Updated on 09/15/2011 1:38PM

Summer Colony steps up to Ladies

NYRA/Adam Coglianese
Strolling Belle and Heberto Castillo have combined to win two consecutive Ladies Handicaps and will try for a third on Saturday.

JAMAICA, N.Y. - After spending the summer and fall beating allowance horses, Summer Colony makes her first foray into stakes competition in Saturday's $100,000 Ladies Handicap at Aqueduct.

The dilemma for handicappers is determining whether Summer Colony was as good as she looked winning four straight races or was she simply beating substandard competition?

"This is one way of finding out," Seth Gregory, the assistant to trainer Mark Hennig, said. "I think she's a graded stakes-caliber filly."

Summer Colony's success has coincided with a return to dirt and stretching out around two turns. Saturday's Grade 3 Ladies will be run over the inner track at 1 1/4 miles, a distance Summer Colony figures to handle based on her 8 1/4-length win at 1 3/8 miles at Belmont on Sept. 23.

While the first three wins in her recent streak were accomplished on the front end, Summer Colony demonstrated an ability to rate in her last start, when she stalked the pace-setting Palmarola for six furlongs before taking the lead. She beat back a late challenge from Diversa while kicking clear to a 3 1/4-length victory.

"As she's matured, she's learned she doesn't need to be on the lead," Gregory said. "Would we like to be there? Probably. But we won't be as worried about it as in the past."

John Velazquez, New York's winningest rider in 2001, will ride Summer Colony from post 3. He figures to keep a close eye on Irving's Baby, the probable pacesetter who breaks from post 2 under Aaron Gryder.

Irving's Baby has won five stakes this year including the Grade 3 Delaware Handicap. She has not raced in 11 weeks and, at 120 pounds, must spot her nine rivals 2 to 10 pounds.

Trainer John Kimmel, who goes for his fourth consecutive Ladies Handicap trophy, hopes a duel develops between Summer Colony and Irving's Baby. Strolling Belle has won the last two runnings of the Ladies from off the pace and is 3-2-0 from five inner track starts.

Strolling Belle lost to Stop for Schnapps in a classified allowance race on Dec. 7, but stumbled at the start and was spotting Stop for Schnapps 13 pounds that day. Saturday, the weight difference is only five pounds between those two. Heberto Castillo rides Strolling Belle.

Stop for Schnapps is 4 for 6 over the inner track and has the pedigree to get the 10 furlongs of the Ladies. Lorenzo Lezcano rides for Nick Zito.

Completing the field are Rochelle's Terms and Resort, the one-two finishers in the Turnback the Alarm Handicap, Too Scarlet, Kris Pit, Letter of Intent, and Proud Owner.

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