With Saratoga's still prestigious Spinaway Stakes downgraded from a grade I to a grade II, New York will host its first grade I stakes for 2-year-old fillies Saturday. Headlining the $300,000 guaranteed Matron Stakes at seven furlongs is Peachtree Stable's India, whose 119-pound impost is the same as that of her six rivals.
Despite a lack of experience against stakes horses and at distances beyond 5 1/2 furlongs, India is the one to beat after a scorching 12-length maiden romp at Saratoga July 28, in which she covered the 5 1/2 distance in 1:04.66.
"After the race, Todd (trainer Todd Pletcher) said to me, 'I was expecting her to run like that the first time,' " said jockey John Velazquez, who will ride India.
India was not quite as sharp in her debut on June 16 at Belmont when she came up a neck short after a prolonged stretch duel with winner Cajun Mistress.
"The first time she ran, she was extremely green," Velazquez said. "She was just hanging on her left lead and looking at everything. The second time she ran, she was very professional and very fast. She's maturing. She's figuring out what she needs to do and, hopefully she continues like that. If she runs like she did last time, she'll be very tough."
Should seven furlongs and stakes-caliber fillies prove too much for India, then Bob and Beverly Lewis' consistent Folklore should benefit. Never worse than second in five career starts, Folklore won the Adirondack Stakes (gr. II) opening day at Saratoga for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas before tasting a one-length defeat given to her by Adieu in a solid seven-furlong Spinaway try.
"She's such a gutsy filly," said Peter Hutton, Lukas' New York assistant. "I thought she could have won the Spinaway if she got outside earlier because she and Adieu are pretty evenly matched on ability."
As for the Matron, Hutton is happy with his filly's credentials leading up to the race.
"I think we're in a better position going longer," Hutton replied when asked how he thought India stacked up to Folklore. "Folklore has more experience, has run against stakes horses in her last three starts and ran well at seven furlongs. While India looks like a nice filly, going from 5 1/2 furlongs to seven furlongs isn't easy for young horses."
A disappointment in the Spinaway was G R and S Stable's Fifth Avenue, who beat Folklore in her career debut and was defeated by that one by three quarters of a length in the Adirondack. Fifth Avenue, who eked out a nose win in Belmont's Fashion Stakes, faded to last in the Spinaway, but will get a jockey change for the Matron as Eibar Coa now has the mount.
A pair of California invaders will give the Matron a try. River's Prayer and Miss Norman, third and fourth respectively in the Aug. 27 Del Mar Debutante (gr. I), will need to step up their games or prove that California's juvenile fillies are better than New York's.
Also partaking in the Matron are third-place Spinaway finisher Along the Sea and the undefeated Halo Humor, whose two wins came by a combined 10 1/2 lengths at Saratoga.
Post Horse Trainer Jockey
1 India Todd Pletcher John Velazquez
2 Along the Sea Ralph Ziadie Javier Castellano
3 Halo Humor Steve Asmussen Jerry Bailey
4 Fifth Avenue Mark Hennig Eibar Coa
5 Miss Norman Sal Gonzalez Mike Luzzi
6 Folklore D. Wayne Lukas Edgar Prado
7 River's Prayer Paula Capestro Victor Espinoza