Saturday's $250,000 Prioress Stakes Breeders' Cup at Belmont Park is more than just a grade I event for 3-year-old fillies. The six-furlong sprint will likely set them up for Saratoga's top races of the division: the $250,000 Darley Test Stakes (gr. I) at seven furlongs Aug. 4 and the $600,000 Alabama Stakes (gr. I) at 1 1/4 miles Aug. 18.
That means that the Prioress presents some improving fillies the chance to notch a grade I victory without bumping heads with the division leaders.
Such opportunities are hard to pass up for Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito, who has entered Silver Knockers. The daughter of Silver Deputy will try to halt a three-race losing streak.
Silver Knockers started her career by winning her first two starts at Gulfstream Park. She then ran second in the Forward Gal Stakes (gr. II), seventh in the Ashland Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland, and second in the Adena Springs Miss Preakness Stakes (gr. III) at Pimlico.
“She’s obviously a very talented filly,” Zito said. “Her only bad race, and I’m not even sure you can call it that, was in the Ashland and it may just be that she doesn’t like Polytrack. I have no doubt in my mind that she will be able to handle distances, and stretching her out is probably the plan for the summer."
Trainer Richard Violette Jr., however, looks to have the filly to beat in Dream Rush. A winner of two of three starts at Belmont, including the seven-furlong Nassau County Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. II) May 5, the Wild Rush filly was beaten a length in the mile Acorn Stakes (gr. I) June 9 by Cotton Blossom. She carries co-topweight of 122 pounds in the Prioress.
“It looks like there is a lot more speed in this race,” said Violette, who won the Tom Fool Breeders’ Cup Handicap (gr. II) here July 4 with High Finance. “We drew post 9 of 9, and I think that’s a good thing. If somebody gets stupid and wants to go in :21 and :43, we can lay off. She’s run very well, like she did in the Nassau County, and I don’t think she is a one-dimensional speed horse. We may even try two turns with her down the road.
“Naturally, our big goal is the Test because it is seven furlongs, and that is just right for her, but this is a big race, too. You’re not supposed to pass up grade I races when you have a chance, and she is firing on all cylinders.”
Also in at 122 pounds is Appealing Zophie, who is the only grade I winner in the field of nine. By Successful Appeal , she won last year's Spinaway Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga and sports a two-turn win in the Silverbulletday Stakes (gr. III) at Fair Grounds this winter. In her last start, she led until deep stretch in the 7 1/2-furlong La Troienne Stakes (gr. III) at Churchill Downs May 5 but weakened and finished sixth.
Ticket to Seattle is next in the weights, at 120 pounds, and sports a recent win in the Peach Blossom Stakes at Delaware Park. The daughter of Capote ran third last time out in the Crank It Up Stakes on grass at Monmouth Park.
Earlier this year, trainer George “Rusty” Arnold made the decision to leave New York. He has a filly for the Prioress, however, with Magical Ride. The Storm Cat filly has had three starts this year, one on dirt at Gulfstream, one on Keeneland’s Polytrack, and a fourth-place finish on turf in Churchill Downs’ Open Mind Stakes May 12 in her last outing.
“That has happened because I’ve been moving around so much,” Arnold said about all the surface changes. “She had a little ankle problem and we gave her some time, but her first race back this year was a good one. There aren’t a lot of graded sprint stakes for fillies, but the Prioress is a race we looked at for a while now, and it is a chance to get a grade I victory for her.”
Prioress BC Stakes (gr. I), Six Furlongs, Race 8, Post 4:45
Post Horse Jockey Weight
1 Silver Knockers Javier Castellano 116
2 Cash’s Girl Alan Garica 118
3 Appealing Zophie Kent Desormeaux 122
4 Her Majesty Julien Leparoux 118
5 Magical Ride Fernando Jara 118
6 Graeme Six Mike Luzzi 116
7 Half Time Crown Channing Hill 116
8. Ticket to Seattle Kendrick Carmouche 120
9 Dream Rush Eibar Coa 122