Timing can mean everything, and in the case of the $250,000 Ruffian Invitational Handicap (gr. I) Aug. 1 at Saratoga, it could result in a long-awaited grade I victory for Unrivaled Belle.
Second in both of her prior grade I tries, Peter Vegso's 4-year-old daughter of Unbridled's Song--Queenie Belle lands in the right spot as the 119-pound top weight. She will be a solid choice in the six-horse Ruffian, which is for fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles and will be run for the first time at Saratoga. It was previously held at Belmont Park.
By waiting for the Ruffian, Unrivaled Belle avoids Life At Ten, who defeated her by nearly three lengths in the Ogden Phipps Handicap (gr. I) at Belmont Park June 12. Todd Pletcher's standout mare raced in the rich Delaware Handicap (gr. II) July 17, where she cruised to her sixth straight victory.
Unbridled Belle also missed 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, who, though she has been training at Saratoga, was instead shipped to Monmouth Park where she captured the non-graded Lady's Secret Stakes July 24.
As a result, it appears that Unrivaled Belle's main rivals in the Ruffian will be a second runner from the Pletcher barn, grade II winner Malibu Prayer, and Canadian invader Tasty Temptation, who is on a four-race win streak. The Ruffian, which is a "Win and You're In" race for the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic (gr. I), goes as race 9 on the Saratoga program with a probable post of 5:30 p.m. EDT.
“She’s had two good works here and she schooled really well in the paddock the other day, which is always a concern with her,” said trainer Bill Mott. “She looks well, she’s eating well, and she’s training well – all good signs.”
Unrivaled Belle has won two of four starts in 2010 and has been worse than second just once in a nine-race career that includes five victories. Prior to the Ogden Phipps, in which she vainly chased LIfe At Ten for the entire 1 1/16-mile journey, she defeated Rachel Alexandra in the La Troienne Stakes (gr. II) by a head at Churchill Downs April 30. The gray/roan filly also captured Gulfstream Park's Rampart Stakes (gr. III) in a front-running effort earlier this spring.
Second in the grade I Gazelle as a 3-year-old, Unrivaled Belle has earned $574,929 in her career. She will have regular jockey Kent Desormeaux aboard as usual and they will break from post 2.
Edward P. Evans' speedy homebred Malibu Prayer comes off a rousing 4 1/2-length triumph in the Lighthouse Stakes at Monmouth June 26 in her second start of the year. The 4-year-old daughter of Malibu Moon won the Chilukki Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill last fall. She also posted second-place showings in the Mother Goose (gr. I), Delaware Oaks (gr. II) and Monmouth Oaks (gr. II) last year.
Malibu Prayer ran a 98 Beyer Speed Figure at Monmouth, the second-best number of her career, for her fifth win from 11 lifetime starts.
“By design, we gave her the winter off with the idea that hopefully we could have her primed for the summer and fall of this year,” said Pletcher. “The timing of this race is good, plus it’s a grade I, which is attractive.”
Malibu Prayer gets three pounds from the favorite and will break from the rail with John Velazquez aboard.
Woodbine-based Tasty Temptation, trained by Mark Casse for Woodford Thoroughbreds, won the Hill 'n' Dale Stakes last out June 20 as the odds-on choice. The 4-year-old Medaglia d'Oro filly won last year's Wonder Where Stakes on the Woodbine turf and also finished fourth in the Queen's Plate against males. She is second in the field in earnings with $531,010. This will be her first start on dirt.
Starship Angel steps way up off a fourth-place finish in the Monmouth Beach Stakes May 30 for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin and NYKY Thoroughbred Stable. Classofsixtythree, trained by Gary Contessa, and Zaphyra, from the John Terranova II stable, both make their stakes debuts after allowance wins.
$250,000 Ruffian Invitational Handicap (gr. I, Race 9, 5:30 p.m.), 3-Year-Old Fillies, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Malibu Prayer (VA), J R Velazquez, 116, T A Pletcher
2. Unrivaled Belle (KY), K J Desormeaux, 119, W I Mott
3. Starship Angel (FL), G K Gomez, 113, K P McLaughlin
4. Classofsixtythree (KY), J Castellano, 113, G C Contessa
5. Tasty Temptation (ON), J R Leparoux, 115, M E Casse
6. Zaphyra (KY), E S Prado, 113, J P Terranova II