Battle Bling after her win in the 2022 Ladies (NYRA/Coglianese)
By Keith McCalmont
OZONE PARK, N.Y.— Michael Dubb and Gandharvi’s graded-stakes winner Battle Bling will look to defend her title in Sunday’s $150,000 Ladies, a nine-furlong test for fillies and mares 4 years old and up, at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Trained by Rob Atras, the soon-to-be 5-year-old Vancouver dark bay will aim to start the New Year in style after her three-race win streak came to a close last out with a distant eighth in the one-mile Grade 3 Go for Wand contested on December 3 over a sloppy and sealed Big A main track.
Atras said that returning rider Kendrick Carmouche noted Battle Bling wasn’t her usual self while warming up ahead of the Go for Wand.
“I’m hoping we’ll see the real her this time. Last time, she wasn’t quite the same horse in the paddock,” Atras said. “She’s been so rock solid for us that the last race was sort of surprising. There was a lot of speed in there and she kind of got out of the race. She really likes to be forwardly placed. There was sprint speed in there last time and she’s really not that kind of horse, so I’m hoping this will be more her game.”
Battle Bling enjoyed a tremendous 4-year-old season, posting a record of 10-4-4-0 for purse earnings of $470,450 after being claimed for $62,500 in December 2021. She captured last year’s Ladies by a neck in her first start for her current connections, staving off a game Miss Leslie at the wire.
Battle Bling utilized a prominent approach later in the season to score consecutive wins in a 1 1/16-mile handicap in September at Colonial Downs, the 1 1/16-mile Twixt over sloppy and sealed going in October at Laurel Park and the nine-furlong Grade 3 Turnback the Alarm Handicap in November at Aqueduct.
Atras credited Carmouche for taking command of a compact field in the Turnback the Alarm.
“Kendrick won that race out of the gate. He caught the other horses flat-footed and just sent,” Atras said. “Last time just wasn’t her day, but she’s trained good since and I’m hoping we’ll get one of her better efforts.”
Bred in Kentucky by Royal Oak Farm and E. Kiely, the $110,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase will exit post 2.
CHC Inc. and WinStar Farm’s Falconet [post 5, Jose Lezcano] was unraced as a 2-year-old but made up for lost time with a solid 6-2-3-0 sophomore campaign, topped by a runner-up effort in the Grade 3 Iowa Oaks in July at Prairie Meadows.
Trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, the Uncle Mo bay graduated at second asking in April at Keeneland and followed with an optional-claiming score in June at Churchill Downs ahead of her graded placing.
Falconet was a pacesetting second in the 1 1/16-mile Seneca Overnight in September at Churchill, finishing a neck back of Sixtythreecaliber, who exited that effort to win the nine-furlong Grade 3 Comely on November 25 here with Falconet in fourth after a stumbled start from a two-month layoff.
The $250,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase is out of the Grade 1-winning Summer Bird mare Birdatthewire.
Louis Lazzinnaro’s graded-stakes placed Exotic West [post 4, Dylan Davis] will look to return to winning form for trainer Gary Sciacca.
The Hard Spun bay has posted a record of three wins from six starts on the Big A main track, but her unplaced efforts include losing her rider at the break of both the Turnback the Alarm two starts back and also at the start of last year’s Ladies. Last out, she was bumped at the gate and finished a distant sixth in the Go for Wand.
However, when fortune favors Exotic West, she has performed admirably at Aqueduct with a pair of allowance scores to go along with a three-quarter length win over Battle Bling in the nine-furlong Top Flight Invitational in April.
Rounding out the field are graded-stakes placed Tonal Vision [post 3, Jeremy Laprida], and stakes-winner Sweet Willemina [post 1, Manny Franco].
The Ladies is slated as Race 3 on Sunday’s nine-race card. First post is 12:20 p.m. Eastern.
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