Smuggler, last year's 3-year-old filly champion, heads into Sunday's $150,000 Shuvee Handicap (gr. II) at Belmont Park with something to prove.
Winner of the history-rich Mother Goose (gr. I) and Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I), Smuggler turned in a less-than-promising 2006 debut in last month's Bed o' Roses Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) when finishing last of five.
She faces another small field in the Shuvee, but among those she'll be taking on is Indian Vale, also a finalist in the Eclipse Award voting for champion 3-year-old filly of 2005 after winning a pair of graded stakes by a combined 16 lengths.
Balletto, one of the nation's leading 2-year-old fillies in the fall of 2004 after winning the Frizette (gr. I), Grecian Lover and Take D' Tour complete the field for the one-turn mile event for fillies and mares on the main track.
Owned by Phipps Stables, Smuggler trailed throughout in the Bed o' Roses, never firing over a dry track that was sealed minutes before the race. But the return to Belmont Park, where she has four wins, should help her to turn it around. It's also worth noting that her mom, Inside Information, won the 1995 Shuvee and the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) at Belmont by a record 13 lengths.
"We'll take her over there and see what happens," said Shug McGaughey, himself a four-time winner of the Shuvee. "She's bigger and stronger and I'm ready to run her again."
Smuggler, who missed the second half of her 3-year-old campaign due to illnesses, has breezed three times in the weeks since the April 22 Bed o'Roses, most recently going five furlongs over the Belmont main track on May 15 in 1:02 2/5.
"I've kind of gotten into her since she ran," said McGaughey, who'll have Edgar Prado riding. "I think she's doing fine, although I don't think she should be giving Indian Vale three pounds. I guess sometimes you've got to work your way down to get to where you need to be."
Eugene Melnyk's Indian Vale won five of six starts in 2005 but has not started in nearly six months. She could be better at longer distances and might prefer two-turn racing.
"We're starting fresh and getting her ready for the summer and fall. That's been the plan all along," trainer Todd Pletcher said.
Indian Vale, by A.P. Indy
-Marley Vale, by Forty Niner, owns stakes victories in the Turnback the Alarm (gr. III) and Falls City Handicap (gr. II). She had little trouble pouring it on in all of her victories last season, winning five races by a combined 41 lengths.
"I felt she was the best three-year-old filly last year," said Pletcher, who will have the services of Garrett Gomez. "Hopefully, she comes back as good as she finished up. She's always been a big `scopey' filly, but she filled out nicely over the winter. She's ready to go."
After winning the Frizette and running second in the 2004 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) , Balletto suffered a severe bout of colic in 2005, underwent surgery and was retired. She then reentered training last summer after receiving a clean bill of health.
Balletto has raced just once in the last 19 months, losing a third-level allowance March 30 at Gulfstream Park by more than 14 lengths. Since then, she has breezed six times for trainer Tom Albertrani, who is running Bernardini in Saturday's Preakness at Pimlico. Balletto, a filly by Timber Country, teams up with jockey Javier Castellano.$150,000 Shuvee Handicap (gr. II, Race 8, 4:45 p.m.), Fillies & mares 3 & Up, 1 Mile
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Grecian Lover (FL), 115, Mike E. Smith
2. Balletto (UAE), 116, Javier Castellano
3. Smuggler (KY), 120, Edgar S. Prado
4. Take D' Tour (FL), 114, Cornelio H. Velasquez
5. Indian Vale (ON), 117, Garrett K. Gomez