ELMONT, N.Y. - Fitful Skies will go in search of her first North American victory on Saturday at Belmont Park when she contests the Grade 2, $200,000 Sheepshead Bay run at 1 3/8 miles for fillies and mares 4-years-old and up.
Fitful Skies made her North American debut on October 27 in the Grade 1 E.P. Taylor at Woodbine. The 5-year-old mare, who became a Group 3 winner in Germany earlier in 2013, ran a huge race over the yielding ground to finish a head behind the winner Tannery in second. The E.P. Taylor would mark her last start of 2013, in which she went 3-4-0 from eight starts with her former trainer, Henri-Alex Pantall.
Now trained by Kiaran McLaughlin for Godolphin Racing, the bay mare made her 2014 debut in the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley at Keeneland. Running second to last most of the way behind a slow pace, Fitful Skies was unable to make an impact on the finish and checked in ninth, beaten only 3 Â¼ lengths.
"She got a rough trip [in the Jenny Wiley]; she didn't get beat that far and she had nowhere to run," said McLaughlin. "It was only a mile and a sixteenth and she wants to go further. We're happy about the distance and the weather forecast. A little bit of rain might soften [the turf], and she likes it soft, especially at a mile and three-eighths. We're all systems 'go.'"
Fitful Skies, 7-2 on the morning line, will be ridden by Irad Ortiz, Jr. and the pair will break from post position 3.
Ready to take on Fitful Skies is the third-place finisher from the Jenny Wiley, Abaco. Trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey for Phipps Stable, Abaco has yet to run beyond nine furlongs, but captured the Grade 3, 1 1/8-mile Cardinal Handicap at Churchill Downs last year. In 2014, she has finished fourth in the Grade 3 Marshua's River and third in the Grade 3 Suwanee River, both at Gulfstream Park. In her latest outing, the 6-year-old mare sat last behind a tepid pace in the Jenny Wiley and came charging late to miss by a half-length.
Abaco will break from post position 6 with Hall of Famer John Velazquez in the irons, and is the 5-2 morning line favorite.
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott will send out two runners on Saturday. The more accomplished of the pair, Riposte, will be making her fourth start in the United States since being transferred to Mott late last year. The daughter of Dansili was based in Florida during the winter, when she finished second in the Grade 3 Suwanee River at Gulfstream, and third in the Grade 3 Hillsborough at Tampa Bay Downs. In her most recent start, she was second, a neck behind Industrial Policy at Keeneland in her first start with Lasix.
Joel Rosario has the mount on Riposte, who will break from post position 2 and sits at 3-1 on the morning line.
The other Mott entry, Modernstone, will be making her stateside debut in the Sheepshead Bay. The 4-year-old filly has raced predominantly on synthetic tracks in her native Great Britain for former trainer William Knight.
Modernstone, 8-1 on the morning line will be ridden by Chris DeCarlo and depart from post position 8.
Irish Mission will go out for trainer Christophe Clement in what will be her second start with the conditioner. The daughter of Giant's Causeway finished seventh in her 2014 debut in the 1 1/16-mile, Grade 3 Beaugay at Belmont, but has shown an affinity for marathon distances, as she was beaten only a length in last year's Grade 1 Northern Dancer at Woodbine against males.
Irish Mission will be ridden by Jose Lezcano and drew post position 7. She sits at 8-1 on the morning line.
Caroline Thomas, most recently third in the Grade 3 Bewitch at Keeneland, and Viva Rafaela, fifth in the Bewitch, complete the field.
Flash Forward, Belle Gallantey, and Lady Cohiba are entered main track only.
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