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ELMONT, NY – Trainer Rudy Rodriguez’s Bella Sofia was an easy winner of the $250,000 Gallant Bloom Handicap (G2) and Iris Smith Stable’s Shipsational prevailed with a victory in the $150,000 Bertram F. Bongard on Sunday’s card at Belmont Park.
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One day after talented 3-year-old Life Is Good bested a compact field of elders in the Kelso (G2) as the heavy favorite, Grade 1-winning sophomore Bella Sofia did the same against older fillies and mares with a wire-to-wire performance as the 2/5 betting choice in Sunday’s 28th running of the Gallant Bloom at 6 1/2 furlongs over the main track.
Trained by Rudy Rodriguez, Bella Sofia entered the Gallant Bloom off a 4 1/2-length triumph in the Longines Test (G1) on August 7 at Saratoga Race Course, where she displayed stalking tactics. The dark bay or brown daughter of Awesome Patriot went back to the front-running style that she flaunted in her maiden and allowance conquests at Belmont this summer, strolling home to a 3 1/2-length victory.
Breaking from the inside, Bella Sofia was sent to the front by jockey Luis Saez and commanded opening fractions of 22.46 seconds for the opening 1/4-mile and 45.40 for the 1/2-mile over the fast main track. Lady Rocket, who stumbled leaving the gate, kept close company in second.
Just past the 1/4 pole, Saez turned up the tempo aboard Bella Sofia, who opened up 4 lengths on Lady Rocket. Never in doubt in the stretch run, Saez never went to the stick and took a peek back past the 1/8 pole, wrapping up on the filly in the final furlong to an in-hand score in a final time of 1:15.69.
Saez swept both stakes on Sunday’s program at Belmont, piloting a winning trip aboard Shipsational in the Bertram F. Bongard 5 races earlier. Having ridden Bella Sofia to victory in 3 of her 4 wins, Saez said he knew she breathed a different kind of air since her first start.
“She’s very special,” said Saez, who picked up his fourth stakes win of the meet. “From Day 1 when I rode her and broke her maiden here, she gave me a feeling she’s a Grade 1 winner. In the Test, she proved she can really run and today was easy for her. She finished up strong and did it easy. I had a lot of horse.”
Sporting a ledger of 5-4-1-0, Bella Sofia’s only defeat took place in the June 6 Jersey Girl at Belmont, where she stumbled leaving the gate and finished second beaten a length to Australasia. She has captured her 4 lifetime wins by a combined 25 1/2 lengths.
“Luis and I talked before the race, and if someone else wanted the lead, we’d let them go, but she’s so quick out of the gate,” Rodriguez said. “The one time we got beat, she stumbled out of the gate bad. I don’t think she necessarily needs to be on the lead, but when you have this type of horse, you have to take advantage of it.”
Lady Rocket garnered black type in her first start at graded stakes level finishing second, 9 lengths to the better of Lake Avenue, who earned a fourth graded stakes placing this season.
Irad Ortiz Jr., aboard Lady Rocket, said the bad break hampered his filly’s chances.
“She stumbled bad out of there,” Ortiz Jr. said. “I had to use her a little bit, and after that, she ran a good race.”
Don’t Call Me Mary completed the order of finish. Honor Way was scratched.
Bella Sofia, who returned $2.80 for a $2 win wager, is owned by Michael Imperio, Medallion Racing, Sofia Soares, Vincent Scuderi, and Parkland Thoroughbreds. She cashed $137,500 putting her lifetime earnings past the half-million dollar mark at $542,600.
Bred in Kentucky by Two Tone Farms, Bella Sofia is out of the dual stakes-placed Consolidator mare Love Contract. She was bought for $20,000 from the 2020 OBS July Sale, where she was consigned by Grassroots Training and Sales.
Shipsational overtook pacesetter Senbei in the stretch run en route to a 2-length score in the Bertram F. Bongard, a 7-furlong sprint for New York-bred juveniles.
Trained by Edward Barker, the Midshipman chestnut impressed in his 6 3/4-length debut win in July sprinting 5 1/2 furlongs against fellow state-breds over a sloppy and sealed main track at Saratoga. He entered from a difficult trip in the 6 1/2-furlong Funny Cide in August at the Spa where he was bumped repeatedly at the start, finishing fourth.
Funny Cide winner Senbei, with Manny Franco up, set splits of 23.04 seconds and 46.48 on the fast main track in the Bongard under close watch from Whittington Park as Shipsational saved ground along the rail.
Shipsational angled to the two path through the turn as Happy Happy B chased wide with Whittington Park dropping out of contention. Shipsational engaged Senbei for the stretch run and took command near the 1/8 pole en route to a convincing win in a final time of 1:23.64.
“He’s a really nice, nice colt. He’s trained well since the day we got him,” Barker said. “I think he’s going to be a special New York-bred. The last race was a throw out. He had trained super coming into this race and I am really, really happy for Mrs. Iris Smith and the whole team.”
Saez said Shipsational finished up strong.
“We had to work a little bit, but he gave me a good kick. He ran pretty great,” Saez said. “Last time, he had a lot of trouble in the race. He missed the break and got bothered a lot. Today, things went our way. He got a good break, he was right there and he won.”
Senbei, Surprise Boss, and Whittington Park completed the order of finish. Happy Happy B fell at the wire, unseating rider Jose Ortiz.
Ortiz will attend local area hospital for x-rays on his left ankle. Dr. Anthony Verderosa, NYRA’s Veterinary Department Director, advised Happy Happy B incurred a catastrophic injury to his right foreleg and was humanely euthanized on track.
Barker said Shipsational, a $210,000 purchase at the OBS March Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training, could target the $250,000 Sleepy Hollow, a one-turn mile for state-bred juveniles here on October 30.
“Probably. We’ll have to give him some time and see what we’ve got,” Barker said.
Bred in the Empire State by Mr. and Mrs. Bertram R. Firestone, Shipsational banked $82,500 in victory while improving his record to 3-2-0-0. He returned $6.80 for a $2 win wager.
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