by Brian Bohl
Phillips Racing Partnership's Bellavais will look to capitalize on class relief and a cutback in distance as part of a talented field of eight 3-year-old fillies in Saturday's fourth running of the $100,000 Soaring Softly at seven furlongs on the Belmont Park Widener turf.
Bellavais ran fifth last out in the Grade 3 Appalachian on April 13 at Keeneland in running a mile for just the second time in her career. It was also her first race after a nearly three-month layoff, and trainer Jimmy Toner said he was content with the effort that resulted in an 80 Beyer Speed Figure that was the second-best of her five-race career.
"She's doing really well and ran well at Keeneland, I just laid her up and freshened her up a bit and she needed a race," Toner said. "I was well-satisfied with it."
Bellavais, a Tapit filly, won her stakes debut in rallying to win the Ginger Brew on January 7 at Gulfstream Park despite accidentally being hit by the whip of a rival jockey in the stretch to capture the 7 ½-furlong sprint.
"She's really tough, she got hit in the nose by the whip and she threw her head up and got mad and tried to bite it," Toner said with a laugh. "She handled firm or soft ground because she's pretty consistent. I think the distance suits her and she breezed nice last weekend, so she's good to go. At seven-eighths, it's not too complicated. The speed is there. As long as she finished up good, that's what we're looking for."
Bellavais, 2-1-1 in her career, will be reunited with jockey Manny Franco, who had the mount in her first three starts and went 1-1-1. The pair drew post 3.
Lull, trained by Christophe Clement, will also gain class relief after three straight graded stakes starts, including a fourth-place effort in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf on November 4 at Santa Anita. Following a freshening, Lull faded to seventh in the Appalachian but will be returning to non-graded stakes for the first time since winning the Juvenile fillies on September 3 at Kentucky Downs.
"She's doing great," Clement said. "She came out of Kentucky and she's been training at Belmont; she likes it here. She's not a complicated horse to ride. She has speed, so seven-eighths of a mile should be just fine."
Kendrick Carmouche will ride Lull for the first time in leaving from post 8.
Happy Mesa, who also ran in the Juvenile Fillies Turf, won last year's edition of the Selima before runner-up performances in the Surfer Girl and Sanibel, respectively. The Graham Motion trainee will make her New York debut in leaving from the outside post in tandem with Kendrick Carmouche.
Team of Teams, a Kentucky homebred of Allen Stable, will make her second straight stakes start after finishing second by a length to Party Boat in the Memories of Silver last month at Aqueduct Racetrack. After making her first five starts in France, trainer Jimmy Jerkens saw the Elusive Quality filly win an optional claimer at Gulfstream Park in her North American debut before posting a personal-best 88 Beyer at the Big A. Paco Lopez will ride from post 2.
Morticia, who was the runner-up in the Appalachian, will rematch Bellavais and Lull. The George Arnold trainee has a pair of wins and a second-place finish on turf courses since finishing sixth in her debut on dirt on July 15. Morticia, who has forged a reputation as a pacesetter, will depart from post 5 with Jose Lezcano.
Stakes winner Con Te Partiro, who won the Bolton Landing in August at Saratoga, rallied from sixth for a runner-up finish to Kitten's Cat last out in the Juvenile Turf Sprint on November 5 at Santa Anita. Trained by Wesley Ward, she will make her 2017 debut in tandem with jockey Mario Pino from post 6.
Lady Alexandra will be aiming for her first stakes win. Trained by Chad Brown, she won against allowance company two weeks ago at Belmont and will have the services of Irad Ortiz, Jr. in breaking from post 4.
Lucky Long, for trainer Tony Dutrow, will make her stakes debut after finishing first and second, respectively, in her last two starts. The Lookin At Lucky chestnut filly will exit from the rail with Cornelio Velasquez.
Jamyson 'n Ginger, for trainer Rudy Rodriguez, is entered for the main track only.
Saturday is also Preakness Day at Belmont Park, where fans can enjoy live racing action at Belmont in addition to full-card simulcasting of the day's events at Pimlico Race Course, a Beer & Wing Festival, and other family fun events in the backyard.
The backyard and picnic area will feature variety of fun and exciting activities and games that the entire family can enjoy. Tickets for the Beer & Wing Festival are available on Ticketmaster.com. Gates open at 10:00 a.m. General admission is $5. General parking is free, with preferred parking available for $3 and the clubhouse lot for $7.