Originally pointed to a fall campaign at Belmont Park, Godolphin's Cocoa Beach came out of a stakes win at Saratoga earlier this month so well that her connections have opted to run her Aug. 29 in the $200,000 Ballston Spa Handicap (gr. IIT).
“We thought she was really fresh,” said Rick Mettee, Godolphin’s North American racing manager and assistant to trainer Saeed bin Suroor. “Our options were to wait for a race like the Ruffian (gr. I, Sept. 12) or Noble Damsel (gr. III, $100,000, Sept. 19), or to run her here for the Ballston Spa. We thought she was doing too good to wait. This gives us a chance to run here and run again, if we want to, before the Breeders’ Cup.”
Second to Zenyatta in last year's Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic (gr. I), Cocoa Beach is once again pointed in that direction. But she is undefeated in three starts on turf as well. The 5-year-old dark bay or brown mare is coming off a neck victory in the one-mile De La Rose Stakes on the lawn Aug. 5 in which she prevailed after making a four-wide bid on the final turn.
She also won the one-mile Matriarch (gr. IT) on Hollywood Park's turf course following her runner-up finish in the Ladies' Classic.
Eight are entered in the 1 1/16-mile Ballston Spa, with multiple graded stakes winners Rutherienne and My Princess Jess likely to provide the biggest obstacles to the Chilean-bred Cocoa Beach.
Mettee said he is a little concerned about a lack of pace in the Ballston Spa as Cocoa Beach’s main foes have won from mostly off the pace, but he hopes she can overcome that.
“I’m more worried about Cocoa settling than the other horses in the race,” said Mettee.“If she settles for Ramon (Dominguez), she’s going to run a good race.”
Cocoa Beach, who breaks from post 7, has won 10 of 14 lifetime starts and earned $1,621,480.
Rutherienne, who shares the 120-pound high impost with the favorite, turned in a tremendous effort to finish third in Saratoga's Diana Stakes (gr. IT) in her last start. She was steadied and lacked room in the stretch while still managing to close much ground, losing by three-quarters of a length to Forever Together. Rutherienne won the 1 1/16-mile Nassau (Can-IIT) at Woodbine prior to that.
Trained by Christophe Clement, the Virginia Kraft Payson homebred daughter of Pulpit will be guided once more by Saratoga leading rider Alan Garcia. The 5-year-old mare, breaking from post 1, has earned $1,176,471 while winning 10 of 20 starts in her career. Rutherienne ran third to Wait a While in last year's Ballston Spa.
My Princess Jess finished fifth in the nine-furlong Diana for trainer Barclay Tagg and Lael Stables. The 4-year-old Stormy Atlantic filly has a win over the course, capturing last year's Lake George (gr. IIT).
Glen Hill Farm's Closeout posted a three-length win in the Locust Grove Handicap (gr. IIIT) over a "yielding" Churchill Downs turf course in her last start July 5. Tom Proctor trains the 4-year-old Florida homebred daughter of Repriced. Robby Albarado maintains the mount.
Trainer Todd Pletcher enters Team Valor International's Captain's Lover, a romping seven-length winner in the off-the-turf Matchmaker Stakes at Monmouth Park Aug. 2. The South African-bred 5-year-old mare was a group III winner in France last year and won a group I race in her native country in December 2007.
$200,000 Ballston Spa Handicap (gr. IIT, Race 9, 4:05 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 3 & Up, 1 1/16 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Rutherienne (KY), A Garcia, 120, C Clement
2. My Princess Jess (FL), C H Velasquez, 118, B Tagg
3. Closeout (FL), R Albarado, 118, T F Proctor
4. Dyna's Lassie (KY), C H Marquez, Jr., 118, P D Fout
5. Teamgeist (ARG), E S Prado, 120, K G McPeek
6. Captain's Lover (SAF), J R Velazquez, 118, T A Pletcher
7. Cocoa Beach (CHI), R A Dominguez, 120, S bin Suroor
8. Salve Germania (IRE), J Castellano, 118, W Hickst