Dream Girl – Ruffian Stakes Recap

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By Sean Clancy

Bill Mott rode his pony into the paddock, holding onto Ruffian Invitational favorite Unrivaled Belle. Exercise rider Paul Breedon sat motionless on the notoriously nervous gray filly who danced on the edge, turning her hind end to the crowd in the center of the paddock. Mott jumped off, switched to her girth and tacked up the Grade II stakes winner on the walk, from the chute to the Big Red Spring.

“Whew, she makes you work,” Mott said, after handing her off to the professional pony boy.

Mott and his staff kept the edgy daughter of Unbridled’s Song on the right side of sane. In the post parade, she rolled with the moment – balking, hesitating and testing jockey Kent Desormeaux a few times but by the time she was pushed into the 2 stall between Malibu Prayer and Starship Angel, it was her race to lose.

And she did.

Malibu Prayer took it to her rival from the start, opening a comfortable margin of a half-length to a length on Unrivaled Belle through a quarter-mile in 23.42 seconds and a half in 46.96. John Velazquez on the Todd Pletcher pupil sat and waited for the expected attack by the favorite. Velazquez prepared for the challenge, expecting the strike at any moment, then he got to the quarter pole. That’s when Velazquez turns pace tactics into flight tactics; he gunned Malibu Prayer and in a matter of strides, Unrivaled Belle felt the pressure and wilted to the stamina of Malibu Prayer. Bred and owned by Edward Evans, Malibu Prayer powered to the wire to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Unrivaled Belle with former claimer Classofsixtythree picking up the pieces – and a valuable line of Grade I black type – to be third.

Malibu Prayer finished the 9 furlongs in 1:48.14.

While Unrivaled Belle attracted the attention in the paddock, assistant trainer Tristan Barry had little to worry about as he deputized for Pletcher who was at the Haskell to saddle Super Saver.

“She’s easy. Piece of cake. No pressure, all I did was put the saddle on and make sure it didn’t fall off,” Barry said. “She likes to get in a rhythm and get coasting along, that’s all Todd said to Johnny, ‘just get her out of there and get her comfortable.’ It was really up to whatever Kent did, Johnny let her do her thing.”

Velazquez picked up his second $500,000 stakes victory of the weekend after winning the Jim Dandy with Evans’ homebred A Little Warm. Both at 9 furlongs, the races and the trips played out similarly. Velazquez allowed A Little Warm to track one horse in front before releasing the valve at the quarter pole. Velazquez approached the Ruffian in the same manner, if Desormeaux goes, he’d sit second. If he doesn’t go, then Velazquez would be in front.

Unrivaled Belle broke sharply, then bobbled in her third stride, sacrificing ground to her rival on the rail. Going into the first turn, Malibu Prayer had the rail and had the initiative over a stacked line of Unrivaled Belle, Canadian shipper Tasty Temptation and longshot Zaphyra. The compact foursome opened a huge margin on Starship Angel and Classofsixtythree. Unrivaled Belle crept closer down the backside, reaching the girth of Malibu Prayer. Velazquez waited. At the quarter pole, he stole a look under his right shoulder and then pressed. Malibu Prayer responded instantly. Unrivaled Belle couldn’t answer back.

“I was peeking and he was always right there next to me, I was waiting for him to make a move and get head and head with me, when he never did I just left her alone, I didn’t ask anything until the quarter pole,” Velazquez said. “My cue is when he comes, then we go. I was going to wait until he got to within a neck of me. He never did and the quarter pole came, and I said ‘Let’s go, make him work harder.’ I didn’t know about the mile and an eighth but she handled it very easily.”

Malibu Prayer won for the sixth time in her 12-race career, earning her first Grade I stakes win. She attempted one other Grade I stakes when she was the somebody-has-to-be-second in Rachel Alexandra’s Mother Goose parade last summer. That was then, this is now.

“She’s awesome this year. She was very hard on herself, you didn’t know if she was going to show up even though she ran good races last year. She was very rank, but now, she settles. She’s a much better horse than last year,” Velazquez said. “I wish they were all like that, it makes my job much easier. Just like the Jim Dandy, not much work, break and let them get in a comfortable spot. Just let her do her own thing. I didn’t have to do much. The ears went up so you knew she was going well.”