After showing her fondness for Belmont Park with a front-running triumph in the Acorn Stakes (gr. I) one month ago, Gabby's Golden Gal will cut back in distance for trainer Bob Baffert in the Prioress Stakes (gr. I) July 4.
The Prioress, at six furlongs, attracted nine 3-year-old fillies. It is the lone grade I event on an Independence Day Belmont card that includes the $400,000 Suburban Handicap (gr. II) and the $200,000 Dwyer Stakes (gr. II).
In the one-mile Acorn June 6, Gabby's Golden Gal went gate to wire along the inside on a speed-favoring track, repelling 9-10 choice Justwhistledixie in the stretch run to win by 1 3/4 lengths. That took some of the sting out of her previous defeat, a 29-length loss to Rachel Alexandra when finishing sixth after setting the pace in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I).
Although she suffered from a bout of heat exhaustion immediately after the Acorn, Gabby's Golden Gal bounced back nicely, turning in a pair of bullet works in preparation for the Prioress. On June 20, she drilled a half-mile in :47.10, and on June 28 she covered the same distance in :47.12, the fastest of 40 works at the distance.
“I think she’s going into the race just as good as she did for the Acorn,” said Tonja Terranova, who oversees Baffert’s New York-based horses. “Her last two breezes have been in hand.”
Owned by Arnold Zetcher, Gabby's Golden Gal won the Acorn at odds of 13-1 while zipping through the one-turn race in 1:34.79. The victory was her first in a graded stakes and third overall in six starts. The Medaglia d'Oro filly has earned $347,905. Javier Castellano retains the mount and they will break from post 7 with co-high weight of 122 pounds.
Though she's obviously swift, it's questionable whether Gabby's Golden Gal can show the same speed dominance in the Prioress. In three sprint efforts to begin her career in Southern California, she was forwardly placed but stalked the pace. There also appears to be quite a few front-runners in the lineup.
One of those is Zayat Stables' Heart Ashley, who led all the way in winning both Aqueduct's Cicada (gr. III) and Pimlico's Miss Preakness (gr. III) in her two most recent starts this spring. Trained by Steve Asmussen, the Lion Heart miss has won three in a row and four of her past five since breaking her maiden impressively at Churchill Downs last November.
“This is the race she’s been pointed towards for a long time,” Asmussen said. “She’s a very fast filly. In a grade I sprint on dirt for three-year-old fillies, everyone is going to show up.”
Edward P. Evans' Virginia homebred Light Green should also be part of the pace scenario. Trained by Todd Pletcher, all three of her victories have come on the front end, including an eight-length romp in a restricted six-furlong stakes at Belmont May 15. The daughter of Pleasantly Perfect was timed in 1:08.32.
“I am hoping for a repeat of her last race,” said Pletcher.
Evans' Cat Moves, undefeated in two starts, was entered by trainer Anthony Dutrow and she will race coupled with Light Green. The homebred Tale of the Cat filly broke her maiden by 8 1/4 lengths at Aqueduct this spring. She then showed some rating ability in her next start, winning by nearly five while ridden out in a six-furlong allowance test at Delaware Park June 2.
Brereton Jones’ On the Menu comes off a win in the listed Just Smashing Stakes at Monmouth Park May 16 for trainer Larry Jones. She handed Heart Ashley her worst defeat, by 7 1/4 lengths in an allowance at the Fair Grounds, and has been working brilliantly at Delaware.
“The Prioress is going to deserve its grade I status here,” said trainer Jones, who won the Prioress in 2006 with Wildcat Bettie B. “This filly has been doing very well, and we’ve always been high on her. One of the reasons was she ran so well against Heart Ashley, who’s a very nice filly.”
Others who deserve attention here are Luster, second as the odds-on favorite in her stakes debut, Churchill's Dogwood (gr. III) on May 30; and three-time stakes winner Selva, runner-up most recently in Keeneland's Beaumont (gr. II) on Polytrack April 8.
Reforestation ran second over a sloppy track in a Belmont stakes race June 5. Be Fair finished fifth in the Acorn, 4 3/4 lengths behind Gabby's Golden Gal.
$300,000 Prioress Stakes (gr. I, Race 9, 5:16 p.m.), 3-Year-Old Fillies, 6 Furlongs
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight Trainer
1. Luster (KY), C H Velasquez, 118, A M Stall, Jr.
2. a-Cat Moves (VA), R A Dominguez, 116, A W Dutrow
3. Heart Ashley (KY), E S Prado, 122, S M Asmussen
4. a-Light Green (VA), J R Velazquez, 116, T A Pletcher
5. Reforestation (KY), E Coa, 116, W H Turner, Jr.
6. Be Fair (FL), A Garcia, 116, D W Lukas
7. Gabby's Golden Gal (KY), J Castellano, 122, B Baffert
8. Selva (KY), R Maragh, 122, D M Carroll
9. On the Menu (KY), J Rose, 118, J L Jones
a- Edward P. Evans coupled entry