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Ava’s Grace Tries Turf in Cupecoy’s Joy; Full Field Comprises Spectacular Bid
Dreamer's Disease (Credit: Keeneland Photo)

Ava’s Grace Tries Turf in Cupecoy’s Joy; Full Field Comprises Spectacular Bid

ELMONT, NY – Cypress Creek Equine’s Ava’s Grace will make her turf debut in Saturday’s $150,000 New York Stallion Stakes Series (NYSSS) Cupecoy’s Joy for eligible New York-sired 3-year-old fillies going 7 furlongs on Belmont Park’s Widener turf course.

The 14th running of the Cupecoy’s Joy honors the 2-time Grade 1-winner whose triumph in the 1982 Acorn broke Ruffian’s previous record when completing the one-turn mile in 1:34.20. Also carded on Saturday is the Cupecoy’s Joy’s male counterpart race – the NYSSS Spectacular Bid for sophomores also going 7 furlongs on the Widener course.

Ava’s Grace arrives at her first grass engagement off a runner-up finish in the 1 1/16-mile Fantasy (G3) on April 3 at Oaklawn Park. The Laoban filly secured a front-running position and battled gamely down the stretch to the inside of Pauline’s Pearl before hitting the wire 1 length back.

Trainer Robertino Diodoro, buoyed by that effort, entered Ava’s Grace in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) but had to scratch her from the race due to a hind-end injury.

“She went out to the farm and was back the next day,” Diodoro said. “We did some hind end work on her. She’s been doing well since. We’re looking forward to seeing her on the grass. We won’t know until race day for sure, but she should do well.”

The Kentucky-bred Ava’s Grace won her debut in July at Ellis Park and from there earned black type for the first time in the Adirondack (G2) at Saratoga, finishing third in the 6 1/2-furlong contest in August.

Despite having never raced on turf, Diodoro said he is optimistic Ava’s Grace can handle the surface change.

“I really think she’s going to be just fine on the grass,” Diodoro said. “We did say way back last summer at Ellis that grass would probably suit her just fine. It took us a while to get her on it, but we’re excited for Saturday.”

Through a consistent 4-1-1-2 record, Ava’s Grace has banked $156,400 in lifetime earnings.

Jockey David Cohen piloted Ava’s Grace in 3 of her 4 lifetime starts and will have the call from post 10.

Trainer Christophe Clement will move two fillies up from the claiming ranks when saddling Sport Model (post 4, Luis Saez) and Proper Grammar (post 2, Joel Rosario).

Owned by Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Sport Model broke her maiden in her third start going 6 furlongs over the Widener turf, defeating next-out winner Quantitativbreezin in May. In her debut in February, the daughter of Freud was soundly beaten over a sloppy and sealed track at Aqueduct, running 11th. Next out, she clipped heels and unseated her rider around the far turn of her following effort in April over the Widener course.

Sport Model was bred in New York by Mr. and Mrs. James P. Curran and Dr. and Mrs. John McDermott.

Proper Grammar, owned by Sebastian Varney and Alan Quartucci, made her lone start a winning one when stalking the pace from third and winning for a $40,000 tag by 1 1/4 lengths on May 7 over the Belmont turf.

The daughter of Laoban was bred in New York by McMahon of Saratoga Thoroughbreds and Spruce Lane Farm.

“They should handle it fine. Proper Grammar looked good going 6 (furlongs) against lesser company,” Clement said. “Sport Model was unlucky in her first 2 starts and won on the turf last time, also. We’re still learning about these horses; you’ve got to try to see how good they are.”

Trainer Rudy Rodriguez also is represented by a pair of runners in Big Time Lady (post 6, Hall of Famer John Velazquez) and Shesadirtydancer (post 8, Irad Ortiz Jr.).

Owned by Repole Stable and bred in New York by Spruce Lane Farm, Big Time Lady is seeking a rebound in form after 2 disappointing efforts to commence her 2021 season. The daughter of 2008 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown broke her maiden in October going 7 furlongs on over the Widener turf against fellow New York-breds and acquired open company black type when third in the Tepin on November 26 at Aqueduct.

With 2 distant eighth-place finishes, Rodriguez said he is hoping to see a turnaround.

“We were very disappointed about what she’s done the last couple of times. She was very rank, but hopefully cutting back to 7/8, she’ll be able to stalk behind horses and make one run,” Rodriguez said.

Owned by Rodriguez in partnership with Michael Imperio, Shesadirtydancer, by War Dancer, was fifth in both of her efforts on turf. She earned black type 2 starts back in the NYSSS Park Avenue on April 18 at Aqueduct. She was bred in New York by Bill Frothinger.

“We ran her against state-breds and she’s run a few times on the grass already. We’re just going to take a chance and hopefully get lucky,” Rodriguez said.

Roddy Valente and Darlene Bilinski homebred Shaker Shack makes her first start on grass after capturing the NYSSS Park Avenue last out for trainer Patrick Reynolds. The daughter of Bustin Stones boasts the highest bankroll in the field with $156,445 in earnings.

Jockey Jose Ortiz rides from post 3.

Completing the field are Show Me the Honey (post 1, Manny Franco), Funwhileitlasted (post 5, Jose Lezcano), Adriatic Rose (post 7, Luis Cardenas), Lot of Honey (post 9, Dylan Davis), and Beach Banker (post 11, Julio Hernandez).

Full field of accomplished entrants comprise Spectacular Bid

A full field of 13 that includes stakes winners and a Breeders’ Cup participant will take aim at Saturday’s $150,000 NYSSS Spectacular Bid for eligible New York-sired 3-year-olds going 7 furlongs on the Belmont Park Widener turf course.

Dreamer’s Disease will return to the turf after 5 consecutive main track appearances, including a sixth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) in November at Keeneland. Trainer Robertino Diodoro said the son of Laoban exited his last-out fifth place finish in the 1 1/16-mile Texas Derby over a sloppy and sealed track at Lone Star Park in good order and will now return to the turf, where he broke his maiden at second asking in August at Ellis Park.

“The horse has settled in here at Belmont quite well and we’re excited to get him back on the grass and against New York-sired company,” Diodoro said. “We think this will be more to his liking. We were looking to get him back here and we thought this was a perfect spot. He ran great on the grass at Ellis and we thought this matched up well.”

Dreamer’s Disease, owned by Cypress Creek Equine and Arnold Bennewith, was bred in Kentucky by Southern Equine Stables. He started the year with a sixth-place effort in the Pat Day Mile (G2) on Kentucky Derby Day in May at Churchill Downs. He will be making his second start in a NYSSS race after running seventh in the Great White Way in a contest won by fellow Spectacular Bid contender Hold the Salsa in December at Aqueduct Racetrack.

David Cohen will ride from post 6.

“It really helps to have a horse with versatility,” Diodoro said. “Between the grass and New York-sired stakes, I think he’ll fit in quite well. He has natural speed and I think the 7/8 will hit him right on the head. I think the distance will be perfect for him.”

Step Dancer, owned by Hayward Pressman, Diamond M Stable and Donna Pressman, won his debut in September at Saratoga and followed with a third-place finish in his first race at Belmont in the Pilgrim (G2) in October. The Barclay Tagg trainee capped his juvenile year with a 3/4-length victory in the 1 1/16-mile Awad in October at Belmont.

After a nearly five-month break, Step Dancer made his 2021 bow in the Cutler Bay, finishing eighth in March at Gulfstream Park. Returning to Belmont, the War Dancer colt ran third against state-bred optional claimers on May 13.

Step Dancer, bred in New York by Sugar Plum Farm and Richard Pressman, will be contesting a sprint for the first time in his career, as each of his first 5 starts were contested going at least 1 mile. Dylan Davis will return to ride from post 13.

Repole Stable’s Devious Mo, winner of the NYSSS Times Square in April going 6 1/2 furlongs on Aqueduct’s main track, will make his first career turf start.

Devious Mo ran sixth last out in the Mike Lee held on a muddy and sealed Belmont track on May 31 and will now get the chance to see if grass can suit his style. The Laoban colt posted a personal-best 84 Beyer Speed Figure for his victory 2 months ago at Aqueduct and has won 2 of his 4 starts this year before trainer Rudy Rodriguez decided to make the surface change.

“The Mike Lee was pretty tough; he never ran his race, so hopefully now he likes the grass on Saturday,” Rodriguez said. “You have to see what they can do. This race is worth a lot of money, and with it being a stallion series, you want to take advantage of the opportunity. Hopefully, he likes the grass and we’ll take it from there. He looks like a grass horse.”

Irad Ortiz Jr., who is set to return to racing Thursday after missing 2 weeks due to injuries sustained in a spill on June 4, is tabbed to ride from the inside post.

Hold the Salsa, owned, bred and trained by Richard Lugovich, will also compete on turf for the first time, making his first start in more than 5 months after running third in the Jerome on New Year’s Day at the Big A.

As a 2-year-old, Hold the Salsa posted a 3-0-1 record in 6 starts, winning his debut in July at Belmont. Since that effort, the Hold Me Back colt has made 6 consecutive stakes appearances, including a pair of wins in 7-furlong sprints in the Bertram F. Bongard on October 2 at Belmont and the Great White Way on December 6 at Aqueduct.

Hall of Famer Javier Castellano will ride from post 11.

The King Cheek, owned by Morris Kernan Jr. and Jagger Inc., will make his Belmont debut with momentum after running second to Gershwin by 2 lengths in the off-the-turf Penn Mile (G3) on May 28 at Penn National. Trained by Jamie Ness, the Laoban gelding made his first 10 starts on the main track but will run on turf for the first time, drawing post 7 with Jaime Rodriguez aboard.

Conditioner George Weaver will send out King Moonracer, who will be looking to notch his maiden-breaking score after running third and second, respectively, in his first 2 starts on turf at Belmont. Owned by Spa City Stables, the Mission Impazible gelding, bred in the Empire State by Sequel Stallions New York, Twin Creeks, and Eisaman Farms, finished 1 length back to Saratoga Flash in a runner-up effort last out sprinting 6 furlongs. Luis Saez will ride from post 5. Weaver also entered Sinful Dancer for the main track only.

DiRicio Racing and Breeding’s Jacks American Pie is coming off his turf debut with a sixth-place finish last out on May 28 at Belmont. Trained by Chad Summers, the Micromanage gelding won once in the his first 6 starts on dirt before being switched to grass. Luis Rodriguez Castro will have the call from post 9.

Rounding out the field is Ocala Dream, who broke his maiden for Tom Morley in his fourth start on May 23 at Belmont in his first stakes race (post 4, Junior Alvarado); Barrage, a maiden for trainer Armando De La Cerda, from post 10 (Eric Cancel); It’s Gravy, third in the Damon Runyon in March and also in the Times Square, for conditioner Kelly Breen (post 12, Joel Rosario); Dancing Buck, who ran fourth in the Gander in February at Aqueduct before topping state-bred allowance company on the same track in April for trainer Michelle Nevin (post 2, Manny Franco); Thunderbird Cafe, a maiden winner at second asking on May 8, for trainer Linda Rice (post 3, Hall of Famer John Velazquez); and Market Alert, runner-up last out in the Mike Lee making his turf debut for trainer James Ryerson (post 8, Jose Lezcano).

Gods Will is also entered for the main track only.

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