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ELMONT, NY – Bella Sofia will face older fillies and mares at stakes level for the first time in Sunday’s 27th running of the $250,000 Gallant Bloom Handicap (G2) at 6 1/2 furlongs over the Belmont Park main track.
The Gallant Bloom is slated as race 9 on Sunday’s 10-race card, which also features the $150,000 Bertram F. Bongard for New York-bred juveniles travelling 7 furlongs over the main track in race 4. First post is 1 PM Eastern.
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Bella Sofia, a Rudy Rodriguez-trained daughter of Awesome Patriot, has won 3 of 4 lifetime starts by a combined 22 lengths and registered a 101 Beyer Speed Figure for her triumph in the 7-furlong Longines Test (G1) on August 7.
The dark bay or brown filly displayed stalking tactics down the backstretch in the Test, establishing command in upper stretch and drawing off to a decisive 4 1/4-length conquest against 4 graded stakes winners.
Bella Sofia broke her maiden at first asking against older company, winning by 11 1/4-lengths going 6 furlongs on May 6 at Belmont Park. She won a first-level allowance against elders at the same distance and track on July 11 by 6 1/2 lengths. Her lone defeat was a runner-up effort in the June 6 Jersey Girl over Big Sandy.
Rodriguez said he considered two-turn options out of town for Bella Sofia but decided the Gallant Bloom was the best spot given the distance and the homefield advantage.
“This was the best race for her coming up,” Rodriguez said. “We could have run her in the Cotillion or gone to the Spinster, but it made more sense for us to run her here at home. We know she likes Belmont. She’s been here all along. We’re just happy she’s coming into the race in good shape.”
Bella Sofia is owned by Michael Imperio, Vincent Scuderi (the owner of 2016 Gallant Bloom winner Paulassilverlining), Sofia Soares, Gabrielle Farm, Mazel Stable Partners, and Matthew Mercutio.
“The Test was a huge, huge win for us, because we don’t have these kinds of horses in the barn,” Rodriguez said. “To win a Grade 1 at Saratoga, especially a prestigious race like the Test, everything was amazing. We’re still dreaming.”
Rodriguez said Bella Sofia is not as enthusiastic during morning training as she is on race day in the afternoon.
“We’ve been very, very lucky with her,” Rodriguez said. “She just destroyed the field in her first race. She doesn’t put much into her training in the mornings, but in the afternoon she’s a completely different horse. We just have to keep her happy, stay out of her way and let her do all the talking. She’s still young so there’s still plenty of growing ahead of her.”
Luis Saez, the leading rider at Saratoga this summer, will return to the irons from post 1. Bella Sofia will carry 119 pounds.
Bella Sofia Powers Away In Test
Coming off a triumph against fellow Pennsylvania-breds is Don’t Call Me Mary, a winner of 3 of her last 4 starts, including a last-out win in the Dr. Teresa Garofalo Memorial on August 23 over a sloppy and sealed track at Parx.
Owned by Stuart Grant’s The Elkstone Group and trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, the 4-year-old El Padrino chestnut made her lone start at Belmont a winning one, defeating a second-level allowance optional claiming event at the Gallant Bloom distance by 4 1/2 lengths over next-out stakes winner Truth Hurts.
In her recent stakes coup, Don’t Call Me Mary handed ultra-consistent Chub Wagon, a 5-time stakes-winner, her only loss in 10 starts.
“She beat a good filly who was undefeated and came back and won an open company stake after that, so I thought it was a good race,” said Pletcher, who saddled Harmony Lodge to victory in the 2003 Gallant Bloom.
Hall of Famer John Velazquez, a 5-time winner of the Gallant Bloom, will ride Don’t Call Me Mary (118 pounds) from post 5.
Godolphin’s Lake Avenue seeks her first graded stakes victory since capturing the Demoiselle (G2) in December 2019 for Hall of Famer Bill Mott, a 2-time winning trainer of the Gallant Bloom.
The regally-bred Tapit chestnut, out of 2-time Grade 1 winner Seventh Street, was a last-out second to Gamine in the Ketel One Ballerina (G1), where she finished 1 3/4 lengths behind the defending Champion Female Sprinter.
Winless in 5 starts during her sophomore season, Lake Avenue recaptured her winning form in her 2021 bow going a one-turn mile against optional claimers at Gulfstream Park en route to a stakes score in the Heavenly Prize Invitational on April 3 at Aqueduct. She added black type later in the year with 2 second-place finishes in the Bed o’ Roses (G3) at Belmont and the Honorable Miss (G2) at Saratoga.
Lake Avenue, carrying a field-high 121 pounds, will exit post 4 under Jose Ortiz.
Lake Avenue back on easy street in Heavenly Prize
Frank Fletcher Racing Operations won last year’s Gallant Bloom with Frank’s Rockette and will look to double up with Lady Rocket, a 4-year-old Tale of the Cat filly. Trained by Brad Cox, the 4-time winner from 8 starts took the Pink Ribbon on August 27 at Charles Town in wire-to-wire fashion in her most recent start.
A winner over 4 different tracks, Lady Rocket defeated second-level allowance optional claiming company at Churchill Downs prior to her last-out win. She made her career debut a winning one travelling 6 1/2 furlongs in August 2020 at Saratoga en route to a next-out score against winners in October at Keeneland.
Irad Ortiz Jr. will pilot Lady Rocket (118 pounds) from post 2.
Saul Kupferberg’s veteran mare Honor Way, second in last year’s Gallant Bloom, rounds out the field as she seeks to make amends following 2 fifth-place finishes at stakes level for trainer Charlton Baker.
The 7-year-old daughter of Caleb’s Posse racked up 2 stakes victories on the NYRA circuit following last year’s Gallant Bloom, including a 4 1/2-length win in the 7-furlong Pumpkin Pie on November 1 at Belmont, and a 1 1/2-length score in the 6-furlong Garland of Roses on December 6 at Aqueduct.
Through a record of 44-13-8-8, Honor Way boasts a field-best $717,692 in lifetime earnings.
Honor Way (118 pounds) will break from post 3 under Jorge Vargas Jr.
Reeves Thoroughbred Racing and Darlene Bilinski’s Candy Ride chestnut Senbei will look to double up on stakes wins in the Bertram F. Bongard.
Trained by Christophe Clement, Senbei is undefeated from 2 career starts at Saratoga Race Course, including a 4 3/4-length maiden score over a muddy track in July and a gate-to-wire win last out in the 6 1/2-furlong Funny Cide on August 27 against fellow state-breds.
Senbei exited the inside post in the Funny Cide and set swift splits of 22 seconds and 44.88 on the fast main track, opening up a 4 1/2-length lead at the stretch call and staying on strong for a 2 3/4-length score.
“He’s 2 for 2 and each start was very impressive. He’s a nice horse,” Clement said. “He showed a lot of speed in his last start, the only question mark he will have is if he can be as effective going 7/8 (of a mile) as he was going shorter. The only way to find out is to try.”
Bred by Dr. Jerry Bilinski, the $280,000 Keenland January Horses of All Ages Sale purchase is a half-sibling to multiple stakes winners Indy’s Lady and Filibustin.
Senbei, who worked 5/8 in 59.60 on the Belmont main track September 18, will emerge from post 3 under returning rider Manny Franco.
“Manny knows him very well and he had a good work with him here last weekend,” Clement said.
State-Bred Stars Shine On New York Showcase Day
Iris Smith Stable’s Shipsational will look to secure a first career stakes win on Saturday. Trained by Edward Barker, the Midshipman chestnut was a romping 6 3/4-length debut winner in July sprinting 5 1/2 furlongs against fellow state-breds over a sloppy and sealed main track at Saratoga.
Shipsational, bred by Mr. and Mrs. Bertram R. Firestone, followed with a difficult trip last out when bumped repeatedly at the start of the Funny Cide on August 27, finishing fourth.
A $210,000 purchase at the OBS March Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training, Shipsational will exit the inside post under regular rider Luis Saez.
Ten Strike Racing’s Whittington Park, a Midnight Lute bay, graduated at second asking by 7 1/2 lengths in a 6 1/2-furlong main track sprint on August 18 at Saratoga. Out of the Forestry mare See the Forest, the Brad Cox-trained Whittington Park is a half-brother to multiple stakes winner Critical Value.
Bred by Marshall Gramm and Clay Sanders, Whittington Park will leave post 4 under Irad Ortiz Jr.
Rounding out the field are Funny Cide third-place finisher Happy Happy B (post 5, Jose Ortiz), who is cross-entered in a state-bred maiden event on Saturday at Belmont; and last-out state-bred maiden winner Surprise Boss (post 2, Jose Lezcano).
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