03/05/2015 2:26PM

Brown duo looks formidable in Hillsborough Stakes

Barbara D. Livingston
Stephanie's Kitten (outside) trains in company with Ball Dancing at the Palm Meadows training center.

OLDSMAR, Fla. – Trainer Chad Brown will bring a powerful one-two punch to the Grade 3, $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes on Saturday for their 2015 debuts as he sends out both 2014 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf runner-up Stephanie’s Kitten and Ball Dancing, who was second in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes in her final 2014 start. The Brown starters top a full field of 12 turf distaffers slated to contest the 1 1/8-mile race over the Tampa turf course.

Stephanie’s Kitten raced exclusively with Grade 1-level competition last season, winning the Flower Bowl at Belmont as the choice after having finished second in both the Diana at Saratoga and the Beverly D. at Arlington. In 2013, she won the Grade 1 Just a Game. The 6-year-old Kitten’s Joy mare has earned more than $2.6 million and has won 8 of 19 career starts.

In her final and most important start of 2014, Stephanie’s Kitten closed from eighth in the 1 1/4-mile BC Filly and Mare Turf and was gaining late but fell 1 1/4 lengths short of Dayatthespa.

Stephanie’s Kitten had been slated to be sold last fall in the Fasig-Tipton selected fall mixed sale, but when she failed to meet her $4 million reserve, owners Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey decided to race her in 2015. She has been training at Palm Meadows and will get regular rider John Velazquez again for the Hillsborough.

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Ball Dancing will have a new partner in Edgard Zayas for her 2015 debut. Stephanie’s Kitten’s work partner also will be making her first start of 2014. After winning two of her first five starts in France, Ball Dancing was sent to Brown’s barn last summer and made her U.S. debut a winning one when she came from well off the pace to capture the Grade 2 Sands Point Stakes at Saratoga. Brown wheeled her back in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II over a soft Keeneland turf course, and Ball Dancing loomed a threat a furlong out in that 1 1/8-mile test before just hanging late to finish second, beaten less than a length by Crown Queen.

While the two Brown runners are certainly formidable, there are others in the Hillsborough with some solid credentials, including Filimbi, who won the Grade 2 Goldikova Stakes at Santa Anita in her final start of 2014.

From the barn of Bill Mott, Filimbi won 3 of 6 outings last season and is another who can be expected to do her best running through the lane of the Hillsborough. Joel Rosario returns aboard Filimbi.

Sparkling Review, who is undefeated in her last four starts, all on the turf, is an intriguing presence in the Hillsborough. Trained by Ben Colebrook, Sparkling Review took the Grade 2 Mrs. Revere Stakes at Churchill in her final start of 2014 and reunites with Julian Leparoux.

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General a Rod in Challenger

General a Rod, who raced in all three legs of last year’s Triple Crown, makes his second start of 2015 Saturday in the $60,000 Challenger Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the main track.

General a Rod will be making his first start for trainer Todd Pletcher after racing out of the Mike Maker barn last season. The late-running colt captured last year’s Gulfstream Park Derby then earned a spot in the Kentucky Derby by virtue of a second in the Fountain of Youth and third in the Grade 1 Florida Derby.

After finishing a troubled 11th in the Kentucky Derby, General a Rod was fourth in the Preakness and seventh in the Belmont Stakes.

Decisive Moment figures to be the chief speed in the Challenger moving from turf to dirt, and the $926,783-earner could prove hard to catch moving to this softer spot, while Mister Marti Gras makes his first start since finishing second in the Grade 2 Hawthorne Gold Cup last fall.



Sparkling Review (Last 3 Beyers: 92-85-82)

◗ She looks like the best place to get value if you have the courage to go against the Brown monsters. She seems to respond well to Leparoux, and it’s not often a bettor can back a horse that has won four in a row and not be betting on the favorite.

Ball Dancing (Beyers: 90-92)

◗ She has done little wrong in her two U.S. starts, and of the two Brown stars, this one should offer the more attractive price. She gets the rail and should be within striking distance in a field without a lot of speed in it.

Stephanie’s Kitten (Last 3 Beyers: 100-98-94)

◗ She is obviously the horse to beat, has a strong class edge over many in this field, and while the price won’t be big, it would be hard to make any exotic plans and leave this one out.