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Fleet Field of Nine Assembled for Grade 1 Prioress

ELMONT, N.Y. – The only Grade 1 six-furlong sprint for 3-year-old fillies in the United States, the $300,000 Prioress at Belmont Park has long been a showcase for some of the fastest fillies on the planet, from Ta Wee in 1969 to Safely Kept in 1989, Xtra Heat in 2001 to Indian Blessing in 2008.

The 62nd edition, part of a trio of graded stakes to be run on Saturday, July 4, including the Grade 2, $400,000 Suburban Handicap and the Grade 2, $200,000 Dwyer, shows why it deserves its Grade 1 status, having attracted a field of nine outstanding fillies headed by Arnold Zechter’s Grade 1 Acorn winner Gabby’s Golden Gal.

Trained by Bob Baffert, who won last year’s edition with Indian Blessing, Gabby’s Golden Gal will be turning back from the flat mile of the Acorn, in which she blazed wire to wire in 1:34.79. Although she suffered from a bout of heat exhaustion immediately after the race, the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro bounced back speedily, turning in a pair of bullet works in preparation for the Prioress.

On June 20, she zipped a half-mile in 47.10, and on June 28 she covered the same distance in 47.12, the fastest of 40 works at the distance.

“I think she’s going into the race just as good as she did for the Acorn,” said Tonja Terranova, who oversees Baffert’s New York-based horses. “Her last two breezes have been in hand.”

In six starts, Gabby’s Golden Gal is 3-1-1, with her only off-the-board performance coming behind Rachel Alexandra in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, in which she led for six furlongs before giving way.

“She’s very fast,” added Terranova. “Bob has always had a lot of confidence in her.”

Zayat Stables’ Heart Ashley brings a three-race winning streak into the Prioress, comprising back-to-back Grade 3 wins in the Cicada at Aqueduct Racetrack on March 14 and the Miss Preakness at Pimlico on May 15. The daughter of Lion Heart, trained by Steve Asmussen, has been first or second in each of her six lifetime starts.

“This is the race she’s been pointed towards for a long time,” Asmussen. “She’s a very fast filly. In a Grade 1 sprint on dirt for three-year-old fillies, everyone is going to show up.”

That includes Brereton Jones’ On the Menu, who handed Heart Ashley her worst defeat (by 7¼ lengths in an allowance at the Fair Grounds) and has been working brilliantly at Delaware Park, Helen Alexander’s Selva, second in the Grade 2 Beaumont at Keeneland, Edward P. Evans’ Light Green, who has won her last two by a combined winning margin of 14½ lengths, and Cat Moves, also owned by Evans, who is 2-for-2 as she makes her stakes debut here. Cat Moves and Light Green will run as an entry.

“The Prioress is going to deserve its Grade 1 status here,” said On the Menu’s trainer, Larry Jones, who won the Prioress in 2006 with Wildcat Bettie B. “This filly has been doing very well, and we’ve always been high on her. One of the reasons was she ran so well against Heart Ashley, who’s a very nice filly.”

Trainer Todd Pletcher is hoping that Light Green’s last race, an eight-length allowance score at Belmont on May 15, was a breakthrough race for the daughter of Pleasantly Perfect.

“I am hoping for a repeat of her last race,” said Pletcher. “The Prioress is a tough race.”

Completing the field for the Prioress, which will be run as the ninth race on the 11-race holiday card, are Westrock Stables’ Be Fair, Adele B. Dilschneider’s Luster, and Thor-Bred Stable LLC’s Reforestation.


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