SHEEPSHEAD BAY STAKES| PURSE: $150,000 | GRADE: 2 | 3-YEAR-OLDS AND UP| 1 3/8 MILES
ELMONT, N.Y. -- As the only Grade 1 winner in the field, Hibaayeb was the class of the six fillies and mares entered in Saturday's $150,000 Sheepshead Bay Stakes at Belmont Park. Hibaayeb transferred that class from the paper to Belmont Park's inner turf course with a solid one-length victory in the Grade 2 stakes.
Benefitting from a prep race in Florida last month, and a patient, ground-saving trip under John Velazquez, Hibaayeb rallied along the rail turning into the stretch and powered home to a relatively easy victory. Giants Play, third in the Grade 3 Orchid in her last start, got up for second by a neck over Cheetah. The second-and third-place finishers - as well as fifth-place finish Tarrip - were trained by Christophe Clement.
Hibaayeb, owned by Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin Stable, added the Sheepshead Bay to her Grade 1 victory in the Yellow Ribbon at Hollywood Park last October in her North American debut. After finishing eighth - beaten only 2 1/4 lengths in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf - Hibaayeb spent the winter in south Florida.
She finished third in an allowance race at Gulfstream that was run at 1 1/16 miles, a distance that was too short for Hibaayeb. But the race served its purpose getting her ready for this.
Belle Watling, under apprentice Ryan Curatolo, got loose on the lead through fractions of 24.58 seconds for the quarter, 50.75 for the half-mile, 1:16.10 for six furlongs, and 1:40.48 for the mile. Velazquez had Hibaayeb in third, about two lengths off the pace biding his time.
Knowing that Belle Watling has a tendency to drift out, Velazquez waited until the field turned for home to ask his filly to run. Sure enough, Belle Watling did drift out, Velazquez shot Hibaayeb on through just outside the eighth pole and she was never threatened through the lane.
"I've been watching the horse that was on the lead in Florida, I knew she drifts out. I was just hoping when she did drift out, there wasn't somebody to push her back in and nobody wanted to pass her,'' Velazquez said. "I said this was going to work out.''
Hibaayeb, a 4-year-old daughter of Singspiel, covered the 1 3/8 miles in 2:15.92 and returned $4.90 as the favorite.
Rick Mettee, Godolphin's North America-based assistant trainer, said when he saw the dawdling fractions and how easily Hibaayeb was traveling "if she got any kind of trip it was going to be hard to outrun her.''
Mettee said the summer goal would likely be the Grade 1 Beverly D. at Arlington Park on Aug. 13 with a possible prep in the Robert G. Dick Memorial at Delaware Park on July 9.
Gomez picks up two wins subbing for Dominguez
Jockey Ramon Dominguez took off his nine mounts on Saturday due to stiffness in his neck suffered in a spill here on Friday.
Dominguez's misfortune turned into Garrett Gomez's good fortune as he picked up two of Dominguez's mounts and guided both Monte Carlo ($3.90) and Rocky F ($3.50) to victory. Gomez, in town from California to ride Cheetah in the Sheepshead Bay, also won the opener on Pat's Meow, a horse he was originally named to ride by trainer Rudy Rodriguez.
A third Dominguez mount, Christmas Punch, was ridden to victory by Cornelio Velasquez.