A daughter of Proud Citizen owned by Brereton C. Jones and trained by Larry Jones, Believe You Can has not raced since the May 4 Kentucky Oaks, which followed her victory in the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks on March 31. The filly has turned in three works since the Oaks, including a sharp five furlong effort in 59.77 at Belmont Park on Monday under regular rider Rosie Napravnik, the first female jockey ever to win the Oaks.
Believe You Can has been on or near the lead in all six of her career victories to date, and on Saturday she will leave from the rail with Napravnik aboard as the 8-5 second choice in the field of five. Immediately to her outside in post 2 is the swift Contested, who took the lead out of the gate and never looked back in Belmont Park’s one-mile Acorn on May 28.
“Well, the speed is all right next to each other,” said Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, who trains Contested for his wife, Jill (Natalie J. Baffert). “It all depends on how she breaks, but she’s just very fast. The first time she ran, she didn’t break, but every time since she just gets out there and lays it down. We’ve been moving her up in increments to find out how far she wants to go.”
Contested finished second, beaten a half-length, in her debut at Del Mar last September and is undefeated in four starts since, stepping up in distance from six furlongs to one mile. The Ghostzapper filly’s combined margin of victory in those races is 22 lengths, including her five-length Acorn win and 4 ¾-length score in the Grade 3 Eight Belles at Churchill on May 4.
“We’re excited to have a horse competing at that level,” Baffert said. “It’s less nerve-wracking because if she gets beat, I don’t have to explain it to anyone. I saw her train [when in town for the Belmont Stakes] and she seems like she’s doing really well. She deserves a chance to run there, and we’ll find out where we stand. Hopefully they don’t go too fast early.”
Contested was made the 7-5 morning-line favorite and again has the services of Javier Castellano, who rode her for the first time in the Acorn.
One who stands to benefit from a potential early speed duel would be Live Oak Plantation’s late-running Zo Impressive. Winner of her first two starts this year, including a 4 ½-length allowance victory over eventual Black-Eyed Susan winner In Lingerie, Zo Impressive has finished second in her two most recent races behind Grace Hall in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks and Contested in the Acorn.
“In the Acorn nobody really went with Contested,” said trainer Tom Albertrani. “I was thinking [Aubby K] might go with her, but we found ourselves up close. We wanted to take back a little. A different scenario might help us where there might be a little more pressure on the front runners.”
Rajiv Maragh has the return call aboard Zo Impressive, 5-1, from post 5.
Stepping into Grade 1 company for the first time is Glencrest Farm’s Disposablepleasure, a tough-luck second, beaten 1 ¼ lengths by fellow Todd Pletcher trainee In Lingerie, in the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan on May 18 at Pimlico.
“She was unlucky,” Michael McCarthy, Pletcher’s assistant, said of the Black-Eyed Susan. “I think she could have made it a lot closer with a cleaner trip, and obviously we’re looking for a cleaner trip this weekend. She’s come out of the Black-Eyed Susan in great order and has trained forwardly. She fits here, and she’s improving.”
Disposablepleasure broke her maiden by 11 lengths at the Mother Goose distance at Belmont last October and overcame a stumbling start to win the Grade 2, 1 1/8-mile Demoiselle at Aqueduct Racetrack in her next outing. The Giacomo filly returned to the races after three months off to finish fourth in Gulfstream Park’s Grade 2 Davona Dale, then was third behind Believe You Can in the Fair Grounds Oaks. Ramon Dominguez, aboard for the Demoiselle, has the call and the pair will leave from post 3 as the 8-1 fourth choice on the morning line.
Completing the field is New York-bred Wildcat’s Smile, never off the board in eight career starts, and most recently third in the Black-Eyed Susan.