Second or third in five previous stakes starts against fellow state-breds, Inimitable Romanee goes after her first victory on Sunday in the $150,000 John Hettinger for New York-bred females 3-years-old and up at Belmont Park.
In all, 11 fillies and mares were entered for the 1 1/8-mile John Hettinger, including Mischief Maker, who will run only if the race is taken off the inner turf course.
Trained by Graham Motion for Gallagher's Stud, Inimitable Romanee was most recently third, beaten 2 ¼ lengths by Grade 1 winner Dayatthespa, in the restricted Yaddo at Saratoga Race Course on August 16.
Prior to that race, the daughter of Maria's Mon was second, a 1 ¼ lengths behind another graded stakes winner, the recently retired Hessonite, in the On The Bus, another state-bred Saratoga stakes.
"I was thrilled how she ran at Saratoga," said Motion. "This filly is very hard-knocking, very honest, very straightforward. She's kind of a barn favorite. I'm just very pleased with how she's doing, and I just hope she can win one of these. I think she deserves to.
"The filly's been a little unlucky," he added. "She's starting to come around, but it's a tough time to be a New York-bred grass filly."
Inimitable Romanee was third to Hessonite in last year's John Hettinger, her most recent try at nine furlongs. Second by a neck in the one-mile Mount Vernon at Belmont on June 1, she is winless in nine starts following an entry-level allowance victory last July 4, also on the Belmont turf.
"I think the distance is good for her. It's one thing that's appealing to me about this particular race," Motion said. "I actually think she's run better this year; she's more settled. They've been able to take her back, and I think that's really helped her. Hopefully, one of these has her name on it."
Hall of Fame rider Edgar Prado will be aboard Inimitable Romanee, second choice on the morning line at 7-2, from post six.
Another hard-hitting filly taking aim at the John Hettinger is Wholelottashakin, who finished second in the Yaddo, a half-length in front of Inimitable Romanee and 1 ¾ lengths behind Dayatthespa.
"I think she ran her race [in the Yaddo]," said Tom Bush, who trains Wholelottashakin for owner Parting Glass Racing. "That was one of her 'A' races, and she just ran into a better filly. I was super pleased with the effort. She definitely ran well."
The 4-year-old Scat Daddy filly shows three wins from five career starts on the Belmont turf. Favored at 3-1 on the morning line, she drew post four and will have a new rider in Irad Ortiz, Jr., replacing the injured Jose Lezcano.
"She seems to like it [at Belmont]; she really does," Bush said. "She's doing well. She shipped back from Saratoga good, and came out of the race good up there. We had a couple more weeks after that race, and she's done fine. She's a very hardy filly; very tough. She's ready to go."
Also exiting the Yaddo is Love Stanza Chance, who ducked out at the start and raced wide before finishing last of six in her stakes debut for trainer Tom Albertrani.
Owned by Chester and Mary Broman, the 5-year-old Unbridled's Song mare has registered each of her three career victories over the Belmont turf, including a 1 1/16-mile optional claiming allowance score on July 13.
"We were kind of throwing her in a little over her head [in the Yaddo]," said Albertrani. "We were just hoping we could get a little lucky with her and get a little black type. We're doing the same thing here. She's going to have to step her game up, definitely."
The John Hettinger is the fifth start this year for Love Stanza Chance, who returned to the races in mid-May following a six-month break. Listed at 10-1 on the morning line, she departs from post 3 with jockey Cornelio Velasquez.
"It took her a couple races to come off the layoff," said Albertrani. "It looked like she found her best stride the last couple races before the Yaddo. It wasn't terrible, but we still feel like she's got to step up a little bit."
"She could be a little free-running, so if she settles and rates fine, that's the whole key with her," he added. "Hopefully, she just kind of relaxes and doesn't do too much early on. She's training well, so we're just hoping for the best."
Go Unbridled, who gave legendary Hall of Fame trainer H. Allen Jerkens his first win of the Saratoga meet in the Saratoga Dew for state-bred fillies on August 26, was one of three supplemental nominees to the John Hettinger, along with Mlle Margaux, an optional claiming allowance winner at Saratoga on August 31, and Harbor Mist.
Rounding out the John Hettinger field are Dreaming of Cara, fourth in the Saratoga Dew; Diamondrella stakes winner Effie Trinket, who is cross-entered in Saturday's Grade 1 Garden City; and Lady's Lunar Luck, who is coming off a pair of wins at Saratoga.