The last time Unbridled Belle raced at Saratoga, the bay filly was in the midst of a long and unfulfilling summer. An 11 ½-length defeat in the 2006 Alabama (gr. I) was just one of three sound New York losses for the then 3-year-old filly, prompting Team Valor Stables and trainer Todd Pletcher to give her an extended rest.
It seems that the nine-month layoff did Unbridled Belle a world of good, as she has come back better than ever. Her 7 ¾-length victory in the Delaware Handicap (gr. II) July 15 emphatically proved that fact, and now the daughter of Broken Vow , out of Little Bold Belle, could be primed for a big effort in the $400,000 Personal Ensign Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga Aug. 24.
Because the Personal Ensign is at 1 ¼-mile, just as the Delaware Handicap was, Unbridled Belle could have a big edge. None of the other fillies and mares in the field of six have won at that distance. Bred in Kentucky by Charger Six Ventures, Unbridled Belle has won four of 11 lifetime starts and earned $772,840.
“The Delaware Handicap was a real breakthrough race for her,” Pletcher said. “We’re hoping she can reproduce that form. She has been training well since coming here.”
Her only other race in 2007 was a second place finish in the Obeah Handicap at Delaware Park July 16.
Pletcher will also start Indian Vale, who last raced in the Delaware Handicap, finishing a distant fifth. However, the daughter of A.P. Indy, out of Marley Vale, has won seven of 11 races, including four graded stakes. She is owned by Melnyk Racing Stables.
Pletcher’s main competition could come from Sugar Shake, a 4-year-old filly who is having a very nice season. By Awesome Again , out of Skipping Around, Sugar Shake has won a pair of graded stakes this year and most recently, missed by just a half-length in the Shuvee Handicap (gr. II) at Belmont May 19. In that one she was slightly injured, prompting trainer Bobby Frankel to give her time off.
“My filly came out of that race with a puffy ankle, so we had to stop on her after that race,” Frankel said. “She has been fine since then. She has put in solid workouts and she has been training well. So far, she has been good for us. We’ll have to see what happens with her in the Personal Ensign.”
Bred in Kentucky by Adena Springs, Sugar Shake has won five of 12 races in her career, but has never won at a distance of more than 1 1/16-mile. She will carry a race-high 122 pounds and will likely set the pace.
Like Pletcher, Allen Jerkins will saddle a pair of contenders, 4-year-olds Miss Shop and Teammate. Miss Shop won the Rampart Handicap (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park in March, but has lost convincingly in her last four tries. Teammate is the filly that defeated Sugar Shake in the Shuvee, but has not been close in her last two this summer.
Rounding out the field is Lila Paige, a 6-year-old mare by Cryptoclearance. The veteran of the race, Lila Paige has started 45 times in her career, winning eight times. She has never won a stakes, and finished a distant second to Unbridled Belle in the Delaware Handicap.
Post time is 5:20 p.m. EDT for the Personal Ensign.
$400,000 Personal Ensign Stakes (gr. I, Race 9, 5:20 p.m.), Fillies and Mares 3 & Up, 1 1/4 miles
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Sugar Shake (KY), 122, Rafael Bejarano
2. Unbridled Belle (KY), 118, Ramon A. Dominguez
3. Lila Paige (KY), 116, Eibar Coa
4. Teammate (KY), 118, Cornelio H. Velasquez
5. Miss Shop (FL), 118, Javier Castellano
6. Indian Vale (ON), 118, John R. Velazquez