Quality Field Assembles for Ruffian Stakes

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

May 4th, 2018

The field for Sunday’s $250,000 Ruffian Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont Park might be small, but it’s certainly not lacking in quality.

Five of the six fillies and mares entered in the one-mile event are graded stakes winners, including Unchained Melody, who could be among the favorites. The four-year-old daughter of Smart Strike opened her career with three wins from four starts last season, including an easy gate-to-wire triumph in the Mother Goose Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont, but subsequently went to the sidelines after being pulled up in the Alabama Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga.

Unchained Melody will be returning from a lengthy layoff in Ruffian, but has turned in a long serious of workouts at Palm Meadows and Keeneland this winter for trainer Brian Lynch, and she’s facing a field without much early speed. The only filly that appears inclined to challenge her for the lead is Faypien, who ships in from California for trainer . Faypien has spent the majority of her career sprinting, but did win the 8.5-furlong Summertime Oaks (gr. II) with a pace-tracking trip last summer and recently won the Harry Henson Handicap at Sunland Park in gate-to-wire fashion.

Holiday Disguise has won five of her last six starts for trainer Linda Rice and enters the Ruffian off a clear win in the seven-furlong Distaff Handicap (gr. III) at Aqueduct, in which she settled behind a fast pace before rallying to victory. Similar tactics could be employed by Tequilita, a Michael Matz-trained filly that won the Forward Gal Stakes (gr. II) and Charles Town Oaks (gr. III) going seven furlongs last year. A mile might be a bit beyond her best distance, but she did finish second in the Gulfstream Park Oaks (gr. II) going a mile and a sixteenth last winter, so the potential for handling the one-turn mile of the Ruffian is certainly there.

Highway Star won this race last year and is 5-for-6 overall at Belmont Park, with her lone defeat being a third-place finish behind champion Songbird in the 2017 Ogden Phipps Stakes (gr. I). A versatile mare with a strong record going a mile, Highway Star has enough speed to keep the early leaders in reach and figures to work out a pace-tracking trip in the Ruffian, though she hasn’t run since finishing a distant last in the Heavenly Prize Stakes at Aqueduct two months.

Completing the field is Pacific Wind, a graded stakes-placed filly stepping up in class off of an 8 ¼-length allowance win going a mile at Keeneland last time out for trainer Chad Brown.

The Ruffian Stakes is the eighth race on the card, with a projected post time of 5:18 p.m. Eastern.