09/30/2009 12:00AM

Defections take luster from Beldame


ELMONT, N.Y. - Remember when the New York Racing Association hoped the Beldame could be the race of the year, pitting superstars Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta against each other?

Well, that pipe dream was crushed long ago. Still, the race had potential with Grade 1 winners Icon Project and Music Note expected to square off. That match-up was nullified Wednesday when the connections of Icon Project announced their filly would skip the Grade 1, $600,000 Beldame to run in the Grade 1, $500,000 Spinster Stakes at Keeneland on Oct. 11.

She was not the only defection from the Beldame. Briecat, second to Zenyatta in the Grade 1 Vanity Handicap, is not coming, and neither is Morena, the third-place finisher in the Personal Ensign.

Thus, Music Note figures to be an overwhelming favorite in a field that as of Wednesday was to include the coupled entry of Captain's Lover and Unbridled Belle, and Copper State.

Andrew Rosen, the owner of Icon Project, and trainer Marty Wolfson spoke by phone Tuesday night and decided to point Icon Project to the Spinster for two reasons. First, the race is run over Keeneland's synthetic surface. The Breeders' Cup will be run over Santa Anita's Pro-Ride surface on Nov. 6.

Second, the Spinster is run at 1 1/8 miles around two turns. The Beldame is also run at 1 1/8 miles, but around one turn.

"He just wants to run in the Spinster," Wolfson said of Rosen. "I think it's probably the synthetic issue."

In June, Icon Project won the New York Stakes at Belmont by 13 1/4 lengths in a race that was moved from the turf and run at 1 1/8 miles around one turn. Icon Project is coming off a 13 1/2-length win in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign at 1 1/4 miles at Saratoga.

Music Note, who is 4 for 6 at Belmont including Grade 1 wins in the Coaching Club American Oaks and Gazelle, is coming off a 5 1/4-length victory in the Grade 1 Ballerina at Saratoga going seven furlongs on Aug. 29.

"Obviously, it takes out the favorite in a Grade 1 race," Rick Mettee, the assistant trainer for Godolphin, said regarding Icon Project's defection. "You would think it makes things a lot easier on us."

Todd Pletcher said the decision to run Captain's Lover along with 2007 Beldame winner Unbridled Belle in Saturday's Beldame was made before he learned of Icon Project's status. Captain's Lover won the off-the-turf Matchmaker at Monmouth Park on Aug. 2 before finishing sixth in the Grade 2 Ballston Spa Handicap.

Copper State, a well-beaten second in the Grade 1 Ruffian here in 2008, is coming off a minor stakes win at Prairie Meadows.

Weather no factor for Gio Ponti

Though the forecast for Saturday now calls for rain, it won't affect the status for Gio Ponti in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational.

Trainer Christophe Clement had previously said that he would like to run Gio Ponti on firm turf for his next start, which is why he also had considered the Clement Hirsch at Santa Anita on Oct. 11. But Clement wants to run Gio Ponti at Belmont, where Gio Ponti has won four of five starts, including two Grade 1 races this year. He won the Manhattan over yielding turf in June.

Clement said he would actually welcome some rain after watching last week's races run over a very firm course.

"If anything, I think it's good if it rains," Clement said looking out at the turf course.

The possibility of rain has Clement considering running a second horse in Saturday's Flower Bowl Invitational for fillies and mares. Already committed to run Carribean Sunset, Clement also will enter Beauty O' Gwaun, a Group 3 winner in Ireland who would be making her North American debut in this spot.

"I'd like to run her a mile and a quarter or more," Clement said. "If I don't run in the Flower Bowl, I'm not sure what my options are. I'll talk to my owner and let him make the decision."

The Flower Bowl could shape up to be a 10-horse field. In addition to the Clement entry, others expected to run are Bubbly Jane, Criticism, Dynaforce, Leamington, Lemonette, Moneycantbuymelove, Pure Clan, and Queen of Hearts.

D' Funnybone likely straight to BC

D' Funnybone, winner of the Saratoga Special and Futurity - both Grade 2 events - will most likely skip the Grade 1 Champagne here Oct. 10 and point straight to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita on Nov.7, trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. said.

"We're not looking at the Champagne with him," Dutrow said. "We're most likely going to go straight to the Breeders' Cup. We'll keep an outside eye on the race. If there's nothing that goes in there and we feel we can take it down, maybe we'll do it."

Meanwhile, Dutrow said it would be "a miracle" if Stardom Bound, last year's 2-year-old filly champion, were to make it to the Breeders' Cup. Stardom Bound worked four furlongs in 48.69 seconds Tuesday at Aqueduct.

"It's more a dream than possible, I'm thinking," Dutrow said. "It'd be a miracle if she does get to the [Breeders' Cup]. After that, we'll start looking. But it's all good with her, I'm very happy with her. If she stays this way, she's going to win a big race again; I don't know where or when."