OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Kauai Katie, unraced since finishing sixth in the Grade 1 Prioress in July, will return to the races on Saturday when she faces an evenly matched field of filly and mare sprinters in Aqueduct Racetrack's Grade 2, $200,000 Distaff Handicap at six furlongs.
As a 2-year-old, Kauai Katie won her first three starts, including the Grade 2 Adirondack and Grade 2 Matron. She then tired to to fourth in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, the only time in her career she has competed around two turns.
At 3, Kauai Katie easily won the Grade 3 Old Hat, Grade 2 Forward Gal, and Road Princess overnight stakes before she stumbled at the start, pressed the pace, and retreated in the stretch when third, beaten seven lengths by Midnight Lucky, as the 8-5 second choice in the Grade 1 Acorn in May at Belmont Park.
Despite the loss, Kauai Katie went off as the 2-5 favorite in the Prioress at Saratoga Race Course. Once again, she tracked the leaders and came up empty in the stretch, finishing last of six, 6 Â¼ lengths behind the winner, Lighthouse Bay. Following that disappointing effort, she was freshened by owner Stonestreet Stables and trainer Todd Pletcher with the intention of focusing on a 4-year-old campaign.
"It was always planned to come back [in the Distaff]; it worked out, timing wise," said Byron Hughes, assistant to Pletcher. "She has been feeling great in the mornings, never missed a step out there. We'll see what happens. This is a difficult spot, but she's a very high-quality filly, and we think she's capable of competing at any level."
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez rill ride Kauai Katie, the 3-1 second choice on the morning line, from post 5.
La Verdad, also a 4-year-old, has won six of eight starts, including five of six at Aqueduct. In her most recent start, she made quick work of New York-bred competition in the Broadway on the inner track in March. She was installed as the 5-2 morning-line favorite for the Distaff.
After finishing fourth in her debut, La Verdad won five straight races before she set the pace and yielded late to My Wandy's Girl when second in the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie Handicap in February at Laurel Park. The front-runner found the Broadway to her liking, quickly seizing the lead and never looking back en route to a 3 Â¼-length triumph.
"She's racing well, but this is a pretty big jump up in company," said Linda Rice, who trains the daughter of Yes It's True for Sheila Rosenblum's Lady Sheila Stable. "She ran very well [in the Barbara Fritchie], which made me think she deserves another chance in a graded stakes."
La Verdad, who will be ridden once again by Jose Ortiz, drew post 1 for the Distaff.
"Jose knows her well, so he'll make the best decision for her," said Rice of La Verdad's draw.
Barry Schwartz's lightly raced Bridgehampton will be making her second start of 2014 in the Distaff. Second in the Grade 3 Victory Ride in her sophomore finale, she made her return in an entry-level allowance over the inner track on March 23, showing speed from the gate, opening a five-length lead in the stretch, and holding on while shortening stride late to prevail by 1 Â¼ lengths.
"I thought it was just what she needed, just what we were looking for," said Hushion. "We've been pointing for the Distaff for three months. This has been our long-term plan. We've done everything we can to get her a little stronger since [the allowance race]. We'll find out at the sixteenth pole."
Rajiv Maragh will ride Bridgehampton for the first time in the Distaff. The 4-year-old drew post 6.
Munnings Sister, who has won five stakes, including three at Belmont Park, returns to New York after competing twice in Florida and making one start in California for owner Charles Fipke and trainer Barclay Tagg. She was third in the Grade 3 Sugar Swirl in December and won the Awesome Feather in February before reporting home third in the Grade 3 Las Flores on March 9. The winner of the Las Flores, Judy the Beauty, returned to take the Grade 1 Madison on Saturday.
Luis Saez will ride Munnings Sister, 4-1, from post 4.
The field also includes Miss d'Oro, who was second in last year's Distaff and hasn't raced since finishing fourth in the Grade 2 Vagrancy Handicap in May; Lion D N A, who won a pair of inner track stakes before finishing fifth in a starter allowance February 17; and My Pal Chrisy, who has finished second in three straight races, including the Grade 2 Inside Information on March 22 at Gulfstream Park.
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