Updated on 09/15/2011 1:35PM

Gaviola ventures into the unknown


ELMONT, N.Y. - With Perfect Sting sidelined, there are no dominant female turf runners on the East Coast. In contrast, Astra and Happyanunoit, one-two on Daily Racing Form's Watchmaker Watch, are ruling the roost in California.

Saturday's Grade 2 $250,000 New York Handicap provides seven fillies and mares with the opportunity to put themselves in the limelight at Belmont Park, the site of the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf this fall.

Gaviola, 3 for 3 on the Belmont turf, is the 119-pound highweight. Spook Express, a two-time stakes winner in 2001, and a pair of fillies from Christophe Clement's barn, England's Legend and Playact, figure to give Gaviola, who has never raced at the 1 1/4-mile distance of the New York, a tussle.

In an uncharacteristic flop, Gaviola finished seventh as the heavy favorite and 121-pound highweight of the 1 1/8-mile Matchmaker at Monmouth on June 16.

Gaviola's trainer, Bill Turner, said his Grade 1 filly had no chance when the Matchmaker winner, Batique, controlled the pace and set a course record while carrying 113 pounds.

"When [Gaviola] gets beat, it's because someone has a quicker kick the last quarter," Turner said. "She's never run this far before, but I think she can step up to the distance. She's a one-paced horse who hits a lick and keeps going."

Jerry Bailey rides Gaviola, who figures to be the controlling speed from post 2.

Trainer Tom Skiffington said Spook Express is difficult to ride and is delighted that Mike Smith has agreed to come in from California for the assignment. Smith rode Spook Express when she won the Honey Fox and Suwannee River at Gulfstream last winter.

"She pulls like a train and is hard to relax," Skiffington said. "Ideally, a mile and an eighth is better. She's probably a sprinter because her kick is a quarter of a mile. You need to get her covered up and park her 15 lengths behind the leaders. At the quarter pole, she can run them down."

Spook Express hasn't raced since finishing third in the Black Helen at Hialeah in April, but has fired off layoffs longer than that in the past.

Playact and England's Legend, Clement's uncoupled entry, are very playable. Longer is better for Playact, who is stakes-placed in this country. England's Legend hasn't been out since March, when she was a good-looking winner of a second-level allowance at Santa Anita.

for New York Handicap Past Performances.

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