Team Valor International’s Unbridled Belle has been simply terrific in her career at Delaware Park, winning five of seven starts at the track including the 2007 Delaware Handicap (gr. II). On July 19, the 6-year-old mare will try to continue her domination when she takes on six rivals in the $1 million event.
Unbridled Belle will seek to become only the sixth horse to win the Delaware Handicap multiple times, and will also try to give trainer Todd Pletcher his record-tying fourth win in the 1 1/4-mile dirt race that has been designated a Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” event. The winner will receive an automatic berth into the Nov. 6 Ladies Classic (gr. I) at Santa Anita Park.
A daughter of Broken Vow—Little Bold Belle, by Silver Buck, Unbridled Belle won the Del ‘Cap in a 7 3/4-length romp in 2007, and seemed to be destined for a repeat in 2008 after she won the Obeah Stakes (gr. III) – the local prep at Delaware Park – by nearly six lengths. But she was never a serious factor in last year’s race, finishing 4 3/4 lengths back in third.
“Something happened on the way over to the paddock," Pletcher said. “She got very hot and she just was not herself. She froze up in the paddock and did not behave very well, which is very much out of character for her. In spite of that, she still ran a very competitive race, but we thought it might have compromised her chances a little bit. She has been very good in the paddock since then and we will just do a little extra paddock schooling to cover our bases, but we do not anticipate any problems.”
Unbridled Belle was sensational in this year’s Obeah June 20, winning in wire-to-wire fashion by 11 lengths under Richard Migliore, who will have the call again. Her only other start this year was a fifth-place finish in the Louisville Distaff (gr. II) May 1 at Churchill Downs.
Unbridled Belle, the 2-1 morning-line favorite, will carry co-top weight of 119 pounds and break from post 5. In her career, she has posted a 7-3-3 record from 20 starts with earnings of nearly $1.6 million. The dark bay or brown mare, who will be retired to Hill ‘n’ Dale at the end of the year, was bred in Kentucky by Joe Sutton and Laszio Makk.
Pletcher won the Delaware Handicap in 2001 with Irving's Baby, in 2006 with Fleet Indian, and in 2007 with Unbridled Belle.
Unbridled Belle’s main threat could be Helen Groves and Helen Alexander’s Acoma, who has had just one setback in her last five starts – all in graded stakes company. A 4-year-old daughter of Empire Maker, Acoma has run big races on both turf and dirt, winning the Pin Oak Valley View Stakes (gr. IIIT), Mrs. Revere Stakes (gr. IIT), and Early Times Mint Julep Handicap (gr. IIIT) on turf, and the Dogwood (gr. III) and Azeri (gr. III) on dirt. It made the decision to enter her in the Del ‘Cap a tough one for trainer David Carroll.
“It was between this race and the Beverly D. (gr. IT, Aug. 8 at Arlington Park) on turf,” said Carroll. “If the Beverly D. had been this week or next we might have gone with that because she is undefeated on turf. But anything can happen in three weeks. It was a tough decision, but the Delaware Handicap is a very prestigious race and has a $1 million purse. We have a lot of respect for Unbridled Belle, but Acoma is training great and we decided to take a shot.
“She has been galloping well over the track, but she has never run here so we won’t know how she handles it until the race. If she does, she'll be tough. She tends to run better on dirt when she has pace to run at, so I’m hoping a couple of these horses will show some speed.”
Regular rider Julien Leparoux will have the mount on Acoma, the 5-2 second choice who will also carry 119 pounds. They will break from post 4.
Others with graded stakes wins this season are Icon Project, a romping winner in the June 20 New York Stakes (gr. III) on Belmont's muddy track, and Swift Temper, who won the Sixty Sails Handicap (gr. III) at Hawthorne in April.
Livin Lovin was cross-entered in the Delaware Oaks (gr. II) for 3-year-old fillies the previous day.
Post time is set for 5:35 p.m. EDT.
$1,000,000 Delaware Handicap (gr. II, 5:35 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 3 & Up, 1 1/4 Miles (Dirt) PP. Horse, Trainer, Jockey, Weight, Odds
1. Temple Street, Brad Cox, Jon Court, 111, 10-1
2. Morena, Claudio, Michael Matz, A.R. Napravnik, 116, 8-1
3. Icon Project, Martin Wolfson, Jose Valdivia, 115, 6-1
4. Acoma, David Carroll, Julian Leparoux, 119, 5/2
5. Unbridled Belle, Todd Pletcher, Richard Migliore, 119, 2-1
6. Livin Lovin, Steve Klesaris, Ramon Dominguez, 112, 10-1
7. Swift Temper, Dale Romans, Alan Garcia, 117, 4-1