When the gate opens Friday in the Grade 2, $200,000 Honorable Miss, a six-furlong handicap for fillies and mares at Saratoga Race Course, the Robert Manfuso-owned daughter of Speightstown will face her toughest challenge.
“She was running for a claiming price last year, and all of the sudden she turned the corner this year. It’s tough to explain,” trainer Ian Wilkes said of Island Bound, who drew the rail and is 6-1 on the morning line.
After losing by 18 lengths in a $30,000 claimer at Gulfstream Park in December, Island Bound turned around a month later on January 11 and won a seven-furlong allowance on a wet track by six lengths at Tampa Bay Downs.
She missed by a neck in the Manatee Stakes next out and continued to climb the ladder, finishing second in a stakes at Parx Racing, second in the two-turn $200,000 Sugar Maple at Charles Town and then breaking through to win the Grade 3 Winning Colors at Churchill Downs.
Her form was flattered when Gleaming, who finished fourth, came back and won the $150,000 Sweet and Sassy at Delaware Park.
“Even at Tampa, she won an allowance down there and was second in a stakes race, but in the allowance she beat a filly that came back and beat a really good filly,” Wilkes said. “So we figured it was legitimate form. I have no complaints about her. She’s doing everything we want.”
Julien Leparoux picks up the mount.
Trainer Bret Calhoun nominated Gleaming to the Honorable Miss but ultimately decided to send Beat the Blues, second in the Winning Colors and third in her most recent start, the Blue Sparkler on July 1 at Monmouth Park.
“I don’t think Beat the Blues cared for the track,” Calhoun said of the Monmouth race, in which his mare was the beaten favorite. “She was shuffled way back down the backside and was just too far out of it.”
Beat the Blues finished second in the Honorable Miss last year, and Calhoun is confident in the filly, 8-1 on the morning line.
“She seemed to handle it last year pretty well,” he said of the Saratoga main track. “She wasn’t at her best when we brought her in. She had a skin disease and a fungus broke out a few days before the race. She’s versatile and does whatever she needs to do.
The morning-line favorite at 5-2 is C C’s Pal, who enters the race for trainer Richard Dutrow off a third-place finish as the beaten favorite in the Grade 3 Bed o’ Roses Handicap, five lengths in front of Island Bound.
In her prior race, she captured the 6 ½-furlong Vagrancy on June 2 at Belmont Park. This is her first start at Saratoga.
It’s Me Mom, the 7-2 second choice on the morning line, comes in off a 3 ½-length victory in a $100,000 stakes races on the Tapeta surface at Presque Isle. She ran a 102 Beyer Speed Figure in winning the Sprint Stakes this past spring at Tampa Bay Downs for trainer Lynne Scace and is 11-for-18 lifetime.
Trainer Michael Aro travels under the radar, but he comes into the Honorable Miss with the sharp Winning Image, second in the Sweet and Sassy. Aro has won several races at Saratoga, including with a claiming mare named Champagne for Lisa, who visited the winner’s circle four years in a row.
Winning Image won the $150,000 My Juliet two races back at Parx.
“She’s very competitive,” Aro said. “She should have won that race she ran in Delaware. She gets up two or three [lengths], relaxes and that’s it.”
A winner of two straight stakes races at Monmouth Park, the Todd Pletcher-trained Maple Forest was re-routed to the Honorable Miss after a stakes race failed to fill at the Jersey Shore track on Haskell Day. Last year, Maple Forest was third in the Grade 3 Victory Ride at the Spa.
“We’ll call an audible and try [the Honorable Miss],” Pletcher said. “She’s run two good races here but seems to really like Monmouth. Hopefully, she can transfer those [last two races] over here.”
Roman Treasure, winner of the Chaldea last out at Belmont for trainer Michael Hushion, and Belle of the Hall, for Tom Albertrani, complete the field.
Also on Friday’s card is the $100,000 John’s Call, presented by Sportech, in which Tahoe Lake is the 9-5 morning line favorite over five other turf marathoners.
Trained by Ken McPeek, Tahoe Lake enters the 1 5/8-mile John’s Call, presented by Sportech, off a third-place finish behind Point of Entry and Center Divider in the Grade 1 Man o’ War at Belmont Park on July 14. Chief among his rivals are Hailstone, fifth in the Grade 2 Brooklyn Handicap last time out and the 5-2 second choice on the morning line, and 3-1 morning line choice Harrods Creek, most recently sixth in the Grade 3 Stars and Stripes at Arlington Park.
Rounding out the field are Game Ball, Ballet Boy, and Inscrutable.