Friendly Michelle One to Beat in Belmont's Prioress

From Belmont Park Track Report
One of just a few grade I sprints for 3-year-old fillies, Saturday's $250,000 Prioress Stakes at six furlongs at Belmont Park has drawn a big field of 12 runners seeking to become grade I winners.

Friendly Michelle is the filly to beat in this wide-open dash. How she responds to a cutback in distance will be one of the key factors in the outcome.

Having never run at six furlongs, Friendly Michelle may be at somewhat of a disadvantage. She broke her maiden going 5 1/2 furlongs last summer at Del Mar, but all of the filly's races since then have been at 6 1/2 furlongs or farther. Recently, she won the La Troienne Stakes (gr. III) going seven furlongs at Churchill Downs and was a game third in her last start, the mile Acorn Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont last month.

"Her last two races have been really awesome," said trainer Bob Baffert. "She's been caught in speed duels both times and stayed on strong."

With a large field, the pace scenario will be somewhat complicated. Baffert expects Friendly Michelle to be near the lead. He does not want to see her trying to come from too far off the pace.

"She'll be near the lead," Baffert said. "We tried to take her back in the Santa Paula at Santa Anita and she won, but it was ugly. She was just much better than those fillies."

Aside from Friendly Michelle, there are two other fillies exiting the Acorn. Bending Strings finished fourth last month, beaten 2 1/2 lengths. She won the Nassau County Breeders' Cup (gr. II) going seven furlongs over the first weekend of the meet. Bending Strings has not run six furlongs since last December, but she is 2-for-3 at the distance. winning a maiden special weight and an entry-level allowance at Golden Gate Fields earlier in her career.

After setting the pace in the Acorn, Padua Stables' Bohemian Lady faded to seventh. Prior to that, she was beaten a half-length by Friendly Michelle in a third-place effort in the La Troienne. Bohemian Lady won the first two starts of her career going six furlongs over Aqueduct's inner track.

Bohemian Lady is coupled with Frenchglen, who would run in the event of a wet track. John Velazquez is named on both fillies.

The other coupling consists of Aspen Gal and Reforest. Aaron Gryder was named to ride both fillies. Aspen Gal made her last start in the Vagrancy Handicap (gr. II) against older rivals, chasing the very sharp Bear Fan and weakening to third.

The Prioress is the eighth race and is scheduled for 4:52
Post Position Jockey Horse Weight
1 Bending Strings Jerry Bailey 119
2 Reforest Aaron Gryder 115
3 Forest Music Abel Castellano Jr. 119
4 Feline Story Javier Castellano 121
5 Why You Jorge Chavez 115
6 Aspen Gal Aaron Gryder 117
7 Frenchglen John Velazquez 117
8 Very Vegas Jose Santos 119
9 She's a Mugs Rafael Bejarano 117
10 Friendly Michelle Corey Nakatani 119
11 Rodeo Licious Mike Luzzi 117
12 Bohemian Lady John Velazquez 119
Entries: a-Reforest and Aspen Gal; b-Frenchglen and Bohemian Lady