The 4-year-old Pulpit filly, owned by Mike Pegram, Karl Watson, and Paul Weitman, sat in fifth early in the one-mile test. She rallied off the rail to enter contention in the stretch, was angled out by jockey John Velazquez for the drive and passed the top three to win in deep stretch by three-quarters of a length.
Trained by Bob Baffert, Fiftyshadesofhay won for the first time since her powerful victory in the grade III Iowa Oaks June 29, 2013. In her most recent race March 15 at Santa Anita Park, Fiftyshadesofhay finished sixth in the Santa Margarita Stakes (gr. I) in her second start of 2014.
In the Ruffian, run around one turn, Six Queens and My Wandy's Girl made the early pace through quick fractions of :22.33 for the opening quarter mile and :45.30 for the half mile on a fast track at Belmont. Fiftyshadesofhay raced in fifth behind Parc Monceau and returnee Grace Hall through the first half-mile, while Toasting trailed in sixth.
My Wandy's Girl disposed of front-running Six Queens through six furlongs in 1:10.04 as Grace Hall rallied on the outside. But Velazquez got Fiftyshadesofhay in gear in the final sixteenth of a mile, and the filly blew past on outside to win in a sharp effort.
"I was on the outside the whole backstretch and she didn't seem like she was going anywhere," said Velazquez. "They were going fast enough, so I thought I'd try to save some ground and put her behind horses and hopefully I'd get somewhere. By the three-eighths pole she started moving. I finally got out about the three-sixteenths pole and she responded.
"As soon as I got to the clear, she was running so good, I thought 'She's going to get there.' Not only did she get there, when she put a head in front she wanted to pull up. I said, 'Don't do that now, keep running!'"
The time for one mile was 1:35.70. Six Queens, Toasting, and Parc Monceau rounded out the order of finish.
Fiftyshadesofhay, the slight favorite at 8-5 over Wandy's Girl, paid $5.40, $3.70, and $2.50 across the board. Grace Hall returned $4.70 and $2.60, while My Wandy's Girl paid $2.50. The $2 exacta paid $26.60 and the $2 trifecta $53.
Fiftyshadesofhay, out of the Real Quiet mare Quiet Kim, was bred in Kentucky by WinStar Farm. She now has five wins, four seconds, and three thirds in 16 starts and earnings of $946,547.
"She had me a little worried there the way (track announcer Tom) Durkin was calling her," said Baffert. "I saw her way behind and I saw the hot pace, so I thought we had a chance. I told John to ride her however he wanted and I guess he knew what he was doing. It worked out that way at Pimlico last year (in the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan), and she won. She likes to run from off the pace, but you can't really do that in California."
Fiftyshadesofhay has raced predominantly in California for Baffert, who made the decision to ship her east for this year's La Troienne (gr. I) at Churchill Downs but then decided to skip the race after the filly did not train to his expectations.