OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Lewis Bay, one of two hopefuls in the field from the barn of trainer Chad Brown, looks for her second graded stakes victory at Aqueduct Racetrack on Saturday when she takes on six other promising 3-year-old fillies in the 121st running of the Grade 2, $300,000 Gazelle Stakes.
The Gazelle is also a significant stop on the road to the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks with 170 total qualifying points at stake (100 for first, 40 for second, 20 for third and 10 for fourth), and Lewis Bay, currently sitting in 12th place on the leader board with 30 points, has the opportunity to solidify one of 14 spots in the Oaks starting gate May 6.
Partnered with Irad Ortiz, Jr., who has been aboard for all four of her previous starts, Alpha Delta Stables' homebred Lewis Bay will break from post position 2 while being asked to shoulder high weight of 122 pounds. The 8-5 morning line favorite, who has two wins and two seconds on her resume, is undefeated at the Big A, where she finished her juvenile campaign with a score in the Grade 2 Demoiselle on November 28 at the Gazelle distance of 1 1/8 miles.
In her only start as a sophomore, she finished second to the unbeaten Cathryn Sophia in the Grade 2 Davona Dale on February 27 at Gulfstream Park coming off a three-month layoff.
"This is the race we had planned on all along for her. She won the Demoiselle last fall and had the one prep race, so she's ready and coming into the race really well," said Brown, who will also saddle 2-1 morning line favorite Shagaf and Flexibility in the Grade 1, $1 million Wood Memorial on Saturday's card.
Stablemate Claire de Lune, who is owned by Tracy Farmer and is the 2-1 second choice on the early line, will break just to her inside under regular rider Jose Ortiz as she seeks her third consecutive victory from four starts. The daughter of Malibu Moon has won her last two races, both at one mile on the inner dirt track, impressively by a combined nine lengths but the Gazelle marks her first try in stakes competition.
"She has earned her spot in this race and is in great form right now. She's an improving filly and she's been training well," Brown said.
The Todd Pletcher-trained Mo d'Amour has accumulated the most qualifying points of any filly in the Gazelle field with 50 and sits in seventh place on the Kentucky Oaks leaderboard. The daughter of champion Uncle Mo breaks from post position as the 6-1 choice in the early line.
Mo d'Amour remained in Pletcher's New York division all winter under the watchful eye of assistant trainer Byron Hughes with the Gazelle in mind, and she comes into the race with two straight scores, including the February 27 Busher Stakes.
"It was the plan to keep her in New York all winter and she seemed to do well and train well all winter. She keeps getting better and better so everything seems to be working out," Hughes said.
In Mo d'Amour's only meeting with Lewis Bay, she finished seventh in the Demoiselle.
"That race was only her second start, she had a tough trip and she was a little green then. I think she's definitely improved a lot since that race. With each race, she's improved for sure, and even in the mornings we can tell that there is a big difference. We see how grown up she's gotten and how she's matured. We like her chances," said Hughes.
Picking up the services of Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez for the first time is an added bonus in a race that shapes up with plenty of early speed.
"She's very versatile. I think she can lay off the pace or be on the lead. We'll leave that up to Johnny," Hughes said.
Mo d'Amour will carry the colors of Ed Stanco's King of Prussia Stables. Stanco owned multiple Grade 1 winner Princess of Sylmar, who finished second in the 2013 Gazelle for Pletcher on her way to winning four straight Grade 1s, including the Kentucky Oaks, the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama Stakes at Saratoga, and the Beldame at Belmont Park that year.
"This is a very similar route that Princess of Sylmar took on her way to winning the Kentucky Oaks and the owners have a special connection to the New York tracks and to fillies," said Hughes.
The regally bred Royal Obsession, who was purchased for $1.15 million by Barbara Banke's Stonestreet Stable at the Keeneland 2015 November sale and was subsequently sent to trainer Steve Asmussen, enters the fray with only one blemish on her three-race record. The daughter of Tapit was fourth last out in the Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra Stakes at Fair Grounds while stretching out to 1 1/16 miles for the first time.
Asmussen, a National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame nominee, is looking for his first Gazelle victory with Royal Obsession, the 5-1 morning line third choice.
The Gazelle is carded as the eighth race on a 12-race program at the Big A that also features the Grade 1, $1 million Wood Memorial, the Grade 1, $400,000 Carter Handicap, the Grade 2, $200,000 Excelsior, and the Grade 3, $300,000 Bay Shore Stakes.