ELMONT, N.Y. - Artemis Agrotera, a dominant winner against Grade 1 competition in her most recent start, heads a group of six filly and mare sprinters in the Grade 2, $300,000 Gallant Bloom Handicap on Saturday at Belmont Park.
In the Grade 1 Ballerina, Artemis Agrotera, a 3-year-old, pressed the pace before powering away to a 6 Â½-length victory over older opponents going seven furlongs on August 23 at Saratoga Race Course. It was the second Grade 1 score for Artemis Agrotera, who won the 2013 Grade 1 Frizette at Belmont as a juvenile.
Artemis Agrotera's sophomore season began in disappointing fashion as she finished eighth in the Grade 1 TVG Acorn in June at Belmont. Trainer Michael Hushion adjusted his training tactics with Artemis Agrotera following the TVG Acorn, and the Chester and Mary Broman homebred responded with a 10 Â¼-length optional claiming win against statebreds in July at the Spa prior to her impressive Ballerina triumph.
Hushion originally planned to train Artemis Agrotera directly to the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint on November 1 at Santa Anita before deciding that she'd be better off with an extra race in the interim.
Artemis Agrotera has worked twice at Belmont following the Ballerina, earning bullets for her 59.15 second five-furlong breeze on September 5 and 47.05 four-furlong breeze on September 13.
"When she has good energy, that's when she has performed well," said Hushion. "I thought running in the [Gallant Bloom] would be better for her [than training up to the Breeders' Cup]."
Rajiv Maragh will ride Artemis Agrotera, the 4-5 morning-line favorite, from post position 1.
Also representing the Hushion barn will be Bridgehampton, a 5 Â½-length winner of the six-furlong My Juliet Stakes in May at Parx Racing. The 4-year-old has made one start since, setting the pace before finishing last of four, beaten 1 Â½ lengths, in the restricted Shine Again Stakes on July 21 at Saratoga.
Hushion said the Shine Again's seven-furlong distance likely was beyond Bridgehampton's scope.
"I was trying to keep her at six furlongs, but I couldn't get a race and ran out of options," said Hushion.
Bridgehampton, owned by Barry Schwartz, drew post position 3 and was installed at 10-1 on the morning line. Manuel Franco has the call.
Lady Sheila's La Verdad, who is 3-for-3 in three starts at Belmont, will attempt to regain winning form in the Gallant Bloom. In two starts at Saratoga, the 4-year-old was fifth in both the Grade 2, six-furlong HRTV Honorable Miss Handicap in July and in the Ballerina.
Earlier this year, La Verdad won the Broadway and Grade 2 Distaff Handicap at Aqueduct Racetrack and the Critical Eye and Dancin Renee at Belmont.
"Obviously, she's run much better at Belmont than she did at Saratoga," said trainer Linda Rice. "I think in the [HRTV Honorable Miss] she was compromised by the mud and post position . In the [Ballerina], I don't think seven furlongs is her best distance. I think she prefers Belmont, and that could be enough to turn the results around."
Jose Ortiz will ride La Verdad, 6-1, from post 6.
Merry Meadow, a 4-year-old, returns to the scene of her biggest win, a 3 Â¾-length decision in Belmont's Grade 3, 6 Â½-furlong Vagrancy Handicap in May. She missed by a nose in Belmont's Grade 3, seven-furlong Bed o' Roses Handicap in June and was third, beaten 2 Â½ lengths, in the Honorable Miss.
"[Merry Meadow] is pretty reliable," said Mark Hennig, who trains Merry Meadow for William Parson, Jr. "Obviously, [Artemis Agrotera] is coming off a pretty big effort, but [Merry Meadow] always runs well and she likes this track."
Following the HRTV Honorable Miss, Hennig decided to bypass the Ballerina with Merry Meadow in favor of training up to the Gallant Bloom.
"We feel that at six [furlongs] and 6 Â½ [furlongs] she's probably better than going seven, with 6 Â½ being her best distance," said Hennig. "We felt like we'd rather wait [for the Gallant Bloom than run in the Ballerina.]"
The field also includes Willet, a four-time stakes winner against New York-breds who was third in the Grade 1 Ballerina; and Classic Point, eighth in the Bed o' Roses in her most recent outing.