09/14/2013 5:52PM

Belmont Park: Peace Preserver rallies to take Noble Damsel

Barbara D. Livingston
Peace Preserver, under Irad Ortiz Jr., wins the Noble Damsel Stakes by a half-length Saturday at Belmont Park.

ELMONT, N.Y. – To listen to her connections tell it, Peace Preserver had a rough summer. But it wasn’t anything a return to her favorite surface couldn’t cure.

Splitting horses in deep stretch under Irad Ortiz Jr. after rallying from last, Peace Preserver outkicked Hungry Island to the wire to win Saturday’s Grade 3, $200,000 Noble Damsel Stakes by a half-length at Belmont Park. Hungry Island finished second by three-quarters of a length over Better Lucky, the 4-5 favorite. Assateague, Naples Bay, and Laugh Out Loud completed the order of finish.

The win was the fifth from 16 career starts for Peace Preserver and her first in a graded stakes. She is 3 for 5 at Belmont, where last year she won the Pebbles Stakes by 6 1/2 lengths.

That she was the longest shot in the six-horse field at 16-1 was reflective of the fact that Peace Preserver was winless in four stars this year, including a last-place finish as the favorite in a third-level allowance race at Saratoga on July 22.

Michael McCarthy, assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher, said Peace Preserver had a rough couple of weeks during the summer, having injured herself in her stall.

“She had an incident in her stall, got herself banged up,” McCarthy said. “We got her squared away.”

On paper, it didn’t look like there would be the pace necessary for the late-running Peace Preserver to be effective.

However, Assateague, under Luis Saez, set a strong early pace of 23.15 seconds and 46.92 for the opening half-mile while Ortiz had Peace Preserver last, about seven lengths off the pace.

Peace Preserver appeared to be galloping along turning into the stretch, just needing some running room. She found it in deep stretch, splitting horses adeptly while outsprinting Hungry Island, who also split horses under John Velazquez.

Peace Preserver, a 4-year-old daughter of War Front owned by Alto Racing LLC, covered the mile over firm turf in 1:33.93 and returned $34.20.

“I didn’t think they were going to go that fast, but as well as I got out of the gate, I know they were going fast,” Ortiz said. “The assistant told me, ‘Wait and make one run.’ I waited, and when I asked, she gave me everything she got.”

While the top two finishers were gaining along the inside, Better Lucky was rallying wide and got carried out farther still by a drifting-out Assateague.

“The pacemaker drifted, and she forced me to go a little wide, and those two cut the corner, saved a little ground, and that was the difference today,” said Javier Castellano, who rode Better Lucky. “Disappointed a little more for the trip, not for my horse, because my horse showed up and gave me the best she had today.”