes (G1) winner Intense Focus , by Giants Causeway.

“I purchased the mare, Data Dependent, off Klaravich Stables who campaigned her,” Bernick said. “We bred her to Justify with the idea of getting her to Europe. If you go back far (15 or 20 years), the pedigree is American, but the good horses in the pedigree have all run in Europe which is hard to find. We sent her to foal out in Europe and then bred her to No Nay Never.”

The European side of the partnership were delighted after seeing Aspen Grove, and decided that Data Dependent should go back to Justify for 2021 which produced a yearling colt. The dam also has a 2-year-old son of No Nay Never  named Edwardian, along with a 2023 Charlatan   filly. 

“It’s a funny story. I got an email from my fantastic partners that Data Dependent had arrived back in Kentucky. They liked Aspen Grove so much that they sent her back to Justify for 2021,” Bernick said. “I own 20% of Edwardian, he is with Aidan O’Brien. The Justify yearling will be for sale in September, and (the mare) has a Charlatan filly by her side. We didn’t breed her back this year as she had a late foaling.”

Aspen Grove wins the 2023 Belmont Oaks Invitational Stakes at Belmont Park
Photo: Coglianese Photos

Aspen Grove in the winners circle with Craig Bernick (second from right) July 8 at Belmont Park

The newly crowned grade 1-winning-Aspen Grove has much to choose from with a bevy of races coming up on the summer calendar, but is keeping her sights on the Fasig-Tipton Fillies Turf Triple Series for now.

“The two choices would be, if she comes out of the Belmont Invitational well, the (Aug. 4) Saratoga Oaks (G3T) or she could go to Del Mar for the (Aug. 19) Oaks (G1T),” Bernick said.

“I think they are both good choices; we just have to figure out what we want to do; if she doesn’t bounce out of the race, we could wait for the (Sept. 16) Jockey Club Invitational (G3T). She is lightly raced this year with just three starts so I would say she could run in the Saratoga Oaks and then hopefully the Jockey Club Oaks.”

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