Four-year-old filly Raging Fever and jockey John Velazquez will team up for the fourth time this year in Saturday's $150,000 Bed o' Roses Breeders' Cup (gr. III) for fillies and mares at a mile. The duo has already gotten together for two victories and one narrow defeat.
Velazquez won the riding title in New York last year with 239 wins, but came up one win shy to Hall of Famer Jerry Bailey in stakes races. The 30-year-old native of Puerto Rico can get a head start on Bailey with a win aboard Raging Fever in the Bed o' Roses.
"Staying healthy is very important," Velazquez said. "I rode Raging Fever when she was a 2-year-old. I was getting on her in the mornings before she ran. When I got hurt, I lost the mount on her and she was tough to get back with guys like Jerry Bailey riding her."
Raging Fever was impressive as a juvenile, winning two grade 1 stakes, both at a mile or longer. The daughter of Storm Cat finished sixth in the 2000 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I), but suffered hind-end problems that curtailed her 3-year-old season. Following a third-place finish in Keeneland's Beaumon (gr. II), Raging Fever was given some time off and has come back as strong as ever, returning with a victory in the Garland of Roses.
Velazquez gained the mount back in the First Lady (gr. III) at Gulfstream. He put Raging Fever right up near the lead, where she likes to be, and drew off to a two-length score. Cat Cay, who was second in the First Lady turned thetables on Raging Fever in the Shirley Jones.
"She was very nervous the day she lost, for some reason," Velazquez said. "She didn't break great and there were others that put pressure on her. Considering all that happened, it was a pretty good race to only get beat a neck."
Raging Fever returned to New York for the Distaff Breeders' Cup (gr. II) over this track March 30 and was an easy winner, running away by nearly four lengths under a hand ride.
Mark Hennig, trainer of Raging Fever, has also entered Pleasant County in the Bed o' Roses. She has won four of her last five starts, but is untested against stakes company. Finishing second behind Velazquez in the New York rider standings last year was Edgar Prado, who will ride Helen Alexander's Atelier.
Atelier ran huge in the Breeders' Cup Distaff last year, only beaten 1 1/2 lengths in fourth. She had been away from the races for four months earlier in the year and only had one prep to lead into the Distaff.
"(Trainer) Shug McGaughey was looking for another race for her before the Breeders' Cup but couldn't get one to go," said Prado, who was not aboard Atelier last time, but has ridden the daughter of Deputy Minister in most of her starts. "Her last race was six furlongs and she hadn't been out in a while. A mile is definitely better for her."
Critical Eye is coming off another award-winning season. She got the nod for top New York-bred older filly or mare on the basis of her wins in the Sheepshead Bay (gr. IIT) and Hempstead Handicap (gr. I). She tailed off after those races, failing to finish on the board in her final four starts of 2001.
"She totally lost it at Saratoga," trainer Scott Schwartz said. "With all the people, buses and traffic, she just didn't like it. Physically she was fine, but mentally she was a mess."
Schwartz did the sensible thing and turned Critical Eye out for a couple of months, hoping a change in scenery would change her attitude. "I got her back in training in the end of January," Schwartz said. "I've been pretty easy on her and haven't rushed her. She's really come back great and relaxed. If I knew she would come back this well, I would have sent her to Florida every year."
John Peace's Belle Artiste has been consistent for a sprinting closer. She has won her last four starts, including her last when she was bumped late and placed first after missing by a head.Shiny Band has not been as effective in stakes races as she was inhigh-level allowances last year. After rattling off three straight wins last summer and fall, she finished third in the Honey Bee at Meadowlands and was seventh in the Top Flight. In her first start back in 2002, Shiny Band was not a factor against Raging Fever in the Distaff Breeders' Cup after stumbling at the start.
Senora Claudia, a grade 1 stakes winner in Chile, has made one start in America, finishing a distant fifth at Santa Anita in February. She has shipped east for owner Barry Schwartz and will be making her first New York start Saturday.
Bed o' Roses Breeders' Cup (gr. III), $150,000,
PP. HORSE JOCKEY WGT.
1 Atelier Edgar Prado 119
2 Senora Claudia Jose Santos 113
3a Pleasant County Mark Hennig John Velazquez 113
4 Belle Artiste Jean-Luc Samyn 112
5 Shiny Band Javier Castellano 112
6a Raging Fever John Velazquez 121
7 Critical Eye Mike Luzzi 115