Michael Dubb and partners' Grace Hall, last seen finishing second to the brilliant My Miss Aurelia in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) at Churchill Downs on Nov. 4 for trainer Anthony Dutrow, is set to launch a new campaign Saturday as the favorite and horse to beat in the $250,000 Davona Dale Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park.
The Davona Dale for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles will share the spotlight on an outstanding card Saturday with the highly-anticipated match-up of 2011 Eclipse champion 3-year-old filly Royal Delta and Awesome Maria in the $100,000 Sabin Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles and Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) winner Perfect Shirl returning in the $100,000 The Very One Stakes (G3) at 1 3/8 miles on turf.
Jockey Ramon Dominguez rides Grace Hall in a field of nine drawn for the Davona Dale, a race her connections hope will lead to a trip to Kentucky in the spring for the Kentucky Oaks (G1). A daughter of Empire Maker purchased for $95,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sales, Grace Hall won all three of her previous starts before the Breeders' Cup, including the Spinaway Stakes (G1) at Saratoga.
“We've had this race picked out for her comeback for some time,” said Dutrow Wednesday morning. “Everything in her training has gone on schedule. She's filled out and matured mentally from last year to now. The goal for her is the Kentucky Oaks (G1) and hopefully this will be the first step to get her there.”
Grace Hall's leading rivals appear to be Glencrest Farm's Disposablepleasure with jockey Julien Laparoux aboard for trainer Todd Pletcher and Darley Stable's Captivating Lass to be ridden by John Velazquez for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.
Disposablepleasure is also making her first start of the season after closing out her juvenile campaign with a hard-fought head victory in the Demoiselle Stakes (G2) going 1 1/8 miles at Aqueduct on Nov. 26. The roan/gray daughter of Giacomo broke her maiden by 11 lengths at Belmont Park in early October after a fourth-place debut on turf at Saratoga and runner-up effort on the main track at Monmouth Park.
Captivating Lass will have an edge on recent form after winning the Busanda Stakes on Jan. 7 going one mile and 70 yards at Aqueduct and shipping down to Palm Meadows shortly thereafter. The Kentucky homebred by A.P. Indy won her career debut at Parx in October, but finished a non-threatening seventh behind Disposablepleasure in her only two previous starts.
Completing the field for the Davona Dale are Mark Grier's Nuffsaid Nuffsaid, Jose Lezcano; James Connors and partners' The Cat's All That, Paco Lopez; Stride Rite Racing Stable's Frolic's Revenge, Juan Leyva; Peras International's Yara, J.L. Castanon; Barb Pirie's Taker Home, Luis Contreras; and Joel Kligman's Salad Girl, Elvis Trujillo.
Perfect Shirl Faces Casablanca Smile in The Very One
Charles Fipke's 5-year-old Kentucky homebred mare Perfect Shirl stormed from off the pace to post a 28-to-1 upset in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) last out on Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs for trainer Roger Attfield, and was prepared to make her next start in an invitational race at San Isidro in Buenos Aires, Argentina in December, but air transportation problems precluded the trip.
Attfield gave her a little break at his Payson Park winter quarters and she is set make her season debut in a full field of 12 set for Sunday's The Very One Stakes (G3) at 1 3/8 miles on turf with her Breeders' Cup jockey John Velazquez in the saddle. The daughter of Perfect Soul had run well in major stakes last season, but failed to win six starts before her three-quarters of a length score at Churchill.
Perfect Shirl faces a formidable rival in Green Hills Farm's 6-year-old Chilean-bred mare Casablanca Smile with jockey Kent Desormeaux in the saddle for trainer Shug McGaughey. The daughter of Ocean Terrace has been very consistent at the top level since coming to McGaughey early in 2010 with two wins, three second and a third in as many starts since then, all in stakes races.
Casablanca Smile drew off to a seven-length romp in the 12-furlong Dowager Stakes in October of 2010 after a good runner-up effort in the Glens Falls Handicap (G3) at Saratoga. In her only two starts in 2011, she began the year finishing second in the 12-furlong La Prevoyante Stakes (G3) at Calder on Jan. 2 and didn't run again until winning the Dec. 2 renewal of the same race after an 11-month layoff,
“She had some little hind-end issues after she ran in the La Prevoyante early last year and we backed off of her,” said McGaughey. “We had her ready to come back in a race a Belmont in October, but she came up with an abscess in a foot and we had to scratch. We got that cleaned up and she ran big to win the La Prevoyante without a prep, and I'm looking forward to a big season with her.”
Another highly-accomplished long-distance stakes performer in the field will be Barbara Hunter's 6-year-old Keertana, winner for the race last year for trainer Tom Proctor. Regular jockey Jose Lezcano retains the mount on the roan/gray homebred daughter of Johar after a good third-place finish last out behind Zagora in the Endeavor Stakes (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 4, her first start since late May.
Completing the field for Saturday's race are Trick or Treat International's Here to Win, Team Valor International's Hasay, Catesby Clay's Woodford Belle, Earle Mack's Clarinet, Arnold Zetcher's Good Karma, Mark Gittins' Shimmering Moment, Theiline Scheumann's Middle Club, Lael Stable's Font, Ramona Bass' Aquitaine and Columbus Circle partners' Full Moon Party.
Farnsworth Stable's Dash Dot Dash was entered for ‘main track only' by trainer Marty Wolfson.
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