Sparkling Sky (7-2) will look to springboard off an impressive maiden-breaking win as she competes in her first stakes as part of an eight-horse field of juvenile fillies in Sunday's Grade 2, $200,000 Miss Grillo Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the Belmont Park inner turf.
Owned by Barry Schwartz, Sparkling Sky was placed second in her debut going 1 1/16 miles on August 16 at Saratoga Race Course in a race won by fellow Miss Grillo contender Crystalle. The Todd Pletcher trainee stayed at the distance for her second start, where she was forwardly placed and surged home a 2 ½-length winner ahead of Our Little Jewel on September 1 on the Spa turf.
||Ava K's Girl
||Irad Ortiz, Jr.
||My Sassy Sarah
The More Than Ready filly, purchased for $650,000 at the 2018 Keeneland September Sale, has continued to train in Saratoga, including a four-furlong work in 49.22 seconds on September 22 on the Oklahoma training track.
"She ran a good solid race in her debut and won second time out. It was nice to see her come back and improve off her first start," Pletcher said. "She's been training well since that start and we're hoping she can take another leap forward in this field and work out a good trip."
Jockey Jose Ortiz, aboard for both of Sparkling Sky's previous starts, will have the return call from post 6.
Crystalle (8-5) is the field's lone stakes winner, overcoming a troubled start to edge Sweet Melania by a neck in the 1 1/6-mile P.G. Johnson on August 29 at Saratoga. Owned by Tobey Morton and Chuck Hovitz, Crystalle crossed the wire first in her debut on August 4 at the Spa but was disqualified and placed third. Racing back three weeks later, trainer John Kimmel said he was impressed that the Palace Malice filly was able to earn a trip to the winner's circle after her issues in the starting gate.
"She got pretty much left at the gate last time and was acting up a little at the start and she broke in the air and spotted the field about four or five lengths and still got up to win," Kimmel said. "I thought that was impressive. Her [last work] was really good."
Crystalle was a $220,000 purchase at the Ocala Breeders' Sale in April. She will have the services of jockey Joel Rosario from post 4.
Trainer Chad Brown will saddle two contenders in Jazzique and Seflessly, who ran 1-2 in a 5 ½ furlongs sprint on August 28 on firm Saratoga turf.
Alpha Delta Stables' Jazzique (8-1) rallied from seventh to edge her stablemate by a half length in her debut. The Irish-bred daughter of Kingman will look to go 2-for-2, drawing post 2 with Irad Ortiz, Jr. aboard.
Owned by Klaravich Stables, Selflessly (6-1) was second in her first career start. The $190,000 purchase at the 2017 Keeneland November Sale is a More Than Ready filly who will make her stakes debut from post 8 with Hall of Famer Javier Castellano in the irons.
Funky Munky Stable's English Breeze (5-1), third in the P.G. Johnson last out for trainer David Donk, contested her first two races at the Miss Grillo distance including a 4 3/4-length debut win on August 14 at Saratoga. Manny Franco will ride from post 5.
Rounding out the field is Wicked Title (30-1), a last-out winner for trainer Chad Summers, drawing post 7 in tandem with jockey Angel Cruz; and the Michelle Nevin-trained pair of Ava K's Girl (12-1), a debut victor [post 1, Hall of Famer John Velazquez]; and My Sassy Sarah (6-1), who broke her maiden at second asking on September 13 at Belmont [post 3, Jose Lezcano]. Velazquez entered Thursday tied with Jerry Bailey for the most North American graded stakes wins with 660.
The Miss Grillo is carded as Race 8 on Sunday's nine-race card. First post is 1 p.m. Eastern.
Trainer David Donk looking for upset in G2 Miss Grillo with English Breeze
Funky Munky Stable's English Breeze is set to face graded stakes competition for the first time in Sunday's Grade 2, $200,000 Miss Grillo.
The New York-bred juvenile, trained by David Donk, has already proven she can compete against open company coming in off a third-place finish last out in the P.G. Johnson on August 29 at Saratoga.
Sired by English Channel, English Breeze won by 4 ¾ lengths in her August 14 debut at the Spa going 1 1/16 miles on the turf against fellow New York-breds.
Donk said that performance gave merited a start in the P.G. Johnson where she left the gate at odds of 5-1 to finish a half-length behind fellow Miss Grillo entrant Crystalle.
"She had trained well on the dirt before her first race, but being by English Channel, we wanted to give her a try on the turf," said Donk. "She certainly gave us a pleasant surprise by how well she ran. Logically, the next step was to head into the P.G. Johnson and I thought she did well to compete running against a talented filly [Crystalle] to only get beat by a half-length."
English Breeze has posted two works at Belmont Park since the P.G. Johnson and Donk said he is hoping English Breeze can continue to improve with regular rider Manny Franco aboard for the mount.
"I think she was a little green in each of her first two starts," said Donk. "There's still room for her to improve and she's been showing improvement in the mornings. Thankfully, we've got Manny aboard who's always been a 'go-to' guy for us. He's ridden in each of her starts so he is familiar with her. He's a good young rider so we're fortunate to have him aboard. We think she's ready, so we'll use this race to see where we stand going forward."