by Brian Bohl
Michael Dubb, Monomoy Stables, The Elkstone Group, and Bethlehem Stables' Monomoy Girl showed no rust in her first stakes appearance since 2018, staying just off pacesetter Mother Mother before overtaking her nearing the turn and drawing away from Vexatious in the stretch to win Saturday's Grade 2, $150,000 Ruffian for fillies and mares 4-years-old and up at Belmont Park.
The 2018 Eclipse Award Champion 3-year-old filly, Monomoy Girl returned to action this spring after not racing in 2019, making her first start in 18 months when she bested allowance company on May 16 at Churchill Downs.
Trainer Brad Cox returned her to stakes company for the first time since her winning effort in the 2018 Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Distaff at Churchill, with the 44th edition of the Ruffian serving as Monomoy Girl's first appearance at Belmont since winning the 2018 Grade 1 Acorn.
The five-time Grade 1-winner tracked closely to Mother Mother in the early going as she led the five-horse field through an opening quarter-mile in 22.84 seconds and the half in 45.55 on a good and harrowed main track. Under regular rider Florent Geroux, Monomoy Girl took command from the outside, going three-quarters in 1:09.34, and thundered home a two-length victor, completing the one-turn mile in 1:34.13.
"She's a very special filly," said Cox's assistant Dustin Dugas. "She showed up and ran well. She did everything we asked of her. She had a good week here. She visited all three of the tracks since she arrived here last Wednesday. She breezed over the main, had a jog day over the pony track and spent the rest of the time on the training track. She handled everything really well and really adapted to the change of scenery and I think she really liked it."
Monomoy Girl improved to 11-2-0 in 13 career starts and 2-for-2 as a 5-year-old. Off as the 1-9 favorite, she returned $2.30 on a $2 win bet. The Tapizar mare improved her bankroll to $3.08 million.
"I think she's a little better mentally. She's relaxed more throughout the race," said Geroux, who has piloted Monomoy Girl to 10 of her 11 wins. "Before that, when she was a 3-year-old and won the Breeders' Cup, she had a tendency to be a little keen even when she was laying second or third. She's a bit more relaxed now that she's older and a little bit more composed before the race, after the race and during the race. Now with this race under her belt, we can tackle some of the two-turn mile-and-an-eighth type of races with her.
"This was a nice race for her to come back into stakes competition and now we can tackle some bigger races and a tougher field, too," he added.
Vexatious, trained by Jack Sisterson, finished 8 ¾ lengths the best of Piedi Bianchi for second. Ridden by Jose Lezcano, who won the first two races of Belmont's Saturday card, Vexatious registered her best graded stakes effort since running second in the 2019 Grade 3 Modesty at Arlington Park.
"We had a good trip. My filly tried her heart out, but the winner is a champion filly," Lezcano said. "My filly tried two times to go up to her [Monomoy Girl], but the winner kicked away."
Mother Mother, trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, and Always Shopping, conditioned by Todd Pletcher, completed the order of finish.
Closing Day of the Belmont spring/summer meet will be Sunday with a nine-race card bolstered by the $80,000 River Memories for older fillies and mares going 1 ½ miles on turf in Race 8 at 4:23 p.m. Eastern. First post is 12:30 p.m. There will be mandatory payouts on the Empire 6, Early Pick 5 and Late Pick 5 wagers.