Chilean Horse of the Year Belle Watling brings plenty of international flavor to the $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I) April 15, and trainer Patrick Biancone hopes it's the right time for her to show her true ability.

The 4 1/2-year-old mare won 13 of 15 starts last year in her native country. She's now owned by a syndicate that includes Biancone and is reunited with her jockey from Chile, Hector Berrios, for her first grade I attempt in the U.S. Belle Watling had two disappointing races earlier this year in Florida.

"She's the best to ever run (in Chile), there's no question about that," said Biancone April 14. "It has just been a matter of getting acclimatized to her new home."

Biancone was prepared for that transition period to take some time. He helped purchase the daughter of shuttle stallion Dushyantor and brought her to Florida late last year. In Chile, she had won consistently on turf and dirt during her streak. Her first start at Gulfstream Park was ambitious -- trying to stay 11 furlongs on turf in The Very One Stakes (gr. IIIT). Under 123 pounds, she faded to fourth.

Belle Watling followed that with a third-place finish in an optional allowance on dirt. Because she was bred in the Southern Hemisphere, she's a half-year behind most of her American counterparts, and Biancone thought she would need some time to catch up.

"The reason we are here is she suddenly started training better than anything she had done since coming to the U.S.," he said. "She started doing everything really well and it wasn't like that before her first two races. Coming from Europe or South America, I automatically assume it will take about four to six months to acclimatize. She began to train better and we are right around five-and-a-half months, so that's why we sent her to this race. Hopefully she shows her best."

Biancone is eager to reunite Belle Watling with Berrios, who moved to America this winter trying to establish himself in the U.S. with the help of agent Jose Santos, a now-retired Hall of Fame rider.

"I don't know if he followed her here specifically, but he won 13 races with her in Chile," said Biancone. "He certainly must know something about her. He has immigrated here and is trying to get going, and this mare if she shows her best will certainly help him."
 

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