ELMONT, N.Y. – Cypress Creek Equine’s Ava’s Grace will make her turf debut in Saturday’s $150,000 New York Stallion Stakes Series Cupecoy’s Joy for eligible New York-sired 3-year-old fillies going seven furlongs on Belmont Park’s Widener turf course.
The 14th running of the Cupecoy’s Joy honors the two-time Grade 1-winner whose triumph in the 1982 Acorn broke Ruffian’s previous record when completing the one-turn mile in 1:34.20. Also carded on Saturday is the Cupecoy’s Joy’s male counterpart race – the NYSSS Spectacular Bid for sophomores also going seven furlongs on the Widener course.
Ava’s Grace arrives at her first grass engagement off a runner-up finish in the 1 1/16-mile Grade 3 Fantasy on April 3 at Oaklawn Park. The Laoban filly secured a front-running position and battled gamely down the stretch to the inside of Pauline’s Pearl before hitting the wire one length back.
Trainer Robertino Diodoro, buoyed by that effort, entered Ava’s Grace in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks but had to scratch her from the race due to a hind-end injury.
“She went out to the farm and was back the next day,” Diodoro said. “We did some hind end work on her. She’s been doing well since. We’re looking forward to seeing her on the grass. We won’t know until race day for sure, but she should do well.”
The Kentucky-bred Ava’s Grace won her debut in July at Ellis Park and from there earned black type for the first time in the Grade 2 Adirondack at Saratoga, finishing third in the 6 1/2-furlong contest in August.
Despite having never raced on turf, Diodoro said he is optimistic Ava’s Grace can handle the surface change.
“I really think she’s going to be just fine on the grass,” Diodoro said. “We did say way back last summer at Ellis that grass would probably suit her just fine. It took us a while to get her on it, but we’re excited for Saturday.”
Through a consistent 4-1-1-2 record, Ava’s Grace has banked $156,400 in lifetime earnings.
Jockey David Cohen piloted Ava’s Grace in three of her four lifetime starts and will have the call from post 10.
Trainer Christophe Clement will move two fillies up from the claiming ranks when saddling Sport Model [post 4, Luis Saez] and Proper Grammar [post 2, Joel Rosario].
Owned by Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Sport Model broke her maiden in her third start going six furlongs over the Widener turf, defeating next-out winner Quantitativbreezin in May. In her debut in February, the daughter of Freud was soundly beaten over a sloppy and sealed track at Aqueduct, running 11th. Next out, she clipped heels and unseated her rider around the far turn of her following effort in April over the Widener course.
Sport Model was bred in New York by Mr. and Mrs. James P. Curran and Dr. and Mrs. John McDermott.
Proper Grammar, owned by Sebastian Varney and Alan Quartucci, made her lone start a winning one when stalking the pace from third and winning for a $40,000 tag by 1 ¼ lengths on May 7 over the Belmont turf.
The daughter of Laoban was bred in New York by McMahon of Saratoga Thoroughbreds and Spruce Lane Farm.
“They should handle it fine. Proper Grammar looked good going six [furlongs] against lesser company,” Clement said. “Sport Model was unlucky in her first two starts and won on the turf last time, also. We’re still learning about these horses; you’ve got to try to see how good they are.”
Trainer Rudy Rodriguez also is represented by a pair of runners in Big Time Lady [post 6, Hall of Famer John Velazquez] and Shesadirtydancer [post 8, Irad Ortiz, Jr.].
Owned by Repole Stable and bred in New York by Spruce Lane Farm, Big Time Lady is seeking a rebound in form after two disappointing efforts to commence her 2021 season. The daughter of 2008 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown broke her maiden in October going seven-eighths on over the Widener turf against fellow New York-breds and acquired open-company black-type when third in the Tepin on November 26 at Aqueduct.
With two distant eighth-place finishes, Rodriguez said he is hoping to see a turnaround.
“We were very disappointed about what she’s done the last couple of times. She was very rank, but hopefully cutting back to seven-eighths, she’ll be able to stalk behind horses and make one run,” Rodriguez said.
Owned by Rodriguez in partnership with Michael Imperio, Shesadirtydancer, by War Dancer, was fifth in both of her efforts on turf. She earned black type two starts back in the NYSSS Park Avenue on April 18 at Aqueduct. She was bred in New York by Bill Frothinger.
“We ran her against state-breds and she’s run a few times on the grass already. We’re just going to take a chance and hopefully get lucky,” Rodriguez said.
Roddy Valente and Darlene Bilinski’s homebred Shaker Shack makes her first start on grass after capturing the NYSSS Park Avenue last out for trainer Patrick Reynolds. The daughter of Bustin Stones boasts the highest bankroll in the field with $156,445 in earnings.
Jockey Jose Ortiz rides from post 3.
Completing the field are Show Me the Honey [post 1, Manny Franco], Funwhileitlasted [post 5, Jose Lezcano], Adriatic Rose [post 7, Luis Cardenas], Lot of Honey [post 9, Dylan Davis], Beach Banker [post 11, Julio Hernandez].
The NYSSS Cupecoy’s Joy is carded as Race 6 on Saturday’s 10-race program at Belmont Park. First post is 1 p.m.
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Photo: Ava’s Grace in a work out at Churchill Downs (Churchill Downs/Coady Photography)