Favorite Bella Sofia Takes Vagrancy In Thriller At Belmont - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Favorite Bella Sofia Takes Vagrancy In Thriller At Belmont

Bella Sofia, outside, outduels Frank’s Rockette to win the Vagrancy

Grade 1 winner Bella Sofia tenaciously outdueled Frank's Rockette down the stretch to make a triumphant return off the layoff in Saturday's $150,000 Vagrancy Handicap (G3), a 6 1/2-furlong sprint over the main track for older fillies and mares at Belmont Park.

Trained by Rudy Rodriguez for Michael Imperio, Medallion Racing, Sofia Soares, Vincent Scuderi, and Parkland Thoroughbreds, Bella Sofia was piloted to her 4-year-old debut victory by Luis Saez, who rode the filly to wins last year in the Longines Test (G1) at Saratoga Race Course and the Grade 2 Gallant Bloom Handicap at Belmont. The daughter of Awesome Patriot finished the year with a fourth-place finish in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint in November at Del Mar.

Bella Sofia broke from the outermost post in the compact field of five and was placed in second position, a half-length off pacesetter Miss Brazil. The Flavien Prat-piloted Frank's Rockette, who bumped with Kept Waiting at the start, was patiently rated in fourth as Miss Brazil sailed through an opening quarter-mile in :22.67 and the half-mile in :45.68 over the fast main track.

Miss Brazil and Bella Sofia matched strides rounding the turn with Prat beginning to ask Frank's Rockette for more. Frank's Rockette dove to the two-path between a retreating Miss Brazil and Bella Sofia and was set down for the drive to the finish from the top of the lane.

Prat and Saez implored their mounts for more as they drew away from the rest of the competition. Both horses refused to yield and put on a show as they ran stride-for-stride down the lane before Bella Sofia put her nose down at the wire and best her rival in a final time of 1:16.02.

The pair finished 9 3/4 lengths ahead of Assertive Style, who completed the trifecta by 1 1/4 lengths over Kept Waiting. Miss Brazil rounded out the order of finish.

Saez said he was confident Bella Sofia had the advantage at the wire.

“I knew I had it,” said Saez. “She was coming off the layoff and I didn't want to take too much from her. We knew she's a Grade 1 winner and a great filly. She did what she was supposed to do. I was a little worried about the layoff, but she proved that she can come back and she's tough.”

Bella Sofia has made all but one of her seven starts with Saez, who said the filly has improved from three to four.

“She grew more,” Saez said. “She's bigger and she's powerful.”

Rodriguez, who earned his first Vagrancy victory, said Bella Sofia was ready to run.

“She's a very gutsy filly. She's been doing very good in the morning,” Rodriguez said. “She's been galloping out seven-eighths to a mile the two times she worked before her last work, so I knew she was fit. She's a special filly. It's good when they dig in like that.”

Vincent Scuderi, co-owner of Bella Sofia, said he was concerned with how she would run off the six-month layoff.

“I was a little worried about the break between three and four if she'd come back okay, but Rudy said she's back on her game, she put weight back on,” Scuderi said.

Bella Sofia was initially set for a seasonal bow in the Grade 2, $300,000 Bed o' Roses on June 10 at Belmont.

“We were going to go in the Bed o' Roses, but Rudy said she was ready so we ran her now,” Scuderi said. “We want to space her out and we have big goals for her going forward.”

Bella Sofia is likely to be campaigned with a return trip to the Breeders' Cup in November at Keeneland as the main goal. She could earn a spot in the Filly and Mare Sprint should she win the Grade 1, $500,000 Ballerina on August 28 at Saratoga, a Breeders' Cup “Win and You're In” qualifier.

“We now have to make a campaign, so hopefully we'll be able to run in the Ballerina. The Breeders' Cup is the ultimate goal,” Scuderi said.

Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott said Frank's Rockette was admirable in defeat.

“I couldn't be disappointed with that,” Mott said. “She had a beautiful trip and ran her heart out. I think she gave us everything she had.”

Prat was also full of praise for the 5-year-old Frank's Rockette.

“I had a good trip. She ran really well,” Prat said. “She was really game. When I dropped down to the inside she really gave me a good kick. I thought I was going to surprise the winner, but she just fought back.”

The Vagrancy marked the first time Bella Sofia has visited the winner's circle since her 3 1/2-length victory in the Grade 2 Gallant Bloom over the same distance and course in September. She provided a mild upset in the Grade 1 Longines Test when she defeated Souper Sensational by 4 1/4 lengths in her graded stakes debut.

Bella Sofia, who was bred in Kentucky by Two Tone Farms, earned $82,500 for her victory, boosting her total purse earnings to $675,100 and improving her record to 7-5-1-0. She returned $2.

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