Saturday's $750,000 Beldame Stakes (gr. I) will be the moment of truth for several fillies looking ahead to the Emirates Airline Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I). Most importantly, the 1 1/8-mile race should tell us if last year's Distaff winner and 3-year-old filly champ Ashado is heading back in the right direction after her sound defeat in the Personal Ensign (gr. I).
The Beldame also will confirm whether or not the undefeated 3-year-old Sweet Symphony, 6 1/2-length winner of the Alabama (gr. I), is for real and can compete with a tough group of older fillies and mares.
Expect a big push at the windows for Society Selection following her fast-closing and troubled second to Stellar Jayne in the Ruffian Handicap (gr. I). The daughter of Coronado's Quest, also an Alabama winner, was second in this race last year to Sightseek.
Completing the seven-horse field are the Delaware Handicap (gr. I) winner Island Sand; the brilliant sprinter Happy Ticket, winner of the Ballerina Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga; Dream of Summer, winner of the Gardenia Handicap (gr. III) at Ellis Park; and Personal Legend, runner-up in the Personal Ensign.
The Beldame, with an approximate post time of 4:13 p.m. EDT, will be shown live on ESPN during a two-hour telecast.
But the main focus will be on Ashado, as she tries to prove that her well-beaten fourth in the Personal Ensign was an aberration.
"You just want to see her do well," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "Hopefully, she can go out on a winning note. She doesn't owe us anything. She's been a superstar. It'll be sad when she does go, but by the same token she's going to go be a broodmare and after three years of running in the races she's been in, it will be nice to see her retire the right way. To do it all at two, three and four at all the different distances is amazing. She's a great filly."
Pletcher said, with all the big races she's run, she's certainly entitled to have one that you can just put a line through.
"To me that day, she never looked like she was going well. Having watched her run so many times, she's usually got a certain posture where her neck's bowed a little bit and she's in the bridle. She wasn't dragging Johnny."
Since returning to Belmont, Ashado has breezed three times. She last worked Saturday, going five furlongs over the main track here in 1:01 3/5.
"She looks good and she's trained well," Pletcher said. "We've got to forgive her for one bad race and try again."
Sweet Symphony can be any kind, having won all four of her starts for trainer Bill Mott, but this is still a big step up for the daughter of A.P. Indy
"She's taken everything that's been thrown at her," said Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey, a three-time Beldame winner who will ride Sweet Symphony."She's done it all without flinching. She hasn't been able to take advantage of perfect scenarios in any of her races and she's earned everything she's gotten. I know it's a tough race against older fillies but I expect her to step up.
"I was skeptical heading into the Alabama because of the distance and the competition then she handled with ease. She's pretty easy to ride. She doesn't drop out the back and she could've been a little closer in the Alabama had I wanted, but I thought the pace being what it was that I would just tuck in. She presents no problem for a rider."
But the main threat to Ashado could be Society Selection, who turned in a huge effort in the Ruffian after being bottled up badly at the head of the stretch. She had recently undergone a myectomy after losing her air in the Go For Wand (gr. I) and now appears to be in her best form.Beldame Stakes
(gr. I), $750,000, 1 1/8 miles, fillies and mares, 3-year-olds and up, Belmont Park, Saturday, Oct. 1, approx. post 4:13 p.m. EDT, shown live on ESPN
PP - Horse - Wgt. - Jockey
1 - Sweet Symphony - 120 - Jerry Bailey
2 - Island Sand - 123 - Terry Thompson
3 - Happy Ticket - 123 - Victor Espinoza
4 - Dream of Summer - 123 - Corey Nakatani
5 - Personal Legend - 123 - Edgar Prado
6 - Ashado - 123 - John Velazquez
7 - Society Selection - 123 - Javier Castellano
Read David Schmitz on the career of Beldame in this excerpt
from Women of the Year