Harmony Lodge Genuine Threat This Time

(from Belmont Park report)
Third in last year's Genuine Risk Handicap (gr. II) as an outsider, Harmony Lodge figures to be the mare to beat in Sunday's renewal of the $150,000 event Sunday at Belmont Park.

Belmont's Mother's Day feature, the six-furlong Genuine Risk drew a field of five fillies and mares. Harmony Lodge totes high weight of 120 pounds, spotting her foes up to eight pounds.

Facing just three others in last May's edition, Harmony Lodge received little support. At odds of 7-1, she put in her customary workmanlike effort, but could not match strides with grade 1 winners Shine Again and Carson Hollow late.

The old pro began racing in July of her 2-year-old season and had become a frequent entrant in graded stakes. Harmony Lodge peaked midway through her 5-year-old campaign last August when she denied Shine Again an unprecedented third consecutive victory in Saratoga's Ballerina (gr. I). Harmony Lodge's nose victory was a 12-1 upset, but the Hennessy mare would later take Belmont's Gallant Bloom Handicap (gr. II) in October, ending a successful and surprising season.

"She's always been a special filly, but she was better than ever over the summer and fall," Pletcher said. "She was a real exceptional 2-year-old, equaling the track record first time out at Saratoga, but we had some physical setbacks. She's always been a classy and talented filly and it all came together late last year."

It would have been of little surprise if Harmony Lodge were retired at the conclusion of last season. Owners Eugene and Laura Melnyk, however, enjoy watching their horses compete and decided to bring the mare back for another campaign. Harmony Lodge has responded, winning Gulfstream Park's First Lady and finishing second in the Shirley Jones and Madison handicaps.

"Obviously, she would have been in anyone's front row in their broodmare shed but Eugene and Laura said she will be a broodmare for the rest of her life and wanted enjoy her racing," Pletcher said.

"Her win in the First Lady was great but I thought she reacted a little from it in the Shirley Jones. Her effort in the Madison was solid and now dropping back to six furlongs I think she can get back for a peak effort."

Harmony Lodge, who figures to play her part in what could be a blistering pace in the Genuine Risk, drew post 3 under jockey Richard Migliore.

Trainer Tim Hills entered Mooji Moo, a fleet-footed mare who has a win and two seconds from four starts this season. In January, the Jeblar mare upset Genuine Risk rival Bear Fan and eight others when winning the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint at Santa Anita at odds of 17-1. Despite never beating a mare of Harmony Lodge's caliber, Hills said Mooji Moo deserves a shot.

"She just lays her body down and tries so hard every time," Hill said. "I don't know if she's as effective around those big sweeping turns at Belmont, but she deserves a shot to win a race like this."

With little attention and fanfare, Mooji Moo has pieced together a solid lifetime record of 9-7-2 from 27 starts with earnings of nearly $475,000. She was claimed out of an Aqueduct maiden race in her second start for $50,000.

"A lot of people think of her as a high-priced claimer, but she's so much better than that," Hill said. "She's small, but well built. Her speed and determination go a long way."

Trainer Bruce Levine is one of New York's best and is coming off an outstanding spring meet at Aqueduct where he won 16 of 47 races (34%). Despite the success, however, Levine's winners routinely pay double-digit prices (his average win payoff at Aqueduct was close to nearly $11).

"I feel like Rodney Dangerfield," Levine joked. "I never get any respect."

His Our Royal Dancer will go off a juicy price in her stakes debut. She has won her last three races by open lengths and should get a hot pace to close into.

"Over the winter, she started putting everything together, but she's got to go another level to win this," Levine said.

Like Our Royal Dancer, Kitty Knight has never beaten graded stakes foes. Kitty Knight, however, goes out for Hall of Fame trainer H. Allen Jerkens, a three-time winner of the Genuine Risk whose barn sprung upsets in stakes on the final three Saturdays at Aqueduct.

Bear Fan, a quick Californian, successfully shipped east in the middle of February and won Laurel's Barbara Fritchie (gr. II). Trained by Wesley Ward, Bear Fan is in search of her third straight stakes win. Jockey John Velazquez has the mount.

$150,000 Genuine Risk Handicap (gr. II), fillies & mares 3 & up, 6 furlongs
1. Bear, Fan Wesley Ward, John Velazquez, 117
2. Mooji Moo, Tim Hills, Manuel Aguilar, 115
3. Harmony Lodge, Todd Pletcher, Richard Migliore, 120
4. Kitty Knight, Allen Jerkens, Norberto Arroyo Jr.. 114
5. Our Royal Dancer, Bruce Levine, Mike Luzzi, 112