ELMONT, N.Y. -- Trainer Christophe Clement was succinct when asked why he chose to run the nine-time stakes winner Rutherienne in Saturday's Grade 3 Noble Damsel at Belmont Park rather than wait for next month's Grade 1 First Lady Handicap at Keeneland.
"My owner would prefer me not to run against Forever Together," said Clement, who trains Rutherienne for Virginia Kraft Payson.
Forever Together -- last year's champion female turf horse who has twice defeated Rutherienne this year -- was not entered in the $100,000 Noble Damsel. Nor was any filly or mare of Forever Together's ilk, thus leaving Rutherienne a short-priced favorite to win Noble Damsel, scheduled for one mile over the Widener Turf. The Noble Damsel goes as race 4 on the 10-race card.
Rutherienne, a 5-year-old daughter of Pulpit, has won 10 of 21 starts and banked more than $1.2 million, more money than her six rivals combined. After falling three-quarters of a length short to Forever Together in the Grade 1 Diana at Saratoga on Aug. 1, Rutherienne was beaten a head by the Irish-bred, German-based Salve Germania in the Grade 2 Ballston Spa on Aug. 29.
"She ran a winning race," Clement said of his mare. "It was soft ground and the German filly caught her in the last two strides. She came out of her last race very good. It's a little bit quick [back], but we have not run her that much."
Alan Garcia will ride Rutherienne from the outside post in the seven-horse field.
Grande Annee could be the major threat to Rutherienne. In her first start in 11 months -- and first in North America -- Grande Annee finished fourth, beaten 2 3/4 lengths by Cocoa Beach in the De La Rose Stakes at Saratoga. Grande Annee was bothered by Cocoa Beach turning for home, but she still ran on in the stretch.
"I hope she has a cleaner trip up there," trainer Michael Matz said from Kentucky where he was attending the yearling sales. "I think the filly is doing well, and a mile to a mile and an eighth is perfect for her."
Meadow Saffron, who finished third, beaten 3 3/4 lengths by Rutherienne in the Grade 2 Nassau Stakes, could be the one to catch breaking from the rail under Ramon Dominguez. She has won her last two starts at a mile.
Stealin' Kisses, American Border, Quiet Meadow, and Social Queen complete the field.