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Grade 1-winner Perfect Alibi (Tracy Farmer) has been ready to debut her 3-year-old form for the better part of the last few months. On Saturday, Belmont Stakes Day, the daughter of Sky Mesa will finally get the chance to take some tangible steps forward in her progress when she headlines a field of seven sophomore fillies in the Grade 1, $300,000 Longines Acorn Stakes going a one-turn mile over the Belmont Park main track.
The Acorn Stakes, slated as Race 8 at 4:15 p.m. Eastern, is one of six graded stakes races on a stellar June 20 card highlighted by the 152nd running of the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Stakes and two additional Grade 1 races in the $250,000 Woody Stephens presented by Claiborne Farm an the $250,000 Jaipur presented by America's Best Racing, a "Win and You're In" qualifier for the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint.
Race 8 at Belmont Park on Saturday, June 20 - Post 4:15 PM
|3||Water White||10-1||Jorge Vargas, Jr.
|4||Casual||3-1||Ricardo Santana, Jr.
|5||Glass Ceiling||20-1||Joel Rosario
|6||Pleasant Orb||20-1||Manuel Franco
|7||Perfect Alibi||5-1||Irad Ortiz, Jr.
When Perfect Alibi heads to post in the Acorn - which has produced such divisional champions as Abel Tasman (2017) and Monomoy Girl (2018) in recent seasons - it will mark the first competitive outing for the dark bay filly since her fourth-place finish in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita Park on November 1.
Though her trainer Mark Casse already planned for his protégé to get a deserved break following her sixth career start, the hiatus ended up being extended as the coronavirus pandemic forced most tracks to shut down temporarily.
As the newly minted Hall of Fame conditioner worked to keep Perfect Alibi race ready while waiting for an opportunity to present itself, Casse saw a more authoritative version of her in the mornings - one he hopes will elevate her gritty demeanor in the afternoons.
"She's been ready to run for about three months," Casse said. "She's always been very, very professional. If anything, she's a little better work horse than she was. Last year, if you wanted to give some confidence to another horse you'd just work them with her because she'd let anybody beat her - except when they run in the afternoon. This year and recently, she's been a little more aggressive in her works."
Bred in Kentucky by Pin Oak Stud out of the Maria Mon's mare No Use Denying, Perfect Alibi was one of the more precocious members of her class last season, winning three of six starts including two graded stakes triumphs at Saratoga Race Course. Two starts after breaking her maiden at first asking last May at Churchill Downs, the leggy filly showed mettle beyond her years when she found room after being stuck behind a wall of horses midstretch en route to taking the Grade 2 Adirondack going 6 ½ furlongs last August.
She followed that effort up by taking her quality to the next level with a 1 ¼-length triumph in the Grade 1 Spinaway before being bested by eventual 2-year-old filly champion British Idiom in both the Grade 1 Darley Alcibiades at Keeneland and the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.
"She struggled big time (with the Santa Anita track)," Casse said of Perfect Alibi's Breeders' Cup run. "She got a hold of the track late and she actually made a mild move at the end."
Perfect Alibi has logged one start over the Belmont surface, having finished second in the 2019 Astoria going 5 ½ furlongs last June. She will break from post 7 under jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr.
"I said the other day that training horses is like putting a puzzle together. And this year it's putting a puzzle together with no pictures and no edges. It's even more difficult with everything going on," Casse said. "I just feel fortunate that we're running. We're lucky."
Perfect Alibi is the only graded stakes winner in the Acorn field but she will have no cakewalk as she returns from her near seven-month layoff. Among her biggest threats is the speedy Gamine, who has led every point of call in her two career starts.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, Gamine has been stealing focus from her comrades ever since she sold to owner Michael Lund Petersen for $1.8 million at the 2019 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-Year-Olds in Training sale. The daughter of Into Mischief dusted her foes by 6 ¼ lengths on debut March 7, going 6 ½-furlongs at Santa Anita Park. She then stretched out successfully when taking a 1 1/16-miles allowance optional claiming test by a neck at Oaklawn Park on May 2.
"She's just a tall, really elegant filly," Baffert said. "We took our time with her, let her develop. Her two races have been really nice races. I could have stayed home and run her here two turns in the (Santa Anita) Oaks but I wanted to give her a couple extra weeks. I thought the Acorn with the bigger, wider turns, I think she'll like that. And it's a lot of prestige."
Gamine's speed has been her most effective weapon, and her trainer isn't about to alter that strategy for Saturday's one-turn test.
"She's fast. At Oaklawn, she just broke and made the lead easily," Baffert said. "I've been breezing her and going easy with her. The other day I worked her and she tracked a horse all the way. She's still just learning. But she's going to be forwardly placed. She'll be up there close."
Hall of Famer John Velazquez will have the call aboard Gamine on Saturday from post 1.
Casual, trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, is also stepping into graded stakes company for the first time after posting victories in her first two starts.
Assistant trainer Toby Sheets said the Curlin filly should be comfortable in the one-turn mile.
"Casual is doing very well. She shipped in [Tuesday] also and came in very well; she looks great," said Toby Sheets, assistant to Asmussen. "I don't think a mile will be a problem at all for her."
Ricardo Santana, Jr. has the call aboard Casual from post 4.
Rounding out the field is Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks-runner-up Lucrezia [post 2, Julien Leparoux] for trainer Arnaud Delacour; the Rudy Rodriguez-trained last-out Busher Invitational-winner Water White (post 3, Jorge Vargas, Jr.]; Glass Ceiling [post 5, Joel Rosario]; and Pleasant Orb [post 6, Manny Franco] round out the field.
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