HALLANDALE BEACH, FL â€“ Sundayâ€™s featured $100,000 Sweetest Chant Stakes has drawn a field of eight promising fillies looking for their first stakes victory. Duff One, owned by Lee Pokoik, defeated several of her Sweetest Chant rivals in a local allowance on December 19 and will be one of the main contenders on Sunday.
The Harlanâ€™s Holiday filly had a productive Saratoga meet, finishing fourth to Ready to Act in her debut on the grass before prevailing in an August 9 contest that was rained onto the main track. She then finished second in the P.G. Johnson Stakes at the Spa on August 28, but was unable to overcome traffic woes in her next two stakes efforts at Belmont. Duff One was fifth in the Miss Grillo Stakes (G3) on October 6 before finishing sixth three weeks later in the Chelsea Flower Stakes.
â€œHer style is not always successful,â€ trainer Gary Contessa commented. â€œSheâ€™s far back early and then she comes running. Sheâ€™s always going to need to get the trip. We went into the Miss Grillo thinking that it would absolutely take her right to the Breedersâ€™ Cup. She ran a good race, but had terrible traffic problemsâ€”never could get out; never could get on track. It just didnâ€™t happen. We were questionable on getting enough points for the Breedersâ€™ Cup and we didnâ€™t go.â€
Duff One faced off with Ready to Act again in the aforementioned allowance on December 19 and was dismissed at 9-1 to her rivalâ€™s 1-2 status. Unhurried early as usual, the blaze-faced bay took the overland route on her way to a two-length victory over Ready to Act.
â€œWe got her fresh and she responded with a nice win,â€ Contessa added. â€œShe really looked the part winning that race and she deserves this shot. Sheâ€™s never really run a bad race. Sheâ€™s got a lot of things going for her. More than likely, sheâ€™s just going to need a trip, a little bit of help with the traffic. Training wise, sheâ€™s been doing great.â€
Joel Rosario, who was in the irons that afternoon, will be back in Duff Oneâ€™s saddle when they break from the four hole in the Sweetest Chant.
After her first-out success at Saratoga, Ready to Act held a clear lead in the stretch of the Natalma Stakes (G3) at Woodbine, but veered in sharply and lost rider Rajiv Maragh. She followed that with a sixth in the Breedersâ€™ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) at Santa Anita on November 1, and came up short as the heavy chalk in her latest. Chad Brown trains the gray daughter of More Than Ready for Klaravich Stables and William H. Lawrence. She drew the rail for the Sweetest Chant and will be piloted by meet-leading rider Javier Castellano.
The lightly raced Hardly weaved her way through to finish third, just a neck behind Ready to Act, on December 19. Fourth in her career opener at Belmont on October 11, the Hard Spun filly earned her diploma at Aqueduct on November 17 before making her way to Florida.
â€œShe got in all kinds of traffic and I think that kept her from finishing closer,â€ trainer Mark Hennig remarked.
Owned by Lee Lewis, Hardly is out of a half-sister to champion sprinter Kodiak Kowboy.
â€œSheâ€™s just a straightforward filly with lots of class,â€ Hennig said. â€œThereâ€™s nothing flashy about her, but she likes the job. Iâ€™m optimistic about Sunday.â€
Hardly drew post three and will be ridden by Alan Garcia.
Also in the Sweetest Chant field are Lemon Point and Room Service, the one-two finishers in a Gulfstream allowance on December 13. Bill Mott trains Lemon Point for Peter Vegso, while Wayne Catalano handles Room Service on behalf of Gary and Mary West. Party Now drew off by 4 Â¾ lengths in her first turf try on January 2 for trainer Shug McGaughey and owners Stuart Janney III and Phipps Stable.
The Sweetest Chant is rounded out by Jerry Love and Super Fantasy. All of the 3-year-old fillies will carry 116 pounds.
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