Grade I winner Seattle Smooth, idle since last June, returns to action in the $150,000 Shuvee Handicap (gr. II) at Belmont Park May 15, a race she won last year as the odds-on favorite.
Chances are that Mercedes Stable's 5-year-old daughter of Quiet American will be a strong choice once again in spite of her 11-month layoff. She was assigned top weight of 122 pounds for the one-mile main track event, which drew just four other older fillies and mares, including grade I winner Funny Moon. The Shuvee is early on Belmont's Preakness day card, scheduled to go off at 2:36 p.m. EDT as the fourth race.
Trainer Tony Dutrow, blaming an ankle ailment, put Seattle Smooth on the sidelines last summer as she was being prepared for the Saratoga meet. It surely had to have been a difficult decision as the bay mare was on a five-race winning streak, all in stakes action, and was coming off a triumph in the Ogden Phipps Handicap (gr. I) at Belmont June 13. In all, Seattle Smooth ran just three times in 2009, winning the Bed O' Roses Handicap (gr. II) at Aqueduct in a romp prior to taking the Shuvee.
“The ankle issue was never serious, but it was there,” said Mercedes Stables’ racing manager Dennis Yokum. “There was never anything prescribed for her beyond rest, so we gave her time and monitored the ankles. They responded very well to the time off. She has come back a bit more aggressive, but she has come back very good.”
Seattle Smooth, tabbed as the 3-5 morning line choice, has won both of her starts at Belmont.
“Coming back off that long a layoff to run in a one-turn mile against graded stakes competition is a very imposing task, but we expect her to run a good race,” said Yokum. “The Shuvee would be great to win, but she doesn't have to win it. Her goal for this year is the Breeders’ Cup (Ladies' Classic).”
Sent off as the 1-5 choice against five opponents in last year's Shuvee, she stalked the leaders but was forced to alter course in the stretch, coming on late to score by three-quarters of a length over Color Me Up. A month later, Seattle Smooth gave Dutrow his first grade I win since 2000 when she rolled home late to register a 1 1/4-length victory over a "good" track in the 1 1/8-mile Phipps.
Spotting her rivals from five to eight pounds in this year's Shuvee, Seattle Smooth breaks from the rail with Jeremy Rose riding her for the first time. The Kentucky bred, out of the Seattle Song mare Our Seattle Star, boasts a 7-1-1 mark in 13 starts and earnings of $971,160.
Funny Moon, trained by Christophe Clement for Mrs. C. Wilson McNeely III, started her 2010 campaign at Keeneland April 16, finishing a game second to Haka after dueling on the lead in the 1 1/16-mile Doubledogdare Stakes (gr. III). The 4-year-old Malibu Moon miss scored a 7-1 upset in last year's Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I), defeating Shuvee entrant Don't Forget Gil by a neck in the 1 1/4-mile event at Belmont last July.
The filly was idle for the remainder of the year after a rough trip and a last-place finish in the Alabama Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga in August. Regular jockey Alan Garcia is reunited with Funny Moon after she was ridden by Julien Leparoux in the Doubledogdare. Funny Moon, who has won four of eight starts and earned $289,900, breaks from post 4.
Milwaukee Appeal, Canada's champion 3-year-old filly of last year after winning the Woodbine Oaks and narrowly missing against males in both the Queen's Plate and the Prince of Wales Stakes, makes her initial start in 2010. Second in Canada's Horse of the Year voting, Milwaukee Appeal has not raced since finishing fourth in the Gazelle Stakes (gr. I) at Aqueduct Nov. 28, her only out-of-the-money finish in nine starts in 2009.
Trained by Scott Fairlie for Eugene George, the Ontario-bred daughter of Milwaukee Brew has a 5-5-3 lifetime mark and, like Seattle Smooth, is closing in on the $1 million mark in earnings with $965,903. Patrick Husbands makes the trip from Toronto to ride Milwaukee Appeal, who drew post 3.
Trainer Mark Hennig hopes that Alan Brodsky's Don't Forget Gil can rebound from her faltering seventh-place effort in the Rampart Stakes (gr. III) March 20 at Gulfstream Park. The 4-year-old Kafwain filly won a stakes a Tampa Bay Downs in her seasonal debut three weeks earlier.
Don't Forget Gil teamed with jockey Rajiv Maragh to win last year's Florida Oaks (gr. III) at Tampa. The New York bred is a four-time winner and earner of $355,637 in 14 lifetime starts.
Juddmonte Farms' Solo Piano, a daughter of the 2001 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) and Alabama winner Flute, ran fourth in a turf allowance event at Keeneland in her first start of the year April 9. She will be making her graded stakes debut for trainer Bill Mott.
$150,000 Shuvee Handicap (gr. II, Race 4, 2:36 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 3 & Up, 1 Mile
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Seattle Smooth (KY), J Rose, 122, A W Dutrow
2. Don't Forget Gil (NY), R Maragh, 115, M A Hennig
3. Milwaukee Appeal (ON), P Husbands, 116, S H Fairlie
4. Funny Moon (KY), A Garcia, 117, C Clement
5. Solo Piano (KY), J Lezcano, 114, W I Mott