by Ryan Martin
Eclipse Award-winning mare Monomoy Girl will attempt to bolster her bid for another championship season in headlining a five-horse field in the 42nd running of Saturday's Grade 2, $150,000 Ruffian for older fillies and mares over Belmont Park's main track.
Trained by Brad Cox, Monomoy Girl arrives at the event off an allowance victory on May 16 at Churchill Downs contested at the Ruffian distance of a one-turn mile. Her 2 ¾-length score off a nearly 18-month layoff marked the 5-year-old debut for the chestnut daughter of Tapizar, whose previous start was a one-length victory in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Distaff in November 2018 at Churchill Downs.
That Breeders' Cup win secured honors for Champion 3-Year-Old filly thanks to a sophomore campaign that featured five Grade 1 wins: the Ashland at Keeneland, the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs, the Acorn at Belmont Park and the the Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga.
She was sent to WinStar Farm in the spring of 2019 after a mild case of colic and suffered an injury to her hamstring last fall when preparing for a potential comeback.
Despite several setbacks in her return bid, Monomoy Girl made a strong return to action, winning over a sloppy and sealed Churchill track in May.
"I talked to Brad today and he's expecting her to run well, she's training as well as she has ever trained," said Sol Kumin of Monomoy Stables, who co-owns Monomoy Girl with Michael Dubb, The Elkstone Group and Bethlehem Stables. "She obviously ran that first race but you still have your fingers crossed until Saturday. It's a good post, a good distance.
"We thought about the [Grade 1 Ogden Phipps [on June 13], but after such a long layoff it was a little quick back," he added. "She's giving all the right sings and at this point she has to stay sound and do it. Saturday will be the next step. She went to allowance company now she's in a Grade 2 and we'll progress from there."
The long-term goal for Monomoy Girl is an attempt at a repeat victory in the Grade 1, $3 million Breeders' Cup Distaff on November 7 at Keeneland Race Course.
"I think the ultimate goal is the Breeders Cup and the shot at another championship," said Dubb. "There's no reason to stretch her out to two turns in her second start in 18 months. This seems like the logical spot. I've seen her and physically she looks fantastic. She's large, she's powerful and she's beautiful."
Regular rider Florent Geroux will return to the irons aboard Monomoy Girl from post 5.
Four other fillies and mares will take on the champion, including Piedi Bianchi for trainer Carlos Martin, who won last year's Ruffian with Come Dancing.
The Indiana-bred daughter of Overanalyze won the Correction at Aqueduct two starts back before finishing sixth in the Harmony Lodge on June 5 last out.
Owned by Jay Oringer, Jack Bick and Madaket Stables, Piedi Bianchi is 4-3-3 in 15 career starts.
"She's doing great. I really wanted to stretch her out further and she's training well in blinkers," Martin said. "It's an opportunity in a small field to get a big graded-stakes placing. I know Monomoy Girl on paper looks imposing, but my dad always said, 'if Secretariat can get beat, anybody can get beat.' So, we'll take our chances. I think a one-turn mile at Belmont will really suit her and Dylan Davis is a great young rider who will give it all he's got."
Martin is influenced by the training style of the late Hall of Famer Allen Jerkens, who was known for not being afraid to face tough competition.
"When his horses were doing well, he only worried about his horse and he took some chances and often was rewarded," Martin said. "You can't ever not run because of one horse. We're going to go for it. Hopefully it will be a great race and if we can't beat Monomoy Girl, we hope we can get a big graded-stakes placing in the Ruffian and that would be an honor as well."
A victory with Piedi Bianchi in the Ruffian would make Martin the first trainer to score back-to-back editions of the race since Kiaran McLaughlin won with Wedding Toast (2015) and Cavorting (2016).
"It would be a dream come true to win the Ruffian two years in a row," Martin said.
Piedi Bianchi, with blinkers on, will break from the inside post under Davis.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert seeks a third Ruffian triumph with Mother Mother, who will attempt to make amends after finishing fourth in the Harmony Lodge. The daughter of Pioneerof the Nile made her seasonal bow a winning one in Santa Anita's Kalookan Queen on January 12. A winner of the Rags to Riches at Churchill Downs during her 2-year-old campaign, Mother Mother is a three-time Grade 1-placed filly having run second in the Del Mar Debutante in only her second lifetime start, and was third in the La Brea at Santa Anita and the Starlet at Los Alamitos.
Jockey Manny Franco will pilot Mother Mother from post 2.
Mike Repole's Always Shopping, who won last year's Grade 2 Gazelle at Aqueduct, will look to add a graded stakes victory to her ledger is. Following the Gazelle, the daughter of Awesome Again was sixth in the Grade 2 Black Eyed Susan last May at Pimlico and did not return until April of this year, where she was third as the favorite in a one-mile allowance optional claiming event at Gulfstream Park. She arrives at the Ruffian off a fourth in the Treasure Coast on June 4 over the turf at the South Florida oval.
A Kentucky homebred, Always Shopping is out of the multiple graded stakes-placed More Than Ready broodmare Stopshoppingmaria.
Always Shopping will leave from post 4 under Eric Cancel.
Completing the field is Calumet Farms' well-bred graded stakes winner Vexatious, who has found the winner's circle on both dirt and turf. Trained by Jack Sisterson, the gray daughter of Giant's Causeway out of multiple graded stakes-winning millionaire Dream of Summer is a full-sister to Grade 1-winner and producer Creative Cause and is a half-sister to multiple graded stakes-winner Destin.
Vexatious' last victory took place in the Grade 3 Dowager over the Keeneland turf in October 2018, which she won via disqualification and has acquired graded stakes black type on dirt twice during her 3-year-old campaign when finishing third in the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks and Grade 3 Fantasy at Oaklawn Park.
Breaking from post 3, Vexatious will have the riding services of Jose Lezcano.
The Ruffian is named in honor of the multiple Grade 1-winning champion who was named Champion 2-Year-Old Filly in 1974 and became Champion 3-Year-Old Filly the following year, where she won the New York Triple Tiara [the Acorn, the Mother Goose and the Coaching Club American Oaks]. Trained by Frank Whitley, Ruffian was posthumously elected to the Hall of Fame in 1976 and is buried in Belmont Park's infield.
Slated as Race 4 on Saturday's 10-race card, which offers a first post of 1:15 p.m. Eastern, the Ruffian will feature on America's Day at the Races, produced by NYRA in partnership with FOX Sports, and airing live on Fox Sports and MSG+. Free Equibase-provided past performances are available for races that are part of the America's Day at the Races broadcast and can be accessed at https://www.nyra.com/belmont/racing/tv-schedule.
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