Belmont Saturday Preview
BELMONT SATURDAY PREVIEW
Unrivaled Belle, second to Life At Ten in last year’s Grade 1 Ogden Phipps Handicap, will face that opponent and four other fillies and mares on Saturday in the 2011 renewal of the Grade 1, $250,000 race at 1 1/16 miles.
The 2010 Ogden Phipps was the first of three straight runner-up finishes for Unrivaled Belle, who finished behind Malibu Prayer in the Grade 1 Ruffian Handicap at Saratoga Race Course in August and was second to Life At Ten once again in the Grade 1 Beldame at Belmont in October.
Unrivaled Belle then put it all together with a 1 ¾-length victory in last year’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic at Churchill Downs in November. She’s made two starts this year, finishing a distant third behind Awesome Maria in the Grade 3 Rampart at Gulfstream Park on April 2 and just failing to hold off Blind Luck when second in the Grade 2 La Troienne at Churchill on May 6 in her most recent start.
“She has done wonderfully since that race,” said Leana Williford, assistant to Bill Mott, who trains the 5-year-old daughter of Unbridled’s Song for Peter Vegso. “She’s breezing and doing well. All systems are ‘go.’ She has run very well here, but she runs well everywhere. It’d be nice to get a pace in front of her and have her settle.”
Kent Desormeaux – like Mott, a member of the Hall of Fame – will ride Unrivaled Belle from post position 5. She’ll tote 122 pounds as the 2-1 morning-line second choice.
Candy deBartolo’s Life At Ten, freshened following a poor performance in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic, has made two starts in 2011, finishing second by five lengths in a Gulfstream Park optional claimer on April 10 and checking in third, defeated 9 ¼ lengths, in the Grade 3 Allaire duPont Distaff at Pimlico on May 21. She’ll meet the top two finishers of the duPont Distaff, stablemate Super Espresso and Payton d’Oro, in the Phipps.
“Looking at her last work [four furlongs in 47.93 at Belmont on June 5], it was exceptional,” said Jonathan Thomas, assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher. “It was a very sharp, good work for her. I think we’re back at a place where she has had some of her lifetime best races. With the way the race is setting up, I would imagine she should be forwardly placed. She likes taking the race by the scruff of the neck, and she should already be right there.”
Thomas is hopeful Life At Ten will move forward in her third race off the layoff, even if her duPont performance was a cut below her best efforts.
“We thought she was training well going into that race down there,” said Thomas. “Tactically, she had no excuse [in the duPont]. Physically, she came back fine. If anything, it was more of a head-scratcher.”
Life At Ten, 10-1 on the morning line, will leave from post 3 under Cornelio Velasquez and 117 pounds.
Awesome Maria, unbeaten in three starts in 2011, seeks her fifth graded stakes victory and first in a Grade 1. So far this year, the E. Paul Robsham Stables homebred dominated the Grade 3 Sabin in February and Grade 3 Rampart in April at Gulfstream Park and was all out to take the Grade 2 Shuvee Handicap by a head at Belmont on May 21.
“She has trained great over this surface since then,” said Thomas. “She’s had a series of nice works, so she is getting over the track well. She’s coming into the race in great shape.”
Assigned highweight of 124 pounds, Awesome Maria will leave from post 3 as the 7-5 morning-line favorite.
Super Espresso, owned by Bobby Flay, completes “Todd’s triumvirate,” having won three of five starts in 2011. She opened her 4-year-old campaign with three starts over the inner track at Aqueduct, winning an entry-level allowance in January and the Sky Beauty overnight stakes in February and finishing third in the Am Capable, another overnight stakes, in March. Seventh on turf in the Grade 3 Bewitch at Keeneland on April 28, she rebounded with a three-quarter-length triumph in the duPont Distaff when switched back to dirt.
“The biggest part has been her physical maturation over the past eight months,” said Thomas. “She’s a big filly, and she has grown into herself. She has gotten a lot of confidence from her runs, and we’ve kind of figured her style out. She’s a very athletic, very sound, good-minded filly.”
Super Espresso, tabbed at 8-1 and assigned 117 pounds, will leave from the rail under David Cohen.
Mike Pressley and Edward D. Taylor’s Payton d’Oro, second in the duPont, will square off against Super Espresso and Life At Ten once again in the Phipps, which will be her third start off a lengthy layoff. Sidelined following a victory in the Bayakoa at Oaklawn in April 2010, she returned to finish a non-threatening third in an optional claimer at that venue on March 17 prior to her runner-up effort at Pimlico.
“Her race at Pimlico was almost like another start off a layoff because it had been a long time since her race at Oaklawn, which wasn’t a great race from her and she didn’t get herself completely tight,” said trainer Larry Jones.
Gabriel Saez will ride Payton d’Oro from post 6. Installed at 8-1, she’ll carry 116 pounds.
Absinthe Minded, a stakes winner who finished fourth in the La Troienne and second in the Shuvee, completes the Phipps field.