Fillies and mares will take center stage at Belmont Park on Saturday afternoon in the $200,000 Sheepshead Bay (G2), a 1 3/8 mile turf test that drew seven along with three main track only entrants. The race is the first of five stakes races to be run this holiday weekend in New York.
With a 40% to 50% chance of rain in the forecast for Friday and Saturday the ladies may find less than firm conditions, which will suit several just fine. The field includes four runners that started their careers outside of the U.S.
The late running Abaco is the 5-2 morning line favorite for trainer Shug McGaughey. The six-year-old mare made a good late rally to finish a close up third in the Jenny Wiley (G1) at Keeneland over firm footing in her last outing on April 12.
Fitful Skies (7-2) also exits the Jenny Wiley where she was not a threat in a ninth place finish, but it was her first start off a layoff. The mare was beaten just a head in last fall’s E.P. Taylor (G1) at Woodbine over yielding footing.
Trainer Todd Pletcher has won this race three times including back to back with Honey Ryder in 2006 and 2007. The six-time Eclipse Award winning trainer will send out the speedy Viva Rafaela (5-1), who set the early fractions and weakened to finish fifth in the Bewitch (G3) at Keeneland in her last start.
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott has won this race three times, the last with Treat Gently in 2010. He will saddle Riposte (3-1), who is 0 for 3 since coming to the U.S. but is a Group 2 winner who should relish the extra ground. Mott also will saddle Modernstone (8-1) who makes her U.S. debut. The filly has done most of her racing over all-weather surfaces overseas.
Let’s head out to Belmont Park for Saturday’s featured race of the day:
Belmont Park Race 9 The Sheepshead Bay (G2) Post time 5:28 ET
3 Fitful Skies 7-2
10 Viva Rafaela 5-1
2 Riposte 3-1
6 Abaco 5-2
Fitful Skies makes her second start off a 5 ½ month layoff here for the McLaughlin barn. The mare made her U.S. debut last fall in the E.P. Taylor (G1) over yielding turf and she just missed by a neck in a game effort at 8-1. Last out off the bench she never really got untracked in the Jenny Wiley (G1) at Keeneland, checking in ninth while beaten just 3 ¼ lengths for the top spot. The race was too short for her and she figures to move forward for a barn that is 25% winners with runners making their second start off the layoff. She won a Group 3 in Germany last fall at today’s 1 3/8 mile distance. With some rain in the forecast we should have ground less than firm which will suit her.
Viva Rafaela set the early fractions in the Bewitch (G3) at Keeneland going 1 ½ miles and did not have enough left in the tank late, weakening to finish fifth, beaten 1 ½ lengths. The mare has managed to win just once in seven starts since arriving in the U.S. and that was a second level optional claimer. She does have the tactical edge here as there is no speed signed up and she could get loose early. She won at Gulfstream Park over ground labeled as good and if Castellano can shake loose early she may prove tough to catch.
Riposte has made three starts since coming to the U.S. and was the beaten chalk in each, last out a neck loss against Alw-2 foes. She was off poorly in her U.S. debut in the Suwanee River (G3) and made a good late run to finish in the runner up spot and then was a decent third in the Hillsborough (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs. She won a Group 2 at Ascot last year and was only beaten 1 1/2 lengths in the Irish Oaks (G1). She fits with her best but hoping our top pair will offer more value.
WIN: Fitful Skies to win at 5-2 or better.
EXACTA: 3,10 / 2,3,6,10
TRIFECTA: 3,10 / 2,3,6,10 / 2,3,6,7,10
Michael’s Belmont Park Report includes his selections, analysis, fair odds line, and wagering recommendations. Michael has been handicapping the New York circuit on a daily basis for nearly three decades.
Belmont Park Spring/Summer Meet Special: Michael’s full card reports for the entire spring/summer meeting at Belmont Park from now until July 13. The package includes the Belmont Stakes Day card along with three new events – the Belmont Stakes Festival on June 6-8, Stars & Stripes Day on July 5 and a May 11 Mother’s Day card featuring three graded stakes. In all, the schedule contains 62 stakes races worth $17.95 million, including 16 overnight stakes with purses of $100,000 each.