Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Dance to Bristol enters Gallant Bloom sharp as a pistol

ELMONT, N.Y. - Dance to Bristol, a winner of seven straight, heads a talented group of fillies and mare sprinters entered in the Grade 2, $300,000 Gallant Bloom Handicap, the featured race on Saturday at Belmont Park.

The 6 ½-furlong Gallant Bloom was carded as race nine on the 10-race card, has a scheduled post time of 5:17 p.m., and is the third leg of the $300,000 Guaranteed Late Pick 4.

This year, Dance to Bristol has won at five tracks in three states. Based at the Bowie Training Center in Maryland, she enters the Gallant Bloom off a pair of narrow wins at Saratoga Race Course, having taken the Grade 2 Honorable Miss Handicap by a neck on July 29 and the Grade 1 Ballerina by a head on August 23.

In both races, Dance to Bristol rallied from midpack and outfought her opponents in the stretch to continue her winning streak. Immediately after the Ballerina, trainer Ollie Figgins III said he wasn't sure whether he'd have the 4-year-old daughter of Speightstown train up to the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint in November or if she'd make another start in the interim.

On Wednesday, Figgins said Dance to Bristol, owned by Susan H. Wantz, exited the Ballerina in top shape and will compete in the Gallant Bloom.

"I was going to make my decision after I saw how she came out of the race, and she has been doing great and has turned in two good works," said Figgins. "I'm not sure how she [maintains her form]; if I knew, I'd do it with every horse. She's a professional filly who comes out of her races in good shape, and she's an easy horse to gauge whether she is doing good or not. It makes my job easier."

Xavier Perez will ride Dance to Bristol, the 2-1 morning-line favorite and 121-pound highweight, from the outside post in the field of nine.

The Gallant Bloom field includes a pair of graded stakes winners who are returning from layoffs, with unbeaten Cluster of Stars making her first start since capturing the Grade 2 Distaff Handicap by 2 ¾ lengths in April at Aqueduct Racetrack and Dance Card returning from a four-length win in the Grade 1 Gazelle last November at the Big A.

Cluster of Stars, a speedy 4-year-old, will be making her first start away from Aqueduct, where she has won five races in as many starts. She entered the Distaff off a head victory over Nicole H in the Correction in February and a 9 ¼-length optional claiming score in March.

In July, Cluster of Stars returned to the worktab at Belmont and has posted 11 breezes in preparation for the Gallant Bloom.

"It's nice to have her back," said Toby Sheets, assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen.

Javier Castellano will ride Cluster of Stars, who drew the rail, was tabbed 3-1 on the morning line, and was assigned 117 pounds. Asmussen trains the Greeley's Galaxy filly for Harvey Weinstein's Turtle Bird Stable.

Dance Card, part of a coupled entry that was installed at 7-2 on the morning line, will make her first start in a sprint since she was second to eventual Grade 1 winner and 2013 Ballerina runner-up Book Review in a Belmont maiden special weight in May 2012. Since then, Dance Card has won four straight, including the 1 1/16-mile Belle Cherie overnight stakes by 7 ½ lengths last September and the Grade 1 Gazelle by four lengths in November at Aqueduct.

"She had a couple of chips taken out of ankles, so she has been away a while, but she is back and training great," said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. "She's ready to run and this was a spot available. This a very tough race, but if she does run real well she could [run in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint]. We want to go further, but we will have to wait. It's a good step, 6 ½ furlongs to seven furlongs. She's a very nice filly, doing great."

Dance Card will carry 117 pounds, including Junior Alvarado, and carry the colors of Sheikh Mohammad's Godolphin Racing from post position 6.

Villanesca, the other half of the entry, won the Magnolia Jackson overnight stakes over the Gallant Bloom's course and distance in July and enters Saturday's race off a third, beaten 3 ½ lengths by Dance to Bristol, in the Ballerina.

David Cohen has the call aboard Villanesca, who drew post 2 and was weighted at 115 pounds.

Glencrest Farm's Holiday Soiree will step up in class off a 3 ¾-length triumph in the restricted Shine Again Stakes on August 5 at the Spa, her first stakes win and first start for trainer Todd Pletcher. Earlier this year, she was second in the Sugar Maple in April at Charles Town, third in the Grade 1 Humana Distaff in May at Churchill Downs, third in the Red Cross in May at Monmouth Park, and fourth in the Grade 1 Princess Rooney Handicap in July at Calder Race Course.

"She has been a very straightforward filly to train, very professional, likes her job," said Pletcher. "She trained well prior to the race in Saratoga and performed even better than we expected. She came out of it well and we have been targeting the Gallant Bloom since that time. I think it's a step up in class off her last race. She has run in pretty big races in the past, and I think she certainly fits off her 'A' race."

Hall of Famer John Velazquez will ride Holiday Soiree, 4-1, from post 3. She was assigned 117 pounds.

The field also includes Defy Gravity, second in the Potomac Handicap at Charles Town in her most recent start; Munnings Sister, third in the Honorable Miss; Crespano, unraced since finishing last of four in the Correction; and Classic Point, second in the Honorable Miss and fifth in the Ballerina.

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