Wonder Again (11) emerges from a finish line traffic jam to win the Noble Damsel Handicap Saturday at Belmont.

Wonder Again (11) emerges from a finish line traffic jam to win the Noble Damsel Handicap Saturday at Belmont.

AP/NYRA Adam Coglianese

Wonder Again Drives to Noble Damsel Win

John and Joan Phillips' Wonder Again won for the first time in 2003 and ended a five-race losing streak, taking Saturday's $150,000 Noble Damsel Handicap (gr. IIIT) for fillies and mares at Belmont Park.

The 4-year-old bay Silver Hawk filly, ridden by Edgar Prado drove between Something Ventured on her inside and Dancal on the outside in deep stretch to win by a short neck over Dancal. Something Ventured was another neck behind. The one turn mile Noble Damsel was won in a crisp time of 1:33 on a firm turf course.

A Belmont turf specialist, Wonder Again, who is trained by James Toner, improved to 5-3-1-1 on the sod there with earnings of nearly $300,000. Her last victory came in the Garden City Breeders's Cup Handicap (gr. IT) on the Belmont green more than a year ago.

"This puts our faith back in the horse," Toner said. "She's had a frustrating year. We've all had a frustrating year. It's nice to be able to come back out on top with her. What we do from here I don't know, but the fact is I couldn't be more excited with how she ran today."

Prado edged Wonder Again, who started on the outside of the 11-horse field, off heels early and Wonder Again was at the back through the early part of the eight-furlong affair. Lentil, 70-1, slashed to quick fractions of :22 2/5, :45 2/5 and 1:09 with Pioneer Inn and Delta Princess rated off her in second and third.

Wonder Again, saving ground, loomed into contention in the stretch. She came off the rail as Something Ventured and John Velazquez grabbed the lead from favored Dedication only to be collared by Dancal and Javier Castellano inside the final sixteenth. Wonder Again gamely rallied between the two and finished the strongest of the three.

"She was in the back for the first part, but I was able to save ground," Prado said. "She split horses; she was very brave. She's a nice filly and she's back to her form."

The Kentucky homebred won for the fifth time in 13 career outings while earning $90,000. That pushed her career bankroll to $474,915.

Sent off at a generous 6-1, Wonder Again paid $14.20, $7.40 and $5.60. Dancal returned $7.50 and $4.90. Something Ventured's show was $4.20. The $2 exacta was worth $89.50.

Dedication, the 9-5 favorite with Jerry Bailey aboard, led briefly in upper stretch and finished fourth.

"She ran to me like a horse who maybe needed a race," tainer Christophe Clement said. "She looked good, but got tired the last eighth. We'll take her back and regroup."

Quantum Merit Romps in Ashley T. Cole
Quantum Merit, under Richard Migliore, set modest front-running fractions, then pulled away to win the $114,700 Ashley T. Cole and his second victory in eight

Quantum Merit won 1 1/8-mile Ashley T. Cole in 1:47 2/5 over the firm course. He paid $9.80 to win as the lukewarm favorite.

Migliore rode Quantum Merit to 8 1/4-length victory in a 1 1/8-mile turf allowance race at Belmont Park on Sept. 12.

"You always worry when you're coming back on eight days, but he did everything right this week," said winning trainer Del Carroll. "He didn't miss an oat."

Quantum Merit - a 4-year-old dark bay New York-bred gelding by Hansel, out of Just Flirting (Green Dancer) - earned $68,820 for Very Un Stable. He is now 4-1-2 from 13 starts with earnings of $178,940. In eight starts on the Belmont turf, Quantum Merit is now 3-0-2.

Quantum Merit broke from the No. 6 post position in the field of 11 statebred older horses. He went straight for the lead and set slow fractions of :25, :49 and 1:12 3/5. At the top of the stretch, he spurted away. He maintained his advantage through the finish line and won by 3 3/4 lengths. World of Wonder, under Heberto Castillo, Jr., was second and Robbie's Rockin, under John Velazquez, were third.

"I was happy when I saw :25 and I figured we were in good shape after the half went in :49," Carroll said. "He looked good the other day, but we were stepping up and facing a good field with a few stakes winners."

(Chart, Equibase)