Recoupe, undefeated in three starts on turf, should have a slight edge in a field of evenly matched 3-year-old fillies today in the $100,000 Coronation Cup at Saratoga Race Course.
Four of the nine fillies entered in the 5 1⁄2-furlong sprint will be trying the surface for the first time, including the Lisa Lewis-trained Isabelle (8-1).
Isabelle began her career last year at Saratoga as the 2-1 favorite in a New York-bred maiden race, but failed to run to her backing, finishing fourth, beaten 11 lengths. The daughter of Successful Appeal began her 2014 campaign with a second, behind Grade I Mother Goose runner-up Princess Violet, in her seasonal debut before logging back-to-back victories in an off-the-turf maiden race and the seven-furlong Bouwerie Stakes, both for New York-breds.
In her latest start, Isabelle tested graded-stakes company in the Grade III Victory Ride at Belmont, but failed to make an impact, checking sixth, beaten 11 1⁄2 lengths.
The morning-line favorite, Recoupe (7-2) has made three turf starts in her career and won all three. The Mike Trombetta-trained filly most recently won an optional claimer against older rivals at Penn National.
Another filly that will be making her first turf start is Fat Kat (10-1), trained by Robert Reid Jr. for Glenn Bennett. Fat Kat was a terror at Parx Racing in the spring, winning three straight at the track by a combined 22 1⁄4 lengths. The Pennsylvania-bred filly also contested the Victory Ride in her latest start, when she finished a nose behind Isabelle after tracking a blistering pace.
Trainer Todd Pletcher will send out Elena Strikes (4-1), who will also be making her turf debut. The Smart Strike filly took an optional claimer by 2 1⁄4 lengths in her latest outing and finished third in the Jersey Girl two starts ago.
Stars Above Me (5-1) will make her North American debut in the Coronation Cup for trainer Graham Motion. The bay filly has a win, two seconds, and a third-place finish to her credit from five starts — four of which came against males — while racing exclusively in England.
Because La Verdad ran in the Grade II Honorable Miss Handicap on Monday, Willet will get class relief when she competes in a six-furlong allowance race for New York-bred fillies and mares in the third race today.
Willet, a 6-year-old, has won four New York-bred stakes in her career, but in two of her past four starts, she has had the misfortune of running into graded-stakes winners Cluster of Stars and La Verdad.
Willet won the Touch of Love stakes in December at Aqueduct in her 2013 finale, and was second, beaten 1 3⁄4 lengths, by La Verdad in her lone start this year, the Dancin Renee on July 3 at Belmont
“She’s had one race in eight months, which was by design,” said trainer Jimmy Iselin, who owns Willet in partnership with Charlotte Assoulin and Eli Gindi. “We give her the winters off, and when she returned, she had to run against La Verdad. I thought Willet acquitted herself well against La Verdad. Linda Rice said it was a tougher race than she expected for La Verdad.”
Iselin, who is based at Belmont for the duration of the Saratoga meet, hopes today’s allowance race will help him decide Willet’s next start and prepare her for a return to stakes competition.
“It’s her second race of the layoff, but in horse racing, you can never count your chickens until they hatch,” said Iselin. “That said, if she runs well, we’ll look at the Union Avenue, and if she runs really well, we might shoot for the stars and run in the Ballerina. If she doesn’t run well, we’ll wait for something else.”