Grade I winner Sweet Reason and grade II-placed Got Lucky are the class of the $300,000 Gazelle Stakes (gr. II) at Aqueduct Racetrack April 5, an event for sophomore fillies on the road to the Longines Kentucky Oaks (gr. I).
Trained by Leah Gyarmati for Treadway Racing Stable, Sweet Reason flashed brilliance last summer when she went straight off her sparkling 6 1/4-length debut win to capture the Spinaway Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga Race Course. The daughter of Street Sense next turned in a runner-up finish in the Frizette Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont Park behind Artemis Agrotera, then gave a good account of herself with a fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) at Santa Anita Park.
Well-rested from that adventure, Sweet Reason returned March 7 with a good victory in a one mile optional claimer on the inner track to set her up for this start. She recorded a career-low 58 Beyer figure for the race under regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr., but the paltry number did not alarm her trainer.
"If she had got a 58 and not won, it would have been a problem," Gyarmati said. "But Irad never touched her with the stick. He didn't have to.
"I think she's moving along nicely. I need to see her in there against top 3-year-old fillies. I have no reason to believe she is any less than she was last year."
Gyarmati has been building Sweet Reason's stamina with long works for her first test at 1 1/8 miles. She worked with stablemate Noble Moon, a Wood Memorial entrant, six furlongs in 1:14.46 March 29, and also has recorded works at distances of a mile, five furlongs and another six furlongs dating back to Feb. 23.
"She breezes with Noble Moon and plays with him," Gyarmati said. "I'm very happy with her. She's doing super. The last race was a perfect race coming back. I couldn't ask for a better setup coming off the layoff and now with 30 days rest. She's dragging the rider around there."
Sweet Reason carries highweight of 120 pounds in this start while all others are assigned 116; Ortiz retains the the mount from post 3.
Got Lucky returns to New York after tasting the dust of eventual Fair Grounds Oaks (gr. II) winner and current Kentucky Oaks favorite Untapable in the Feb. 22 Rachel Alexandra Stakes (gr. III) at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. In that event, the A.P. Indy filly swung five wide into the stretch and, while no match for the 9 1/2-length winner, held well for the place.
Trained by Todd Pletcher for Hill 'n' Dale Equine Holdings and Philip J. Steinberg, Got Lucky broke her maiden Jan. 29 by 5 1/4 lengths going a mile on the Gulfstream Park dirt. Last year she was second in her only other outings: a maiden special weight at Belmont in October and the Nov. 30 Demoiselle Stakes (gr. II) won by stablemate Stopchargingmaria. Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez comes in to ride Got Lucky, 7-2 on the morning line, from post 2.
"We ran into what appears to be the Kentucky Oaks favorite and probably got a little farther back than we needed (in the Rachel Alexandra)," Pletcher said, "but I thought she ran on well to be second. I felt like the Gazelle made sense as a 1 1/8-mile race that would hopefully be run on a racetrack that would play fairly as opposed to Gulfstream, which might play a little more to speed. She's a very typical A.P. Indy; she's got a good, steady rhythm to her. She'll settle back and make a long, sustained run."
My Miss Sophia is another Pletcher trainee who broke her maiden at Gulfstream. The daughter of Unbridled's Song freaked by 11 lengths in a one-turn mile dirt event at the South Florida oval, getting off to a slow start but moving off quickly to chase the pace before taking over and drawing off. It was her second start. Unraced as a 2-year-old for Mathis Stable, she debuted Feb. 9 at Gulfstream in a 5 1/2-furlong event in which she was urged to the front but gave in to a stalker for a 1 3/4-length loss.
Pletcher hopes My Miss Sophia can emulate two other 3-year-olds in his stable—Constitution, who won the Besilu Stables Florida Derby (gr.I) in his third start, and In Tune, who took the Gulfstream Park Oaks (gr. II) in hers.
"The only difference is she finished second first time out where the other two won," Pletcher said of My Miss Sophia. "She'll be stretching out to two turns for the first time. We're encouraged by the way she's trained, encouraged by the way she's run. It's a calculated risk. We're optimistic she's up to the challenge. She'll be very prominent."
Swilcan Stables' Vero Amore is the most experienced of the bunch with six starts. She has yet to return to the winner's circle after breaking her maiden and winning an allowance consecutively at Parx Racing last year, but was second by a nose in the Ruthless Stakes at Aqueduct Jan. 12 and also turned in a runner-up finish in the Busher there Feb. 1. The Mineshaft filly was a closing third last time out against males in a tough Parx allowance at a mile for trainer Robert Reid Jr. Jose Ortiz will ride from post 5.
Forced to miss stakes objectives because of two quarantine situations this past winter at Parx, Reid is excited to have his filly in the field for the Gazelle. She was beaten just a length by Charleymillionaire, who will compete on the same card in the Bay Shore (gr. III).
"That race was a godsend that I could get that into her," Reid said of the allowance. "I'm totally convinced she'll run this far. I don't think the 1 1/8 miles is a problem."
Another seeking a return to victory is Marylou Whitney's Bird Maker, who looks to find herself for trainer Ian Wilkes after a promising start. The Empire Maker filly was second by a length in the Nov. 30 Golden Rod Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill Downs after breaking her maiden at the Louisville track. But she ran a lackluster fourth in a 1 1/16-mile allowance last time out Feb. 27 at Gulfstream off a runner-up finish there going the same distance Jan. 31.
"I had to use her a little more (in the races at Gulfstream Park)," said Wilkes, who would prefer Bird Maker settle before making her run. "I think she got out of her element. Sometimes you've got to put them in there (close to the pace) a little earlier. This is not going to be an easy race. What's she's got to do is step forward. When she turned from 2 to 3, it took a while to get her where I had her as a 2-year-old. Every horse is different. I love to let them come along at a consistent rate."
To be ridden from the outside by Luis Contreras, Bird Maker gets blinkers on—as does Richard Greeley's homebred Wraith, a maiden-winning daughter of Ghostzapper trained by Mitchell E. Friedman who was third in the March 7 allowance behind Sweet Reason. Wraith completes the field from the rail under Rajiv Maragh.
$300,000 Gazelle Stakes (gr. II, Race 9, approximate post 5:06 p.m. EDT), 3YO fillies, 1 1/8 miles (dirt)
PP, Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Wraith (KY), R. Maragh, 116, M. Friedman, 30-1
2. Got Lucky (KY), J. Velazquez, 116, T A Pletcher, 7-2
3. Sweet Reason (KY), I Ortiz, Jr., 120, L Gyarmati, 8-5
4. My Miss Sophia (KY), J. Castellano, 116, T A Pletcher, 9-5
5. Vero Amore (KY), J. Ortiz, 116, R Reid, Jr., 12-1
6. Bird Maker (KY), L. Contreras, 116, I Wilkes, 8-1
Equipment Changes: 1—Wraith—Blinkers On; 6—Bird Maker—Blinkers On