The Davona Dale for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles will share the spotlight on an outstanding card Saturday with the highly-anticipated match-up of 2011 Eclipse champion 3-year-old filly Royal Delta and Awesome Maria in the $100,000 Sabin Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles and Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) winner Perfect Shirl returning in the $100,000 The Very One Stakes (G3) at 1 3/8 miles on turf.
“We’ve had this race picked out for her comeback for some time,” said Dutrow Wednesday morning. “Everything in her training has gone on schedule. She’s filled out and matured mentally from last year to now. The goal for her is the Kentucky Oaks (G1) and hopefully this will be the first step to get her there.”
Grace Hall’s leading rivals appear to be Glencrest Farm’s Disposablepleasure with jockey Julien Laparoux aboard for trainer Todd Pletcher and Darley Stable’s Captivating Lass to be ridden by John Velazquez for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.
Disposablepleasure is also making her first start of the season after closing out her juvenile campaign with a hard-fought head victory in the Demoiselle Stakes (G2) going 1 1/8 miles at Aqueduct on Nov. 26. The roan/gray daughter of Giacomo broke her maiden by 11 lengths at Belmont Park in early October after a fourth-place debut on turf at Saratoga and runner-up effort on the main track at Monmouth Park.
Captivating Lass will have an edge on recent form after winning the Busanda Stakes on Jan. 7 going one mile and 70 yards at Aqueduct and shipping down to Palm Meadows shortly thereafter. The Kentucky homebred by A.P. Indy won her career debut at Parx in October, but finished a non-threatening seventh behind Disposablepleasure in her only two previous starts.
Completing the field for the Davona Dale are Mark Grier’s Nuffsaid Nuffsaid, Jose Lezcano; James Connors and partners’ The Cat’s All That, Paco Lopez; Stride Rite Racing Stable’s Frolic’s Revenge, Juan Leyva; Peras International’s Yara, J.L. Castanon; Barb Pirie’s Taker Home, Luis Contreras; and Joel Kligman’s Salad Girl, Elvis Trujillo.
Royal Delta & Awesome Maria Clash in Sabin
Royal Delta sealed an Eclipse Award campaign winning the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (G1) on Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs to start off a memorable weekend for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, who would be back in the winner’s circle a day later after sending out Drosselmeyer to an upset victory in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).
Days after the Breeders’ Cup, Royal Delta was sold for $8.5 million at the Keeneland November Breeding stock sales to Benjamin Leon’s Besilu Farm, third highest in the history of that pricey auction, and returned to Mott by the new owner not long after at Payson Park to prepare for another season that begins with the Sabin with a trip to Dubai in late March for the $10 million World Cup (G1) if all goes well.
Regular jockey Jose Lezcano retains the mount on Royal Delta, a daughter of A.P. Indy that raced for breeder Palisades Investments through the Ladies Classic. In her last two starts prior to the Breeders’ Cup she won the Alabama Stakes (G1) at Saratoga by 5 ½ lengths and finished second to older filly Havre de Grace in the Beldame Invitational (G1) at Belmont Park, the latter going on to be voted Horse of the Year.
“She’s doing really well,” Mott said. “She’s had a bit of a rest but her recent works have been good. She’s showed she is willing to go long, willing to work, and she looks good doing it. I think we’re at a slight disadvantage at a mile-and-a-sixteenth. It’s a short wire turning for home and I don’t think it plays into our filly’s style. I don’t think that’s her best race…she’s a bit of a stretch runner. I don’t think the conditions are the most ideal but we’re running in the race that’s available.”
Royal Delta faces a formidable challenge in the field of five drawn for the Sabin with E. Paul Robsham Stable’s 5-year-old Awesome Maria bidding to pick up from where she left off winning all four of her starts last season for trainer Todd Pletcher with jockey John Velazquez to ride.
A roan/gray Kentucky homebred daughter of Maria Mon, Awesome Maria appeared headed for a potential championship season herself after sweeping to easy victories in the Sabin in February by 4 ¾ lengths and Rampart Stakes (G3) by eight lengths in early April.
Awesome Maria went on to win the Shuvee Handicap (G2) in May and Ogden Phipps Handicap (G1) at Belmont on June 18 in the spring before being sidelined after suffering a condylar fracture to her left foreleg while training for a start in the Ruffian Invitational (G1) at Saratoga in July, an injury repaired with surgery.
“She’s training exceptionally well,” said Pletcher, well on his way to a ninth consecutive training title at Gulfstream. “We’ve been a little frustrated because she’s been ready to run for a little while. We tried to get her in an allowance race about a month ago which we didn’t get to go. We’ve kind of landed in a difficult situation running off a long layoff in a tough race, but she’s trained very well, she likes this track, so we’re optimistic
Although most of the attention in the Sabin will focus on the two favorites, Fred and William ‘Buff’ Bradley’s 5-year-old Kentucky homebred Groupie Doll comes into the race after two strong performances over the track at the meet and jockey Calvin Borel flying in for the mount.
A daughter of Bowman’s Band, Groupie Doll was a proven stakes performer last year winning the Gardenia Stakes (G3) at Ellis Park and finishing second in the Delaware Oaks (G2), Charles Town Oaks and Raven Run Stakes (G2) at Keeneland. She came back on Dec. 22 for a wire-to-wire allowance score against fillies and mares and finished a game second to the top colt Boys At Tosconova on Jan. 27 going a mile.
“She’s worked as good here Saturday morning (1:01 2/5) as she has since she got here,” said Buff Bradley, who co-owns and bred the mare with his father. “We’ve been pointing for the race for quite some time, although not knowing it would come up this tough. She’s very fast and we look forward to the race.”
Completing the field for the Sabin are Jerry Jamgotchian’s Ghostly Darkness, Rajiv Maragh; and Farnsworth Stable’s Canadian Mistress, Elvis Trujillo.
Perfect Shirl Faces Casablanca Smile in The Very One
Charles Fipke’s 5-year-old Kentucky homebred mare Perfect Shirl stormed from off the pace to post a 28-to-1 upset in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) last out on Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs for trainer Roger Attfield, and was prepared to make her next start in an invitational race at San Isidro in Buenos Aires, Argentina in December, but air transportation problems precluded the trip.
Attfield gave her a little break at his Payson Park winter quarters and she is set make her season debut in a full field of 12 set for Sunday’s The Very One Stakes (G3) at 1 3/8 miles on turf with her Breeders’ Cup jockey John Velazquez in the saddle. The daughter of Perfect Soul had run well in major stakes last season, but failed to win six starts before her three-quarters of a length score at Churchill.
Perfect Shirl faces a formidable rival in Green Hills Farm’s 6-year-old Chilean-bred mare Casablanca Smile with jockey Kent Desormeaux in the saddle for trainer Shug McGaughey. The daughter of Ocean Terrace has been very consistent at the top level since coming to McGaughey early in 2010 with two wins, three second and a third in as many starts since then, all in stakes races.
Casablanca Smile drew off to a seven-length romp in the 12-furlong Dowager Stakes in October of 2010 after a good runner-up effort in the Glens Falls Handicap (G3) at Saratoga. In her only two starts in 2011, she began the year finishing second in the 12-furlong La Prevoyante Stakes (G3) at Calder on Jan. 2 and didn’t run again until winning the Dec. 2 renewal of the same race after an 11-month layoff,
“She had some little hind-end issues after she ran in the La Prevoyante early last year and we backed off of her,” said McGaughey. “We had her ready to come back in a race a Belmont in October, but she came up with an abscess in a foot and we had to scratch. We got that cleaned up and she ran big to win the La Prevoyante without a prep, and I’m looking forward to a big season with her.”
Another highly-accomplished long-distance stakes performer in the field will be Barbara Hunter’s 6-year-old Keertana, winner for the race last year for trainer Tom Proctor. Regular jockey Jose Lezcano retains the mount on the roan/gray homebred daughter of Johar after a good third-place finish last out behind Zagora in the Endeavor Stakes (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 4, her first start since late May.
Completing the field for Saturday’s race are Trick or Treat International’s Here to Win, Team Valor International’s Hasay, Catesby Clay’s Woodford Belle, Earle Mack’s Clarinet, Arnold Zetcher’s Good Karma, Mark Gittins’ Shimmering Moment, Theiline Scheumann’s Middle Club, Lael Stable’s Font, Ramona Bass’ Aquitaine and Columbus Circle partners’ Full Moon Party.
Farnsworth Stable’s Dash Dot Dash was entered for ‘main track only’ by trainer Marty Wolfson.