The Todd Pletcher-trained Honey Ryder, who had a five-race losing streak on the Belmont lawn prior to her win in last year's 1 3/8-mile Sheepshead Bay for fillies and mares, has now won three in a row over the course, including last fall's Flower Bowl Invitational (gr. IT). Saturday's race was her first since finishing 11th in the Dubai Sheema Classic (UAE-I) on the World Cup program March 31.
Pletcher also trains Saturday's runner-up, 13-10 Safari Queen, who was the narrow second choice to 11-10 pick Honey Ryder. Honey Ryder carried top weight of 123 pounds, four more than Safari Queen.
“I’ve always thought the shipping back from Dubai thing has always been overrated,” Pletcher said. “The horses that we’ve brought back have always come back in good form. This filly came back -- and could have run a month ago. This is the spot we circled to point for. Fractions weren’t real fast, but she rated kindly. It was a good effort. I was hoping for a dead-heat, though. Safari Queen ran a game race and I’m very proud of her.”
Honey Ryder, a 6-year-old daughter of Lasting Approval--Cuando Quiere, by Affirmed, raced without blinkers for the first time in ages Saturday. The change in equipment had little obvious effect on her running style as she fell back to next-to-last in the field of seven for most of the journey. After moving up between horses on the final turn, Gomez angled Honey Ryder to the far outside coming into the stretch and she drove to victory by one length in a time of 2:13 on a firm course.
“Two or three of them left there in good shape, so I went ahead and nudged her right before we went under the wire to stay a little closer,” Gomez said. “Just as we went a little way, I changed my mind. I said, `They’re going at a pretty good clip. Let me just back off.’ I got myself shuffled back a little bit. From then on, she is just a true professional.”
Safari Queen, ridden by John Velazquez, was forwardly placed on the outside of the pacesetters as 96-1 shot Moon Dolly led Cliffrose through a sensible clip of :23 3/5, :48 3/5 and 1:13 2/5. In upper stretch, the Argentine-bred Safari Queen collared the leaders and inched away to gain the clear advantage, but she could not hold off Honey Ryder charging down the center of the course. Safari Queen finished three quarters of a length in front of Hostess and Channing Hill, who finished with interest after tracking the leaders along the inside into the lane.
Honey Ryder won for the first time in three starts in 2007. Prior to the disappointing trip to Nad Al Sheba, Honey Ryder faced males in the Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup (gr. IT) and missed by a neck while finishing second to Jambalaya. Her win Saturday was the 13th in a 30-race career that has earned $2,193,310.
She paid $4.30, $2.40 and $2.20. Safari Queen, a four-time graded winner in her previous five starts, returned $2.40 and $2.10. Hostess, coming off a strong second in an overnight stakes at 10 furlongs over the course on May 3, was $4.40 to show.
La Dolce Vita finished fourth, followed by Wait It Out, Cliffrose and Moon Dolly. Barancella and Factual Contender scratched.
Juddmonte's First Defence Flirts with Track Record
In Saturday’s seventh, Juddmonte Farm’s First Defence came close to Belmont Park’s seven-furlong track record. The 3-year-old Unbridled's Song colt scored a 3 1/4-length victory in 1:20.96. Left Bank set the track record of 1:20.17 on July 4, 2002.
First Defence, out of Honest Lady, who was sired by 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew, has won two of four starts with one second.
Trained by Bobby Frankel and ridden by Javier Castellano and carrying 116 pounds, First Defence led at every call and set a pace of :22.99, :45.94 and 1:09.14.