ELMONT, N.Y. - Daring Dancer, whose lone loss in five starts came at Belmont Park in May, will attempt to pick up her third graded stakes victory when she returns to Belmont for the Grade 2, $500,000 Sands Point on Saturday.
The Sands Point, which is restricted to 3-year-old fillies, will be contested at 1 1/8 miles on the inner turf course and will follow the Grade 3, $200,000 Noble Damsel.
Daring Dancer won the Grade 3 Appalachian in April at Keeneland in her third start, but never fired when fifth as the 4-5 favorite when racing over "good" turf in the Wonder Again during Memorial Day weekend. After regrouping at the Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland, the Sagamore Farm homebred returned to take the Grade 2 Lake George by a head on July 23 at Saratoga Race Course in her most recent start.
"We thought about the [Grade 2] Lake Placid [on August 16 at Saratoga], but I decided it was back too quick," said trainer H. Graham Motion. "This was the next logical spot. Our main concern is that her only loss came at Belmont, but that was over [good] turf."
Hall of Famer John Velazquez takes over aboard Daring Dancer, tabbed at 7-2 on the morning line. She drew post 8.
In her two previous starts at Belmont, Stonetower Stable's Sea Queen defeated Minorette by a half-length in the Wonder Again before finishing two lengths behind that foe in the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks Invitational in July. Following the Belmont Oaks, Sea Queen pressed the pace, led in the stretch and yielded late when fourth as the 7-5 favorite in the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks on August 16.
"Sea Queen had a little bit of a disappointment in the Del Mar Oaks," said Christophe Lorieul, assistant to trainer Christophe Clement. "She was beaten a neck and a nose for second. She ran good, but she was used a bit too early in the race. She comes back in good form and had a very good work on the turf [four furlongs on the turf in 49.21 seconds on Tuesday], and we're back at Belmont Park. We'll try again."
Joel Rosario will ride Sea Queen, 4-1 on the morning line, from post 5.
Clement also will send out Walk Close, who will put her unbeaten record at Belmont on the line in the Sands Point.
In her lone start as a juvenile, Walk Close debuted a two-length winner in September at Belmont. She opened her 3-year-old campaign with a pair of nose victories, clearing the first allowance condition in May and garnering the Wild Applause Stakes in June.
Most recently, Walk Close rallied from eighth after being bumped at the start when fourth in the restricted Tenski Stakes on August 11 at Saratoga.
"She's 3-for-3 at Belmont," noted Lorieul. "I think she might have had a bit too much to do [in the Tenski], but she's training well back at Belmont. She was shuffled back, and I'm not sure if Saratoga is one of her better tracks. She doesn't have a great turn of foot, but she's fast when she gets going, and I think the Belmont stretch will help her."
Walk Close, 15-1, will leave from post 4 with Cornelio Velasquez aboard.
Trainer Chad Brown will be represented in the Sands Point by a pair of European imports, Xcellence and Ball Dancing.
Xcellence began her career in France, where she won the Group 3 Prix Imprudence and was third in the Group 1 Poule d'Essai des Pouliches and Group 1 Prix de Diane for trainer Francois Doumen. Owner Martin Schwartz subsequently sent Xcellence to North America, where she was fourth in the Belmont Oaks. She was transferred to Brown following that race.
In her first start for Brown, Xcellence tracked the pacesetter along the inside and attempted to make a challenge along the rail in the stretch before finishing third, beaten a half-length.
Irad Ortiz will ride Xcellence for the first time in the Sands Point. Xcellence drew post 1 and was installed at 3-1 on the morning line.
Ball Dancing, a listed stakes winner in France who is owned by Md Bloodstock Limited, will make her first start in North America and for Brown in the Sands Point.
While overseas, Ball Dancing won the listed Prix de la Seine in May at Longchamp and was second in the Group 3 Prix de Royaumont in June at Chantilly. She dead heated for fifth in the Prix de Diane, also in June at Chantilly.
Joe Bravo has the call aboard Ball Dancing, 5-1. The duo will depart from post 10.
A Little Bit Sassy, trained by Michael Matz for Ramona S. Bass, will attempt to turn the tables on Daring Dancer, having finished second in the Lake George after pressing the pace and yielding late. This spring at Churchill Downs, she won the Edgewood Stakes and was first under the wire before being disqualified to fourth in the Grade 3 Regret.
In one start at Belmont, A Little Bit Sassy was second last October in the Chelsea Flower, her juvenile finale.
Luis Saez will ride A Little Bit Sassy, 5-1, from post 6.
The field also includes Miss Besliu, who returns to the turf after making three starts on the dirt, including third-place finishes in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks and Grade 1 Alabama; Queenofzeenile, stepping up in class off a second in a conditioned claimer at Delaware Park; and Duff One, who set the pace before finishing second in the Lake Placid.
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