05/26/2011 3:43PM

Belmont Park: Timing right for La Luna de Miel


ELMONT, N.Y. – It was not trainer Graham Motion’s original intent to run La Luna de Miel in Saturday’s Grade 2, $150,000 Sheepshead Bay Stakes at Belmont Park. But not wanting to give his German-bred filly 10 weeks between starts, Motion looked for a steppingstone to the Robert G. Dick Memorial at Delaware Park on July 9.

The Sheepshead Bay certainly fits the bill. With two marathon wins at Gulfstream Park _ including a one-length victory in the Grade 3 Orchid – La Luna de Miel looms the one to beat in the 53rd renewal of the Sheepshead Bay, scheduled for 1 3/8 miles over Belmont Park’s Widener turf course. Seven were entered for the Sheepshead Bay, but owner Carl Lizza said Thursday that Choice Play, one of two horses he has entered in the field, will scratch.

La Luna de Miel will be making her first start for Barry Irwin’s Team Valor International syndicate, which purchased her privately following a fourth a fourth-place finish in the Grade 3 Bewitch at Keeneland on April 28. Irwin said he is a big fan of the sire, Monsun, who has thrown a couple of other Team Valor runners.

The Bewitch was run over yielding turf. Motion said that his filly showed that day she prefers firm ground.

“Johnny felt like she didn’t handle it at all,” said Motion, referring to jockey Johnny Velazquez, who rode La Luna de Miel in the Bewitch. “She ran really good races on real firm turf at Gulfstream.”

Belmont’s turf course was labeled firm on Thursday and the weather forecast was generally favorable through the weekend. Since Motion wasn’t planning to run in the Sheepshead Bay, he lost Velazquez to Hibaayeb, who is on the only Grade 1 winner in the field. Eddie Castro will ride La Luna de Miel from post 6.

Hibaayeb, who won the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon last year at Santa Anita, is coming off a third-place finish in a 1 1/16-mile optional claimer at Gulfstream on April 2. The longer distance of this race should be more to her liking.

Trainer Christophe Clement, a four-time winner of the Sheepshead Bay, is sending out half the field in Giants Play, Cheetah, and Tarrip. All will be separate betting interests. Cheetah won an off-the-turf second-level allowance race at Keeneland. Giants Play has only one win from nine starts, but finished within 1 1/4 lengths of La Luna de Miel twice. Tarrip, who is in foal to the stallion Malibu Moon, finished fourth in the Orchid prior to be being bred.

“I know I’m running quite a few, but on paper they all deserve a shot to win,” Clement said.

Belle Watling, who is winless in three starts in this country after winning 13 of 16 in Chile, completes the field.