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Unrivaled Belle Short Price in Ruffian

Unrivaled Belle and Malibu Prayer headline a talented group of six for Sunday’s 35th renewal of the Grade 1, $250,000 Ruffian Handicap, which makes its Saratoga Race Course debut.


Previously run at Belmont Park, the 1 1/8th-mile Ruffian is a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic. 


Unrivaled Belle, who carries the colors of Peter Vegso, exits a second-place finish in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps Handicap at Belmont Park on June 12. In her two previous starts, she won the Grade 2 La Troienne at Churchill Downs on April 30 and the Grade 3 Rampart at Gulfstream Park on March 20.


“She’s had two good works here and she schooled really well in the paddock the other day, which is always a concern with her,” said her Hall of Fame trainer, Bill Mott. “She looks well, she’s eating well, and she’s training well – all good signs.”


The 119-pound highweight in the field of six, Unrivaled Belle will have the services of regular jockey Kent Desormeaux as she breaks from post position 2 as the even-money favorite on the morning line.


The front-running Malibu Prayer looks to build on an impressive 4 ½-length victory in the Lighthouse Stakes at Monmouth on June 26, her second start this year following a disappointing fifth-place finish in the Grade 2 Vagrancy at Belmont Park on May 30, the lone out-of-the-money performance in her career.


“She was just outsprinted in the Vagrancy,” said Todd Pletcher, who trains the 4-year-old Malibu Moon filly for owner/breeder Edward Evans. “It was a little bit of a disappointing effort mainly because she trained so well going into it, but she came out of in good shape, continued to train really well, and then ran a big race at Monmouth.”


Malibu Prayer ran a 98 Beyer Speed Figure – the second-best number of her career – in that race, her fifth win from 11 lifetime starts.


“By design, we gave her the winter off with the idea that hopefully we could have her primed for the summer and fall of this year,” said Pletcher. “The timing of this race is good, plus it’s a Grade 1, which is attractive.”


John Velazquez will ride the 2-1 morning-line second choice from the rail.


Kiaran McLaughlin will saddle NYKY Thoroughbred Stable’s Starship Angel for her first start since a fourth-place effort in the Monmouth Beach Stakes on May 30. After starting the year with two wins and one second-place finish at Aqueduct, she shipped to Hawthorne for the Grade 3 Sixty Sails Handicap on April 17, in which she also finished fourth.

“We’re spacing her races out a little more and she’s doing great,” said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. “We think she likes two turns better than one turn, and this is a Grade 1, so finishing in the top three would really enhance her value”


Garrett Gomez will ride Starship Angel from post 3.


Shipping in from Canada is Tasty Temptation, a winner of four straight, including the Hill ‘n’ Dale Stakes at Woodbine in her most recent start on June 20. Owned by Woodford Racing LLC and trained by Woodbine-based Mark Casse, the Canadian-bred Medaglia d’Oro filly will make her first start on dirt in the Ruffian. Julien Leparoux has the call from post 5.


Gary Contessa will saddle second-level allowance winner Classofsixtythree, who will have her own cheering section Sunday – former classmates of her owner, Lee Pokoik, who was graduated from Tabor Academy in 1963.


“She’s a deep, deep closer going a mile and an eighth,” said Contessa. “She’s coming off a win, so her confidence level is high and if ever we were going to try to get a piece of a Grade 1, now is the time.”


Zaphyra, another second-level allowance winner who is making her second start for trainer John Terranova, completes the field.


The field for the Grade 1, $250,000 Ruffian:








Malibu Prayer (VA)

J R Velazquez


T A Pletcher



Unrivaled Belle (KY)

K J Desormeaux


W I Mott



Starship Angel (FL)

G K Gomez


K P McLaughlin



Classofsixtythree (KY)

J Castellano


G C Contessa



Tasty Temptation (ON)

J R Leparoux


M E Casse



Zaphyra (KY)

E S Prado


J P Terranova, II






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