by Najja Thompson
Blue Devil Racing Stable's multiple graded stakes winning homebred Come Dancing headlines a field of five in Sunday's Grade 2, $250,000 Gallant Bloom for fillies and mares 4-years-old and up at 6 ½ furlongs at Belmont Park.
A 5-year-old daughter of Malibu Moon, Come Dancing capped her 2018 campaign, in which she won two races from six starts, with a second-place finish by a neck in the Grade 3 Go For Wand Handicap at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Kicking off her year with an impressive 7 ¾ length win in the Grade 3 Distaff at the Big A, she went on to capture the Grade 2 Ruffian at Belmont by 6 ¾ lengths before finishing second to Midnight Bisou in the 1 1/16-mile Grade 1 Ogden Phipps.
Come Dancing returned to sprinting in the Grade 1 Ballerina at Saratoga Race Course in her most recent start, where she impressively recovered from being bumped at the start to win by 3 ½ lengths.
Heading into the Gallant Bloom with one breeze since that win, conditioner Carlos Martin said his star filly is primed and ready in what may be her final start in New York.
"She's doing fantastic," said Martin. "I think from the moment last season when she lost by a neck to Marley's Freedom in the Go For Wand she's really turned a corner. We really wanted to target this race, it might be her last chance to run in front of her fans here in New York at Belmont Park and at NYRA.
"Of course, our year end goal is the Breeders' Cup and hopefully we can cap her year with a championship. She's had a strong campaign. It's bittersweet this may be the last time she runs at Belmont, but she's turned into a fantastic mare."
Come Dancing will leave from post 3 with Hall of Fame rider Javier Castellano aboard.
Peaking in her own right and set to make her first graded stakes start is Carrera Cat for Stone Bridge Farm, Very Un Stable and trainer John Morrison.
The New York-bred 4-year-old daughter of Courageous Cat didn't break her maiden until her eighth career start in November of last year at Aqueduct. Since returning in May to start her season with an impressive 10 ½ length allowance win, Carrera Cat has won three races from her last four starts highlighted by a 2 ¼ length victory in the Union Avenue on August 15 last out at Saratoga.
"She's going to have to step her game up," said Morrison. "There's definitely some top caliber competition in the race, but she's doing well and this is an opportunity to see where we are with her at this moment, so we'll take our shot."
With two wins from three starts at Belmont, including a second-place finish, Carrera Cat will depart from post 2 with regular rider Rajiv Maragh aboard.
Shipping in from Maryland for trainer Graham Motion is Majestic Reason for Hillwood Stable and Richard Golden. The 4-year-old Majestic Warrior filly won the Miss Disco at Laurel Park in her third career start in August 2018 and followed up with a second-place finish in the All Brandy and a third-place running in the Safely Kept to complete her 3-year-old campaign.
Returning in May, she won an allowance race at Pimlico and followed up with an allowance optional-claiming victory before finishing second in an allowance race in her last start on August 16 at Laurel.
Majestic Reason will leave from the rail with Jorge Vargas, Jr. aboard.
Rounding out the field is JC's Shooting Star (Manny Franco, post 4) for trainer Jeremiah Englehart and Shooting Star Stable and Minit to Stardom (Alex Cintron, post 5) for trainer Jose Camejo and Brittlyn Stable.
The Gallant Bloom is carded as Race 3 on Sunday's 10-race card, which also includes the $125,000 Ashley T. Cole and $125,000 John Hettinger for New York-breds. First post is 1 p.m. Eastern.