Bella Sofia to Battle Older Mares in Gallant Bloom

Following a breakthrough triumph against her sophomore counterparts in the Longines Test Stakes (G1) at Saratoga Race Course, Bella Sofia faces older fillies and mares at stakes level for the first time in the $250,000 Gallant Bloom Handicap (G2) Sept. 26. The sprint is over 6 1/2 furlongs on the Belmont Park main track. Bella Sofia, a Rudy Rodriguez-trained daughter of Awesome Patriot, has won 3-of-4 lifetime starts by a combined 22 lengths. She displayed stalking tactics down the backstretch in the Test, establishing command in upper stretch and drawing off to a decisive 4 1/4-length conquest against four graded stakes winners. Rodriguez said he considered two-turn options out of town for Bella Sofia, but decided the Gallant Bloom was the best spot given the distance and the home-track advantage. Bella Sofia is owned by Michael Imperio, Medallion Racing, Vincent Scuderi, Sofia Soares, and Parkland Thoroughbreds. "The Test was a huge, huge win for us, because we don't have these kinds of horses in the barn," Rodriguez said. "To win a grade 1 at Saratoga, especially a prestigious race like the Test, everything was amazing. We're still dreaming." Luis Saez, the leading rider at Saratoga this summer, will return to the irons from post 1. Bella Sofia will carry 119 pounds. Coming off a triumph against fellow Pennsylvania-breds is Don't Call Me Mary, a winner of three of her last four, including a last-out win in the Dr. Teresa Garofalo Memorial on Aug. 23 over a sloppy track at Parx Racing. Owned by Stuart Grant's The Elkstone Group and trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, the 4-year-old El Padrino chestnut made her lone start at Belmont a winning one, defeating a second-level allowance optional claiming event at the Gallant Bloom distance by 4 1/2 lengths over next-out stakes winner Truth Hurts. In her recent stakes coup, Don't Call Me Mary handed ultra-consistent Chub Wagon, then a five-time stakes winner, her only loss in 10 starts. Chub Wagon picked up her sixth stakes score Sept. 25 with a victory in the Plum Pretty Stakes at Parx. "She beat a good filly who was undefeated and came back and won an open company stakes after that, so I thought it was a good race," said Pletcher, who saddled Harmony Lodge to victory in the 2003 Gallant Bloom. Hall of Famer John Velazquez, a five-time winner of the Gallant Bloom, will ride Don't Call Me Mary (118 pounds) from post 5. Godolphin's Lake Avenue (Tapit) seeks her first graded stakes victory since capturing the Demoiselle Stakes (G2) in December 2019 for Hall of Famer Bill Mott, a two-time winning trainer of the Gallant Bloom. She has been runner-up in three straight stakes, most recently the Ketel One Ballerina Handicap (G1). Frank Fletcher Racing Operations won last year's Gallant Bloom with Frank's Rockette and will look to double up, along with Ten Strike Racing, with Lady Rocket, a 4-year-old Tale of the Cat filly. Trained by Brad Cox, the four-time winner from eight starts took the Misty Bennett Pink Ribbon on Aug. 27 at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in wire-to-wire fashion in her most recent start. Saul Kupferberg's veteran mare Honor Way, second in last year's Gallant Bloom, rounds out the field as she seeks to make amends following two fifth-place finishes at stakes level for trainer Charlton Baker. The Gallant Bloom is the ninth race on Sunday's 10-race card, which also features the $150,000 Bertram F. Bongard for New York-bred juveniles at seven furlongs over the main track in the fourth race.