05/23/2013 3:28PM

Belmont Park: Hessonite tries to prove herself at Sheepshead Bay distance


ELMONT, N.Y. – Trainer David Donk has always believed his mare Hessonite would be effective at marathon distances on the turf. But running primarily in New York-bred stakes, Hessonite never has truly had a chance to prove her trainer correct.

Yes, Hessonite competed in last September’s Grade 1 Flower Bowl at 1 1/4 miles, but was so hopelessly trapped inside that it’s an unfair barometer.

Hessonite’s next opportunity to prove herself at a distance of ground comes in Saturday’s Grade 2, $200,000 Sheepshead Bay Stakes, a 1 3/8-mile test over Belmont Park’s Widener turf course.

Hessonite, who has won 10 of 19 starts – including the Grade 3 Beaugay last out – faces a deep field in the Sheepshead Bay, which goes as race 8 on a 10-race card.

“She’s always been very rateable,” Donk said. “Early in her career we thought no distance limitations. This is the only time she’ll have to run this far. Everything after this is a mile and a quarter.”

Hessonite, who is 5 for 9 over the turf at Belmont, came off a six-month layoff to win the Beaugay – her first graded win – after being trapped down on the inside. Hessonite has broken from an inside post in her last four starts, but has post 5 on Saturday.

“She’s doing really well.” Donk said. “It was a pretty comfortable race last time. It’s a progression. This the next step forward.”

Hessonite excels over soft or yielding turf, and showers – though not necessarily all-day rain – were in the forecast Thursday through Saturday.

There are hardly any throw-outs in the Sheepshead Bay. Mystical Star put in amazing effort when finishing third in this race last year, only to be disqualified to eighth for having broken through the starting gate a tick early and being deemed to have gained a competitive advantage.

She rebounded with a win in the New York Stakes at 1 1/4 miles but hasn’t won since. Trainer Christophe Clement said he was disappointed in her fourth-place finish in the Doubledogdare over Keeneland’s synthetic surface.

“I always undertrain her because she’s a lightly framed filly, but she seems to be doing well at the moment,” trainer Christophe Clement said. “I was very disappointed with her race at Keeneland because she ran well in her first race of the year.”

Trainer Graham Motion sends out the uncoupled entry of Julie’s Love and Strathnayer, both coming off a stakes win. Julie’s Love stretches out a furlong after winning the Owsley over this course on May 1.

“I’m not sure how far she wants to go,” Motion said. “The distance is not ideal, the timing is not ideal, but it seems the most logical of the options we have.”

Conversely, Strathnaver is cutting back a furlong after winning the Grade 3 Bewitch at Keeneland on April 25 following a Gulfstream allowance win.

“She’s impressed me since I’ve had her,” Motion said. “She came to me last fall and breezed very well in Florida. I was pretty optimistic the first time I ran her. The question was how far she wanted to go. I like the fact this is a cutback in distance. I’m not sure she’s a mile-and-a-half horse.”

Starformer is reunited with Edgar Prado, who has 4 wins from 5 rides aboard the 5-year-old mare.

Tannery, Anjaz, and Minakshi complete the field.