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August Dawn Farm’s undefeated New York-bred Maple Leaf Mel will look to double up on graded victories while maintaining an unblemished record in Saturday’s Grade 3, $175,000 Victory Ride, a 6 1/2-furlong sprint for sophomore fillies, at Belmont Park.
The Victory Ride is slated as Race 11 on Saturday’s loaded 12-race card, which co-features the Grade 1, $750,000 Belmont Derby Invitational in Race 10; the Grade 1, $500,000 Fasig-Tipton Belmont Oaks Invitational in Race 8; and the Grade 2, $350,000 Suburban in Race 5. First post is 1:05 p.m. Eastern.
The Victory Ride marks Maple Leaf Mel’s first outing for trainer Melanie Giddings, who the grey filly was named for. Giddings worked for several years as an assistant to the filly’s former trainer, Jeremiah Englehart, before venturing out on her own in November. Maple Leaf Mel will be her first stakes starter.
“I just want to do the best job for this horse that I can,” Giddings said. “I’ve always done the same job for her and I hope the outcome is the same. Obviously, other people will see that it’s some added pressure for someone like me that’s only won two races and here I am with an undefeated graded stakes winner.”
Maple Leaf Mel was last seen scoring her first graded triumph in the six-furlong Grade 3 Miss Preakness on May 19 at Pimlico Race Course, leading at every point of call under Joel Rosario to land a tidy 1 1/2-length win over returning rival Topsy. She completed the course in 1:09.56 and earned a career-best 90 Beyer Speed Figure.
The Miss Preakness was the daughter of Cross Traffic’s first foray outside of state-bred company and marked her second outing off a seven-month respite. She made her career debut with a dominant five-length score in August at Saratoga Race Course and followed 16 days later with her first stakes win in the Seeking the Ante. She did not return until March when she trounced a seven-horse field in Aqueduct’s East View by 7 3/4 lengths.
Giddings said Maple Leaf Mel has made every logical step forward and that scoring a Grade 1 triumph in Saratoga’s $500,000 Test on August 5 is her main objective for both the filly and her owner, Hall of Fame NFL coach Bill Parcells.
“The goal is to get a Grade 1 for her and for Coach as well,” said Giddings. “He’s put a lot of money into the game and he loves this game. He’s at the track almost every day. It would be nice to see him get that. I’m sure he’d have a special place for it [the trophy] to go.”
Maple Leaf Mel, bred by Joe Fafone, will exit post 5 in rein to Rosario.
Dual graded stakes-winner Red Carpet Ready [post 8, Luis Saez] makes her first start in the Empire State off a determined head score in the May 5 Grade 2 Eight Belles at Churchill Downs for trainer Rusty Arnold, who also trained this race’s namesake to a victory in the 2001 Grade 1 Test at Saratoga.
Owned by Ashbrook Farm and Upland Flats Racing, the daughter of Oscar Performance pounced from just off the pace under Luis Saez to narrowly fend off the resurgent pacesetter Munnys Gold, earning a field-best 92 Beyer for the effort.
The dark bay filly is 4-for-5 lifetime, including her first graded coup in the Grade 3 Forward Gal in February at Gulfstream Park. Her lone loss came in the Grade 2 Davona Dale in March, where she finished third, seven lengths behind the victorious Dorth Vader, who went on to finish a close second to Pretty Mischievous in the Grade 1 Acorn presented by Great Jones Distilling Co. three starts later.
Two-time Eclipse Award-winning conditioner Brad Cox will send out Juddmonte’s undefeated Dazzling Blue [post 2, Flavien Prat] as she steps up to graded company for the first time with a 3-for-3 record.
The Into Mischief bay arrives off a facile optional claiming conquest on May 19 at Churchill, where she coasted to a frontrunning 8 3/4-length win in a six-furlong sprint. She graduated on debut by 4 1/2 lengths in November at Churchill ahead of a successful stakes debut in Fair Grounds Race Course’s Letellier Memorial. All three of her wins have come in wire-to-wire fashion going six furlongs.
Belladonna Racing, Edward Hudson, Jr., West Point Thoroughbreds, LBD Stable, Nice Guys Stables, Manganaro Bloodstock, Runnels Racing, Steve Hornstock and Twin Brook Stables’ Vahva [post 3, Tyler Gaffalione] makes her return to the graded ranks after scoring an off-the-pace victory in a first-level optional claimer on May 5 at Churchill.
Trained by Cherie DeVaux, the daughter of Gun Runner earned her first victory against winners when pouncing from 2 1/2 lengths back and finding enough down the stretch to cross the wire first by a half-length over Undervalued Asset.
“She’s doing really well,” said DeVaux. “We sent her out for a two-week vacation at Rebecca Maker’s farm [after her last start]. If we’re going to have a big summer, she just needed a little break. So, we sent her out and she came back and looked fantastic. She’s trained forwardly since.”
Vahva will make her second start in graded company after finishing fourth in Fair Grounds’ Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra at a two-turn 1 1/16 miles. She earned a stakes placing one start earlier when third in the one-mile and 70-yard Untapable, also around two turns at Fair Grounds.
A $280,000 purchase at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale, Vahva is out of the Harlan’s Holiday mare Holiday Soiree, a graded stakes-placed mare who won the 2013 Shine Again sprinting six furlongs over Saratoga’s main track.
“This [sprinting] seems to be more what she appreciates. We did try twice to go two turns and she just didn’t seem to be really effective there,” said DeVaux.
Lady Sheila Stable’s New York homebred Downtown Mischief [post 6, Jose Lezcano] was a last-out winner of the state-bred Bouwerie for trainer Linda Rice, adding to an open-company stakes score in the Cicada in March at Aqueduct.
The Into Mischief bay has won 4-of-5 starts, with each victory coming in prominent fashion when either on or near the lead. Her only loss came in an off-the-turf edition of the Memories of Silver on April 29 going one-mile over a sloppy and sealed Big A.
Rice said Downtown Mischief’s one-length Bouwerie win proved strong enough to warrant a start in graded company.
“She trained great into the Bouwerie and won pretty convincingly,” said Rice. “She’s four for five now, won and open stakes so we’re hoping to get some graded black type with her, whether it’s a win or a placing.”
Completing the field are graded stakes-placed Interpolate [post 1, Irad Ortiz, Jr.] for four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown; maiden-winner Adeliese’s Smile [post 4, Junior Alvarado] for conditioner Jose Jimenez; and graded stakes-placed Topsy [post 7, Jose Ortiz] for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.
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