Updated on 09/15/2011 1:04PM

Paga seeks graded win as fave in Noble Damsel


ELMONT, N.Y. - Paga,the champion miler in Argentina last year, seeks her first graded win in this country in Saturday's $100,000-added Noble Damsel Handicap at Belmont Park.

Paga was one of 14 fillies and mares entered in the Grade 3 Noble Damsel at one mile on the Widener turf. Ten will be permitted to run, with four standing by on the also-eligible list, including two main-track only horses.

Paga, a California shipper from Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella's barn, is the 118-pound highweight and likely favorite.

Paga won 4 of 6 starts in Argentina last year, capping the season with a three-length victory against males in a Group 1 race with 19 runners. She arrived in Mandella's barn about six months ago.

Paga won her American debut on Aug. 8 at Del Mar in the Osunitas Handicap, finishing a neck in front of La Ronge, who looks like Paga's toughest rival in the Noble Damsel. Mandella said he wouldn't be surprised by an even better effort in the Noble Damsel from Paga, who set the pace in Osunitas.

"I expect her to run as good or even better," said Mandella, who noted Paga was in heat after the Osunitas, which prevented her from running back at Del Mar.

Paga's form in Argentina indicates she can handle both firm and wet courses. Steady rain softened up Belmont's grass courses on Thursday.

Mike Smith, aboard in the Osunitas, rides Paga from post 8.

Following the Osunitas, La Ronge finished second in the Grade 2 Palomar at Del Mar, beaten only a length by one of the country's top filly and mare turf runners, Tranquility Lake.

Richard Migliore rides La Ronge, who makes her first start outside of California for trainer Neil Drysdale.

Collect the Cash, who won the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup, has been slow to get going this year. She has started twice, finishing fourth and fifth, in allowance company.

Trainer Joe Orseno believes Collect the Cash is ready to put forth a winning effort.

"Her nerves got the best of her this year and she became a bad bleeder," Orseno said. "The allergens in Saratoga made it worse, but she's doing really well [at Belmont] and has put on weight. I could have put her in an extra allowance race, but if she runs her race, she could win this."

Babae has been in good form this year and is well suited to the mile. John Velazquez, who has won four of the last six runnings of the Noble Damsel, rides.