A little more than a year after breaking her maiden first out at Belmont, Melhor Ainda will start as the favorite in Saturday's $750,000 Flower Bowl Invitational (gr. I) at 11 furlongs on the turf at the New York track.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel for T N T Stud, the 3-year-old filly is 4-1-1 from six starts. She is a two-time stakes winner at Belmont, having won the 2004 Miss Grillo and Sands Point (gr. III) earlier this year.
The daughter of Pulpit
has already faced older horses after finishing third, beaten a neck, in Arlington's Beverly D (gr. I) Aug. 13. Melhor Ainda was giant in that race, basically running for less than two furlongs because of traffic trouble in the homestretch. She finished gamely once clear, but older horses Angara and Megahertz had her number–barely. Jockey John Velazquez, who has ridden Melhor Ainda in five of six starts, gets the call for Saturday's race.
"Finally, when things opened up, she just missed winning," said Velazquez, recalling his Beverly D. trip. "She started running right before the eighth pole and that was pretty late. I had been following (Jerry Bailey aboard Wend), but at the quarter pole he asked her for run and she didn't go anywhere. I got stuck there and I was there until the eighth pole. It was one of those trips when you follow a horse, thinking they're the one to beat and carry you to then end.
"I tell you what: if she repeats that race she's going to be very tough to beat. She has a very good turn of foot. We just have to get a clear trip."
Melhor Ainda was bred in Kentucky by Jayeff "B" Stables and Reynolds Bell Jr.
Wonder Again was the beaten 4-5 favorite in last year's Flower Bowl. A tough six-year-old mare, she was beaten a neck by Melhor Ainda when they last met in the Beverly D. Like Melhor Ainda, Wonder Again had little racing luck, running four wide around the far turn. At Belmont, the daughter of Silver Hawk is 4-2-2 from 10 starts. One of those victories came in the grade I Garden City in 2002.
"She really ran well in the Beverly D," trainer Jimmy Toner said. "She was wide and closed and never got covered up. She's run great in all her races this year. She's as good as she was last year. We just haven't gotten any breaks this year."
Owned by Phillips Racing Partnership and John Phillips, who bred the mare in Kentucky, Wonder Again is still going strong as a 6-year-old, but she is in the twilight of her career. Plans call for this $1.2 million earner to start in the Flower Bowl, then in the Emirates Airline Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf (gr. IT), a race she was third in last season.
"It's a tribute to her and to the people that have been working with her for all these years," Toner said. "To maintain her form like that and her condition, it's been a team thing all the way around."
Jockey Edgar Prado has the mount aboard Wonder Again. The pair will break from post three.
The French-bred Lune d'Or won multiple group II races last season, but has gone winless in three starts this year overseas. Trained by Richard Gibson, Lune d'Or enters the Flower Bowl off two consecutive group I races in Britain in Europe. She was third in the Yorkshire Oaks Aug.17 then was fifth in Longchamp's Prix Vermeille Sept. 11. Lune d'Or is two for three at the Flower Bowl's distance.
Martin Schwartz' Angara won the aforementioned Beverly D. in August and ran respectable against males at Belmont opening weekend, finishing fifth in the grade I Man o' War. Fox Ridge Farm homebred Riskaverse is the defending Flower Bowl champion, but appears to have lost a step in this, her 6-year-old season. Flower Bowl Invitational Stakes (gr. I), $750,000, fillies and mares, 3-year-old and up, 1 1/4 miles, inner turf, estimated local post time: 5:59 p.m.
Post Horse, Weight, Jockey
1 Secret Charm (IRE),119, Corey S. Nakatani
2 Lune d'Or (FR),121, Thierry Jarnet
3 Wonder Again, 121, Edgar S. Prado
4 Sundrop (JPN), 119, Javier Castellano
5 Angara (GB), 123, Joe Bravo
6 Sand Springs (KY),123, Jerry D. Bailey
7 Film Maker (KY), 119, Todd Kabel
8 Melhor Ainda (KY), 115, John R. Velazquez
9 Riskaverse (KY),121, Jose A. Santos