06/23/2011 12:40PM

Belmont Park: Hibaayeb looks tough in New York Stakes


ELMONT, N.Y. – A favorite coming off a perfect-trip victory is often one to try and play against the next time that horse runs. And while there are a few alternatives to Hibaayeb in Saturday’s Grade 2, $150,000 New York Stakes at Belmont Park, it could be tough to play against her with too much confidence.

Hibaayeb, who finished third in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race at Gulfstream to begin the year, never had to leave the rail when she won last month’s Grade 2 Sheepshead Bay here by a length over Giants Play going 1 3/8 miles. Hibaayeb displayed the versatility to lay close to a dawdling pace and kicked on nicely when Belle Watling drifted off the rail turning for home and a huge opening along the hedge developed for jockey John Velazquez to guide Hibaayeb on through. She easily held Giants Play at bay in the stretch.

“She pulled a perfect trip with that filly drifting out,” said assistant trainer Rick Mettee, who oversees Godolphin’s New York string. “We thought she’d come on from the race in Florida, and she did and she seemed to handle this course.”

Based on the way Hibaayeb has trained in New York, Mettee expects the 4-year-old filly to take a step forward in the New York, which is run at the same 1 1/4-mile distance at which Hibaayeb won the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon last fall in Southern California.

“She had a good winter at Palm Meadows, and I think she’s done even better up here,” Mettee said. “A mile and a quarter to a mile and a half is probably her trip.”

At 123 pounds, Hibaayeb will concede seven pounds to all of her rivals. John Velazquez rides from post 7.

While Giants Play is back to take another shot at Hibaayeb, two new faces look like potential upset contenders: Zagora, a Group 3 winner in France, and Prize Catch, an overnight stakes winner here last month.

Zagora, trained by Chad Brown for owner Martin Schwartz, has twice been a beaten favorite in graded stakes this year. She lost a neck decision to Denomination in the Grade 3 Hillsborough at Tampa Bay in March and was third, beaten 2 3/4 lengths by Never Retreat, in the Grade 2 Jenny Wiley. The ninth-place finisher from that race, C. S. Silk, won the Grade 1 Just a Game here on Belmont Stakes Day.

Zagora will break from the rail under Ramon Dominguez.

Prize Catch, trained by Angel Penna, is coming off a nose victory over Bet on the Blue in an overnight stakes at 1 1/16 miles here May 26. Penna, who won the 1998 New York with Auntie Mame, believes the 1 1/4 miles of this race will better suit his daughter of A.P. Indy.

“The only thing she might not like too much is the competition, but she loves the distance,” said Penna, who noted that Prize Catch worked well on soft turf, which may be the course condition Saturday.

Trix in the City, La Cloche, and Freedom Rings were all entered after defending Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner Shared Account was not entered. It remains to be seen which among that group actually runs.