Falconet leads the way to the wire in the Ladies, Battle Bling right behind (Joe Labozzetta)
By Ryan Martin – NYRA Press Office
OZONE PARK, N.Y.— Falconet and Battle Bling, the respective one-two finishers of the nine-furlong Ladies on New Year’s Day here, are set to square off once more in Saturday’s $125,000 Heavenly Prize Invitational for older fillies and mares going a one-turn mile, at Aqueduct Racetrack.
WinStar Farm and CHC Inc.’s Falconet, a 4-year-old Uncle Mo bay trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, boasts a consistent record of 7-3-3-0 and purse earnings of $312,340.
Falconet tracked the early foot of Exotic West in the Ladies, taking command five-sixteenths from home and easily holding off the late run of Battle Bling to notch her first stakes score by 3 1/2 lengths and garner a career-best 93 Beyer Speed Figure.
She earned black type going two turns during her sophomore season when second in both the Grade 3 Iowa Oaks in July at Prairie Meadows and the Seneca Overnight 2 1/2 months later at Churchill Downs. Falconet’s lone off-the-board effort took place in the local Grade 3 Comely in November, where she stumbled at the start and finished fourth beaten 2 1/2 lengths.
“I think that compromised her chances in there. Hopefully, she gets a smoother run at it this time,” Pletcher said of the Comely effort. “She’s very honest, very consistent and seems to try hard over any surface. We’re always hoping she continues to progress. There’s room for improvement and she’ll have to make a move forward to get into bigger types of races.”
While much of Pletcher’s stock shipped to Palm Beach Downs in South Florida for the winter, Falconet remained in New York to participate in the stakes program at Aqueduct.
“There are somewhat limited opportunities at Gulfstream Park and it just seemed like she liked it Aqueduct. We figured we would keep her there and point to the Heavenly Prize,” Pletcher said.
Bred in Kentucky by co-owner WinStar Farm, Falconet is out of the Summer Bird mare Birdatthewire, who captured the 2015 Grade 1 La Brea at Santa Anita.
Falconet, assigned 122 pounds, will exit the outermost post 5 under returning rider Jose Lezcano.
Michael Dubb and Gandharvi’s Battle Bling seeks to turn the tables on Falconet after a respectable late-closing Ladies effort for trainer Rob Atras. The 5-year-old Vancouver mare enjoyed a prosperous campaign last year, including a narrow triumph in the Ladies and a runner-up effort beaten a neck by Bank Sting in the Heavenly Prize.
Battle Bling rallied to complete the exacta at Delaware Park in both the Obeah in June and Grade 2 Delaware Handicap in July ahead of a three-race win streak that included prominent efforts in a handicap at Colonial Downs in September, the Twixt in October at Laurel Park and the Grade 3 Turnback the Alarm in November at the Big A, where she defeated graded stakes winner Nostalgic by a neck.
She entered the Ladies from an off-the-board effort in the Grade 3 Go for Wand in December here under jockey Kendrick Carmouche.
“She’s usually on edge a little bit and washy but that’s just her. That day when she got to the paddock she was quiet, almost too quiet,” Atras recalled of the Go for Wand. “Sometimes, she’ll give us some trouble saddling, but that’s how she is. When she’s not doing that, you get a little bit concerned. Kendrick told us that in the post parade she was just a little dull. She was moving and feeling well but not warming up with the same vigor. We drew blood, went over her physically and couldn’t find anything wrong with her. It just wasn’t her day, so we’re glad she bounced back and ran a big race next time.”
Although two turns appears to be preferred, Atras said the one-turn mile is not out of reach.
“She’s run so well at two turns that we’re starting to prefer that with her, but she’s run well at a mile, too,” Atras said. “I think if she shows up and runs the race that she’s capable of, then she should run well.”
Battle Bling, carrying a field-high 124 pounds, will exit post 2 under Dylan Davis.
Godolphin’s Kentucky homebred Frost Point [post 1, Jorge Vargas, Jr., 118 pounds] will pursue her first stakes conquest for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.
The 5-year-old Frosted bay, out of Grade 1-winner Balletto, arrives off her third career win when going the Heavenly Prize distance in a local December 30 allowance optional claimer. The off-the-pace 3 3/4-length triumph was her first start since the spring, where she earned black type when third in both the April 10 Top Flight Invitational at Aqueduct and the Grade 3 Allaire DuPont Distaff on May 20 at Pimlico Race Course.
Completing the field are four-time winner Mommasgottarun [post 3, Luis Rodriguez Castro, 118 pounds] and stakes-winner Piece of My Heart [post 4, Manny Franco, 118 pounds], who has finished in the money in each of her last six starts.
The Heavenly Prize honors the Phipps family’s eight-time Grade 1-winner, whose triumphs in the 1994 Alabama, Gazelle and Beldame earned her an Eclipse Award for Champion 3-Year-Old Filly for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey. The daughter of Seeking the Gold added four more Grade 1 conquests to her ledger the following year when capturing the Apple Blossom Handicap, Hempstead Handicap [now the Ogden Phipps], the Go for Wand and the John A. Morris Handicap [now the Personal Ensign]. As a broodmare, Heavenly Prize produced Good Reward, a dual Grade 1-winner on turf, and graded stakes winner Pure Prize.
The Heavenly Prize is carded as Race 3 on Saturday’s nine-race program. First post is 12:50 p.m. Eastern.