After four straight starts in Grade 1 company, Godolphin Racing's Better Lucky returns from a three-month layoff as the horse to beat in Saturday's Grade 3, $200,000 Noble Damsel on the Widener turf at Belmont Park.
A 4-year-old bay daughter of Ghostzapper, Better Lucky has not raced since finishing second, beaten a half-length by Stephanie's Kitten, in the Grade 1 Longines Just a Game on June 8, run over the same course and at the same one-mile distance as the Noble Damsel.
“She's kind of limited in her distance. She's really effective going a mile,” trainer Tom Albertrani said. “After a mile and a sixteenth, she kind of gets there, and then after that it's hard to place her in races.
“We just waited for the right opportunity to come along, the right distance, and this looks like a good spot to come back with her,” he said. “We'll see what happens. Everything's been really good with her. She's been training great coming up to this weekend.”
Better Lucky registered a career-high Beyer Speed Figure of 100 in the Longines Just a Game, just her second start of the year. She ended her sophomore season beating older horses in the Grade 1, one-mile Matriarch at Betfair Hollywood Park last November.
“She's kind of a filly that seems to peak at different times of the year, and she kind of tells me when she's not at her best,” said Albertrani. “There are times where she is, and you've just got to time it right. Right now, we feel like she's been right on her game, so the timing is on our side going into this weekend with her.”
Better Lucky will carry jockey Javier Castellano and high weight of 123 pounds from post three in the Noble Damsel, where she is the 9-5 program favorite in the field of six.
“She ran a really good effort in the Just a Game and just got caught late,” said Albertrani. “Off of that race, she should be the one to beat in here, I hope.
“She's doing well, and we're getting all the right signs,” he added. “She always tries and runs her race. She's a pretty honest filly.”
Emory Hamilton's Hungry Island goes after her first graded stakes win in more than a year in the Noble Damsel. Trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, the 5-year-old More Than Ready mare was most recently fourth of eight in the Grade 2 Ketel One Ballston Spa at Saratoga Race Course on August 24.
“She's doing fine,” said McGaughey. “I thought she ran good at Saratoga; she just ran into a very speed-favoring track. We passed half of them. She came out of her race good, so we'll see what happens on Saturday.”
Third in the Longines Just a Game, Hungry Island's lone victory in four tries this year came in a one-mile allowance over the turf at Keeneland on April 7. In her subsequent start, she came within a neck of defending her 2012 win in the Grade 2 Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill Downs in May.
“She ran a good race at Churchill and just got beat by Stephanie's Kitten, and her race [in the Longines Just a Game] was good,” said McGaughey. “I just made a little mistake on the instructions. It had rained and I thought the outside would be the best, where the winner got through on the inside and won. And her race at Saratoga was just a matter of the track.”
Overall, Hungry Island has been on the board in 17 of 20 career starts, including six wins, and her $706,704 in purse earnings is tops in the field. Second choice on the morning line at 2-1, she will break from post six under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez.
“She's a very consistent filly,” said McGaughey. “All of her races have been good. When she was a 2-year-old she ran what was maybe a subpar race over at Aqueduct in a maiden race, but she's always been a horse we've liked.”
E.A. Cox Jr.'s Naples Bay returns to defend her title in the Noble Damsel, having won last year's race by 1 ½ lengths. Trained by Christophe Clement, the Giant's Causeway mare is winless in three starts this year, most recently second after a slow start in the Grade 3 Matchmaker at Monmouth Park on July 28.
Garrett Gomez will ride Naples Bay, 6-1, from post 1.
Rounding out the field for the Noble Damsel are Assateague, winner of the De La Rose at Saratoga for trainer Michael Matz last time out; Laugh Out Loud, third in the De La Rose in her second North American start and first for trainer Chad Brown; and Peace Preserver, whose last victory came last October in the one-mile Pebbles at Belmont.
New to the Paulick Report? Click here to sign up for our daily email newsletter to keep up on this and other stories happening in the Thoroughbred industry.
Copyright © 2019 Paulick Report.