Honorable Miss preview: Small and Mighty

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Every once in a while you get a horse that defies logic. Trainer Tom Amoss ventures east with a Rubik’s Cube of a chestnut, Graeme Six, part of a salty six-pack served up for the $150,000 Honorable Miss Handicap.

“I must have looked at her over a hundred times and just asked her ‘What makes you tick?’ If she’s over 900 pounds that’s a lot,” Amoss said. “If you were to see her and judge her on looks alone she’s not too much, but she’s a really tough girl on the track.”

Owned by Johns Martin, Tom O’Grady, and Team West Side Stables, Graeme Six has held up her end of the bargain for Amoss, winning 5 of her 14 career starts. She took her last outing, the Grade III Winning Colors at Churchill Downs, on May 26, and enters the Grade II Honorable Miss looking to make amends for a disappointing effort in her lone Spa start, the Grade III Victory Ride last August. Sent off as the 5-1 second choice that day, Graeme Six settled in sixth and never delivered in the stretch, finishing fifth, beaten 11 1/4 lengths by runaway winner La Traviata. With 11 exacta finishes from her 14 lifetime starts, Graeme Six is usually as consistent as a Swiss watch, which is why Amoss is a bit perplexed about her previous Spa performance.

“To this day I can’t put my finger on why she ran poorly here last year, but we’ll go over there and hope for the best,” Amoss said. “Saratoga can be a funny track. I’ve stabled there before and you just never know. She’s coming into the race in great shape and 6 furlongs is a distance that hits her right between the eyes, so we’re excited.”

Not that the Honorable Miss will be easy. Five of the six runners have a stakes victory to their credit. And stakesless Zada Belle figures to be the filly to catch.

With the outside post, a high cruising gear and Julien Leparoux in the irons, Amoss is confident he’s got the filly to beat.

“It’s a really tough field and any one of those horses in there could win it. But I really think with our post we have a big shot. It should let Julien play things off the break and then go from there,” he said. “Whenever you have tactical speed with a good post position, it’s a nice spot to be in.”

After winning just 2 of 8 starts last season Graeme Six turned the corner in 2008, winning three stakes in five starts. In a day and age when the breeding shed can overshadow the racetrack, Amoss credits his owners for bringing their star filly back to the races.

“She’s already worth a lot of money as a broodmare, being Grade I placed (in the 2007 Prioress), but they enjoy the sport so much that they want her racing,” Amoss said. “They’re real cognizant of preserving her and they want her around a long time.”

Miss Macy Sue enters as the second choice on the morning line and could go favored based on her burgeoning reputation. The 5-year-old daughter of Trippi has batted .500 during a stellar career, winning 11 of 22 starts (including 10 of 19 at 6 furlongs) for trainer Kelly Von Hemel. Owned by Roll ReRoll Stable, Miss Macy Sue went 5-for-7 last season, but her lone trip to the Spa – 363 days ago in this very race – was a forgettable one. Breaking last in a five-horse field, she endured a wide and troubled trip before finishing fourth as the 6-5 favorite. She put that effort far into her rearview mirror to take the inaugural running of the $400,000 Presque Isle Downs Masters in her next start before ending her season with a solid third in the newly minted  Breeders’ Cup Filly/Mare Sprint.

Von Hemel’s charge hasn’t missed a beat this season, winning 2 of 4 starts, including an easy 6-length win in the Saylorville Stakes at Prairie Meadows on June 27. Prior to that win she was second, beaten 1 1/2 lengths, by Graeme Six in the Winning Colors. Today she breaks from the rail with regular rider Eusebio Razo Jr. in for the mount.

Morning line favorite Zada Belle (John Velazquez) might not be the horse to beat but she is undoubtedly the horse to catch in the Honorable Miss. The 4-year-old daughter of Indian Charlie looks to score an elusive graded-stakes victory for Godolphin Stable and enters off an easy prep at Monmouth Park, where she took a 6-furlong optional claimer by 6 3/4 lengths. Zada Belle set a pressured half-mile in 44 1/5 seconds that day and stopped the timer in 1:09 flat. Her lone disappointing effort was a ninth-place finish in the Grade II Madison on Keeneland’s Polytrack, where she broke from the outside in a field of 11. The 7-furlong Madison was only her third lifetime start and Rick Mettee, the U.S. assistant to Saeed bin Suroor, is looking forward to getting Zada Belle back to conventional dirt and back to 6 furlongs.

“She got a little confidence last time after the Keeneland race and like most fast fillies she’s going to be better on a dirt surface. There was a race that didn’t fill for us at Belmont so we went down to Monmouth and caught a short field and she ran well. The filly that was second ran back and won and ran a big number, so we’re looking forward to Friday,” Mettee said. “Now, obviously she’s giving away a lot of experience to all these fillies but on a conventional dirt track, going 6 furlongs instead of 7 like last time, she’s a little better filly. She is what she is – a very fast filly – so hopefully the track will be playing to that.”

Rite Moment (Ramon Dominguez) enters as the most accomplished member of the field based on a pair of Grade II handicap wins in the Distaff and the Bed of Roses earlier this year at Aqueduct. Trained by Gary Contessa for Winning Move Stable et al., the 4-year-old filly has been a pleasant surprise since being purchased privately from Chicago-based trainer Frank Springer prior to the 2008 season.

“I just liked her form and felt she would be a useful filly for the winter at Aqueduct, but she has exceeded my expectations. She’s one of those horses that we bought just as she was getting good and she just blossomed. We never expected this,” Contessa said. “We thought at best she would be a low-range allowance horse and at worst a $35,000 claimer. She’s just really morphed into a great filly.”

A three-time winner at 6 furlongs, Rite Moment ranks versatility as her biggest asset. The daughter of Vicar has won at up to 1 mile and 70 yards, and at one turn and two. She enters off a third behind fellow Honorable Miss entrant Any Limit in the 7-furlong First Flight Handicap, but Contessa isn’t worried about returning to 6 panels.

“I don’t think cutting back is a big deal. I think it will make her that much more of a powerful closer,” Contessa said. “She’s a really versatile filly who will do anything you want. Honestly, I really haven’t figured out what her best trip is, but with an eye towards the Breeders’ Cup I’m going to keep her sprinting.”

Any Limit rounded back into form with a neck victory in the Grade II First Flight in her last start at Belmont Park for Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens. The Joseph Shields homebred struggled in her previous two starts this season, both at Belmont, finishing third in the grassy Upper Noosh May 17 and a distant fourth in the Grade II Vagrancy just eight days later. Jerkens regrouped and pointed to the First Flight and Any Limit rewarded him with a determined win. The daughter of Limit Out made all the running that day but is equally adept at stalking the pace. Cornelio Velasquez has the return call.

Akronism brings some solid 6-furlong form should she start for Tim Ritchey. Robert Evans’ homebred is cross-entered at Woodbine Saturday but could be a major pace player. The 4-year-old daughter of Not For Love is 4-for-10 at 6 furlongs, including a neck decision in the Skipat Stakes at Pimlico. In her last start Akronism pressed a testing half-mile in 44 4/5 seconds before retreating to third in the $100,000 Light Hearted Stakes at Delaware Park going 5 furlongs on the turf. Pablo Morales comes in for the mount.