Kauai Katie, unraced since finishing sixth in the Prioress in July, will return to the races on Saturday when she faces an evenly matched field of filly and mare sprinters in Aqueduct's Grade 2, $200,000 Distaff Handicap at six furlongs.
As a two-year-old, Kauai Katie won her first three starts, including the Adirondack and Matron, both Grade 2s. She then tired to fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, the only time in her career she has competed around two turns.
At three, Kauai Katie easily won the Old Hat, Forward Gal and Road Princess before she stumbled at the start, pressed the pace, and retreated in the stretch when third, beaten seven lengths, as the 8-5 second choice in the Acorn in May at Belmont Park.
Despite the loss, Kauai Katie went off as the 2-5 favorite in the Prioress at Saratoga. Once again, she tracked the leaders and came up empty in the stretch, finishing last of six, 6 ¼ lengths behind the winner. Following that disappointing effort, the Malibu Moon filly was freshened by trainer Todd Pletcher with the intention of focusing on a four-year-old campaign.
"It was always planned to come back [in the Distaff]; it worked out, timing wise," said Byron Hughes, assistant to Pletcher. "She has been feeling great in the mornings, never missed a step out there. We'll see what happens. This is a difficult spot, but she's a very high-quality filly, and we think she's capable of competing at any level."
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez rill ride Kauai Katie, the 3-1 second choice on the morning-line, from post 5.
La Verdad, also a four-year-old, has won six-of-eight starts, including five-of-six at Aqueduct. In her most recent start, the bay daughter of Yes It's True made quick work of New York-bred competition in the Broadway over the inner track in March. She was installed as the 5-2 morning-line favorite for the Distaff.
After finishing fourth in her debut, La Verdad won five straight races before she set the pace and yielded late when second in the Barbara Fritchie Handicap in February at Laurel Park. The front runner found the Broadway to her liking, quickly seizing the lead and never looking back en route to a 3 ¼-length triumph.
"She's racing well, but this is a pretty big jump up in company," trainer Linda Rice admitted. "She ran very well [in the Barbara Fritchie], which made me think she deserves another chance in a graded stakes."
La Verdad, who will be ridden once again by Jose Ortiz, drew post 1 for the Distaff.
"Jose knows her well, so he'll make the best decision for her," Rice added of La Verdad's draw.
The lightly raced Bridgehampton will be making her second start of 2014 in the Distaff. Second in the Victory Ride in her sophomore finale, the Bernardini lass made her return in an entry-level allowance over the inner track on March 23, showing speed from the gate, opening a five-length lead in the stretch, and holding on while shortening stride late to prevail by 1 ¼ lengths.
"I thought it was just what she needed, just what we were looking for," trainer Michael Hushion stated. "We've been pointing for the Distaff for three months. This has been our long-term plan. We've done everything we can to get her a little stronger since [the allowance race]. We'll find out at the sixteenth-pole."
Rajiv Maragh will ride Bridgehampton, drew post 6, for the first time in the Distaff.
Munnings Sister, who has won five stakes, including three at Belmont Park, returns to New York after competing twice in Florida and making one start in California for trainer Barclay Tagg. She was third in the Sugar Swirl in December and won the Awesome Feather in February before reporting home third in the Las Flores on March 9. The winner of the Las Flores, Judy the Beauty, returned to take Keeneland's Madison last Saturday.
Luis Saez will ride Munnings Sister, 4-1, from post 4.
The Distaff field is completed by Miss d'Oro, who was second in last year's Distaff and hasn't raced since finishing fourth in the Vagrancy Handicap in May; Lion D N A, who won a pair of inner track stakes before finishing fifth in a starter allowance February 17; and My Pal Chrisy, who has finished second in three straight races, including the March 22 Inside Information at Gulfstream Park, and is cross-entered to Saturday evening's $200,000 Sugar Maple at Charles Town.