Hibaayeb and Giants Play, the top two finishers in the Sheepshead Bay (gr. IIT), will square off again in $150,000 New York Stakes (gr. IIT) for fillies and mares June 25 at Belmont Park.
The 1 1/4-mile New York is the first of two graded stakes on Belmont’s Saturday card that also includes the Mother Goose (gr. I) for 3-year-old fillies. A field of seven was drawn.
Victorious in the group II Ribblesdale during last year’s Royal Ascot meet in England, Hibaayeb was later sent to the United States where she has won two of four starts. She took the Yellow Ribbon (gr. IT) at Hollywood Park in October, finished eighth in the Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT) at Churchill Downs in November, was third in a Gulfstream Park optional claimer on April 2, and was a one-length winner of the Sheepshead Bay on May 28.
“She ran well last time when she won the grade II,” said Saeed bin Suroor, who trains Hibaayeb for Godolphin. “She came back sound after her last race and is in good form. Now, we’re going to run her in a grade II again. I think we’ll see a good race from her again.”
While the 1 1/4-mile New York is a furlong shorter than the Sheepshead Bay, Suroor believes Hibaayeb will not be at a disadvantage.
“She won the (Ribblesdale) in England at a mile,” said Suroor. “I don’t think the trip will be a problem for her.”
John Velazquez will ride Hibaayeb, the 7-5 morning-line favorite, from post 7.
Newsells Park Stud’s Giants Play will attempt to reverse the form of the Sheepshead Bay, having failed to reel in Hibaayeb after closing from fifth into fractions of :50.75 and 1:16.10. The Sheepshead Bay was her third start in the United States, where she has finished third in both a Feb. 18 allowance and the Orchid (gr. IIIT) at Gulfstream. Previously, she had won one race from five starts in England.
Christophe Lorieul, assistant to trainer Christophe Clement, said good to firm ground will help Giants Play’s chances on Saturday.
“She’s always a little bit keen, and softer ground takes a little more out of them,” said Lorieul. “She has a hard time relaxing. If the ground ends up good to soft, I don’t think it would be to our advantage. But if the ground is on the firmer side, I think that might help her a little bit.”
Giants Play, made the 7-2 morning-second choice, will break from post 6 with Rajiv Maragh aboard.
Yet another 4-year-old filly who began her career in Europe is Martin Schwartz’s Zagora, who has placed in three graded stakes since coming to the United States.
Trained in France by Jean-Claude Rouget, Zagora won the group III Prix Vanteaux at Longchamp and group III Prix de Psyche at Deauville, and was second in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (gr. IT) at Keeneland in October. Subsequently transferred to Chad Brown, she has made two starts in 2011, finishing second after leading in the stretch of the Hillsborough (gr. IIIT) at Tampa Bay Downs on March 12 and third in the Jenny Wiley (gr. IIT) at Keeneland on April 16.
The New York will be Zagora’s first start at 1 1/4 miles since her victory in the Prix de Psyche in July and a third in the group III Prix de Nonette in August.
“I thought both her races (this year) were OK and she has been training well,” said Brown. “I think this is an ideal distance for her. I’ve been looking to stretch her out, and it looks like 1 1/4 miles might be her best distance, based off her form in Europe.”
Ramon Dominguez will ride 5-2 morning-line second choice Zagora, who drew the rail.
Completing the field are Lazy F Ranch’s Prize Catch, who steps up in class off a local overnight stakes victory for Angel Penna Jr.; La Cloche, winner of an optional claimer on May 11; Trix in the City, who followed an optional claiming score at Gulfstream with a ninth in the Suwannee River (gr. IIIT); and Freedom Rings, fourth against New York-breds in her two most recent starts.
$150,000 New York Stakes (gr. IIT, Race 6, 3:40 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 3 & Up, 1 1/4 Miles (Turf) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer 1. Zagora (FR), R A Dominguez, 116, C C Brown
2. Prize Catch (KY), C H Velasquez, 116, A J Penna, Jr.
3. Trix in the City (KY), A Garcia, 116, R A Violette Jr.
4. La Cloche (KY), J Lezcano, 116, J J Toner
5. Freedom Rings (NY), J Castellano, 116, D G Donk
6. Giants Play (KY), R Maragh, 116, C Clement
7. Hibaayeb (GB), J R Velazquez, 123, S bin Suroor