Belmont Stakes and Festival Doings: (updated)
- Pletcher contingent post final breezes for Belmont Stakes Racing Festival assignments
- Tax works at Belmont Park; status for “Test of the Champion” still to be determined
- Fancy Dress Party on trend for G1 Acorn
- Whitmore headed to G2 True North, Stan the Man and Midnightcharly join prospective field
- Lady Montdore breezes solo in preparation of G2 NYRA start
- Clement happy with Saturday morning turf workers
- Daddy Is A Legend works for G1 Just a Game
- Diversify puts in maintenance breeze; Catholic Boy posts first work since G2 Dixie win
- Tax is out, Bourbon War is in
- Master Fencer in fine fettle ahead of G1 Belmont Stakes
- Miller considering quartet of contenders for Belmont Stakes Racing Festival
- Baffert sending McKinzie, Much Better for Belmont Stakes Racing Festival
- McLaughlin talks Turf Trinity, Belmont Stakes Day runners
- Sisterson hoping to make good showing for Belmont Stakes Racing Festival
- Holy Helena looks to improve on last year’s G2 New York (NYRA) effort
“It looked like he never really appreciated the off going in that race. Since then he’s seemed to continue to move forward and he’s been training well so we’re expecting a better effort.”
“Very solid work from him. We’ve been real happy with how he’s been doing since his win last out in the Flat Out.”
“She’s a very nice filly and she’s done nothing wrong so far. She’s proven that she likes to win, and she’s doing well coming into the race, it’s a big step up going into the Acorn, but we’re excited to take a shot at it. It’s a Grade 1 with a lot of history.”
“I just thought he had a bad day; it was an odd race. He came back safe and sound and for whatever reason the race just didn’t set up for him. He made a move but didn’t finish like he normally does.”
ELMONT, N.Y. -Katsumi Yoshizawa’s homebred Master Fencer, trained by Koichi Tsunoda, was in good order on Thursday morning at his Belmont barn, where he continues to prepare for the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets.
The Japanese-bred son of Just a Way stumbled slightly during his five-furlong breeze on Wednesday morning under training assistant Yosuke Kono. As a precaution, an X-ray was taken of Master Fencer’s front ankles, which did not show any issues.
Kono, via translator Mitsuoki Numamoto, said that Master Fencer was sound and in good order.
“He got a little inflammation because of the breezing, which is normal,” said Kono. “The X-rays came back totally fine. The vet is not concerned about anything.”
Kono said that Master Fencer followed his regular schedule on Thursday morning, which included an opportunity to stretch his legs on the walking path in the back paddock of their barn.
“Today, he walked for an hour, which is normal for us the day after a breeze,” said Kono. “Tomorrow, we will go to the paddock for paddock schooling first and then to the main track for a light jog.”
Master Fencer rallied from last of 19 to finish seventh in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby and was elevated to sixth following the disqualification of Maximum Security, who had crossed the wire in first.
The California-based conditioner has won a trio of stakes at Belmont, including the Grade 2 Kelso in 2015 with Appealing Tale; the Grade 2 True North with Roy H in 2017; and the 2017 Jersey Girl with Chalon.
Belvoir Bay and Om are both under consideration for the Grade 1, $400,000 Jaipur Invitational set for Belmont Stakes Day, June 8. The Jaipur is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” event to the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Santa Anita Park on November 2.
A millionaire daughter of Equiano, the British-bred Belvoir Bay boasts a record of 11-6-2 from 26 starts, with nine being on turf, including a pair of graded scores at Santa Anita last season in the Grade 3 San Simeon and Grade 2 Monrovia.
Owned by Gary Barber, Belvoir Bay opened her 2019 campaign with a win in the Wishing Well at Santa Anita ahead of an impressive runner-up effort in the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint in March at Meydan when narrowly defeated by Blue Point.
She returned to action on May 26 to finish second in the off-the-turf Grade 3 Monrovia, contested over a fast main track at Santa Anita.
“She’d have won easy on the grass,” said Miller. “She’s not as good on the dirt and she kind of stumbled at the start and rushed up. We’re going to take a look and think about running her back in the Jaipur.”
While Miller meditates on Belvoir Bay, the conditioner said Om, a 7-year-old Munnings gelding, will shorten up for the six-furlong test on the Belmont turf following a pace-pressing fifth in the one-mile Opening Verse at Churchill Downs.
“He’s doing well. We ran him one mile, a little prep stakes there and he got a little tired,” said Miller. “His best race was the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint  where he got beat a nose, so we thought we’d try and go that route again with him.”
Proud Emma, a 3-year-old Include chestnut, boasts a record of three wins and one second-place finish from seven starts. Miller is considering entering her in the Grade 1, $700,000 Acorn at one mile on Big Sandy for sophomore fillies.
The improving filly has finished fourth in her two most recent efforts when stepping up to the graded level in the Grade 2 Gazelle at the Big A and the Eight Belles at Churchill.
“She’s doing well. We have one more breeze and then we’ll make a decision, but that’s the plan right now,” said Miller.
Last out, in a sloppy renewal of the Eight Belles, Proud Emma rallied from last of nine to earn a career-best 80 Beyer Speed Figure. Miller said Proud Emma could relish the one-turn mile at Belmont.
“We like the distance,” said Miller. “We’re not sure if she’s Grade 1-caliber but the distance should suit her. She tries hard and is a very nice filly.”
The ultra-consistent Spiced Perfection, a 4-year-old Smiling Tiger bay, boasts a record of 7-5-2 from 17 starts.
Spiced Perfection is nominated to both the Grade 3, $250,000 Bed o’ Roses, a seven-furlong sprint on June 7; and the Grade 1, $700,000 Ogden Phipps at 1 1/16-miles set for June 8 – a Breeders’ Cup “Win & You’re In” event to the Grade 1 Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
“We’re leaning towards the route race, the Ogden Phipps, at the moment,” said Miller. “We have another breeze to get through and make sure she’s on top of her game. The Bed o’ Roses looks pretty salty for a third of the money. I think if we can get a win at a longer distance, it would open up a lot of options for us.”
Baffert sending McKinzie, Much Better for Belmont Stakes Racing Festival
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert won’t have an entrant in the 151st running of the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes after successfully winning the “Test of the Champion” and capturing racing’s elusive Triple Crown two out of the past four years with American Pharoah in 2015 and Justify last year, but he will send a pair of formidable entrants to compete on Belmont Stakes Day undercard, with multiple graded stakes winner McKinzie pointing for the star-studded Grade 1, $1.2 million Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap and Much Better to the Grade 1, $400,000 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun.
“I really wish we had a runner ready for the Belmont, but it’s going to be a great day of racing,” said Baffert. “We’re going to send two east that we like to compete in some tough races. Martin Panza [NYRA’s Senior VP of Racing Operations] always does a great job putting together great cards on big days and this looks to be another one.”
McKinzie is pointing for the Met Mile following an impressive 4 ¾ length victory in the Grade 2 Alysheba on May 3 at Churchill Downs. Baffert said McKinzie was in good order following his most recent workout on Monday at Santa Anita, where he completed six furlongs in 1:11.80 handily.
“He’s doing great,” said Baffert. “I thought he really had a nice work the other day and we’ll work him one more time this weekend before we send him to New York on Tuesday.”
A 4-year-old son of Street Sense owned by Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman, McKinzie emerged as one of the top horses in the country last year collecting graded stakes wins in the Grade 2 San Felipe and Grade 1 Malibu at Santa Anita as well as a Grade 1 score in the Pennsylvania Derby at Parx.
McKinzie was second by a half-length in his 2019 debut in the Grade 2 San Pasqual on February 2 at Santa Anita, and he finished second by a nose in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap before his impressive score in the Alysheba.
“I thought he came out of his last race well and he’s really moved forward,” said Baffert.
An onslaught of graded stakes winners are expected for the Runhappy Metropolitan, a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” event to the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Santa Anita Park Nov. 2, including Coal Front, Firenze Fire, Mitole, Promises Fulfilled, Pavel and Thunder Snow.
Baffert said he is expecting a thrilling race.
“It’s certainly one tough race,” said Baffert. “We think we have a good horse too and we want to compete, but those are the type of horses that make it a Grade 1.”
Much Better, a 3-year-old Pioneerof the Nile colt owned and bred by Three Chimneys Farm, will look to regroup off a fourth-place finish over a sloppy and sealed main track in the Gold Fever on May 12 at Belmont, where he was sent off as the 1-2 post time favorite.
Much Better breezed five furlongs in 58.80 seconds last Tuesday at Churchill Downs, and Baffert said he’s hoping to draw a line through his Gold Fever effort.
Lastly, Baffert reported multiple graded stakes winner Marley’s Freedom would not point for the Grade 3, $250,000 Bed o’ Roses and will instead look at other options.
McLaughlin talks Turf Trinity, Belmont Stakes Day runners
Kiaran McLaughlin’s A Thread of Blue will bypass the Grade 3 Pennine Ridge this Saturday at Belmont Park in favor of the Grade 2 Penn Mile, but it won’t be long before the talented turf runner is back on the NYRA circuit, as the trainer hopes to take aim at the newly minted Turf Trinity.
“We thought turning back [for the Penn Mile] might be a great opportunity,” McLaughlin said of A Thread of Blue, whose last race came in the Grade 2, 1 1/16-mile American Turf at Churchill Downs, where he finished a close second. “It’s a good spot. We’ll look at the Belmont Derby after this race. The mile and an eighth [of the Pennine Ridge] might have been a good stepping stone, but we’re the favorite in the Penn Mile and probably wouldn’t be the favorite in the Pennine Ridge.”
Established this year, the Turf Trinity is a series of turf races for 3-year-olds comprised of the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Derby Invitational on July 6 at Belmont, as well as the inaugural running of the $1 million Saratoga Derby on August 4 at Saratoga Race Course and $1 million Jockey Club Derby on September 7 at Belmont.
“I think it’s a great idea for the world of racing,” said McLaughlin. “I think some people will take a look from Ireland, England, and France, too. It fills a void in American racing, so it’s good to have if you have the right horse.”
The distances of the trio of races mirror that of the American Triple Crown, as the Belmont Derby is contested at 1 ¼ miles, the Saratoga Derby at 1 3/16 miles, and the Jockey Club Derby at 1 ½ miles. Though A Thread of Blue has yet to run beyond 1 1/16 miles, McLaughlin is optimistic that the son of Hard Spun will be up to the challenge.
“We think that he can go longer, and it’ll be nice to have the speed that we have,” said the trainer. “A lot of times the longer turf races don’t have a strong pace, so we’ll be right up there.”
On Belmont Stakes Day, McLaughlin will likely send out another burgeoning turf star, Qurbaan, in the Grade 1, $1 million Manhattan at 1 ¼ miles. The Shadwell color-bearer is coming off a valiant runner-up finish in the Grade 1 Turf Classic at Churchill, in which he missed by a half-length to Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational victor Bricks and Mortar.
After winning the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch at Saratoga last summer, Qurbaan finished second or third in four consecutive graded stakes before almost breaking through in the Turf Classic while donning blinkers for the first time.
“We ran huge at Churchill and just got nipped by Bricks and Mortar getting four pounds, and we’re supposed to get eight pounds if they both run again,” said McLaughlin. “That should help us. We’re not sure about us going a mile and a quarter, but adding blinkers definitely helped. Mike Smith likes him and rode him well, and we get him back, too.”
A recent addition to the barn, Cookie Dough will give the trainer another shot at Grade 1 glory on Belmont Stakes Day in the Grade 1, $700,000 Acorn. The 3-year-old filly last ran in the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan on May 17 at Pimlico for trainer Stanley Gold, and had previously raced exclusively at Gulfstream Park, finishing third in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks and second in the Grade 2 Davona Dale.
“We’re happy to have her; she’s doing very well,” said McLaughlin. “Stanley Gold has done a terrific job with her. It’s a Grade 1 at a mile, so it’s going to be a tough race, but she definitely fits. She’s a speed, she goes. She was on the lead in the Black Eyed Susan all the way and finished third. That spot on the lead might be occupied, but she’ll be close [to the pace]. She’s pretty fast.”
Sisterson hoping to make good showing for Belmont Stakes Racing Festival
Trainer Jack Sisterson could possibly send a trio of Calumet Farm runners for the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival, slated for June 6-8.
Bandua, a distant seventh over a sloppy main track in the Grade 3 Westchester on May 4, may switch back to the grass for the Grade 1, Manhattan – a 1 ¼ mile event over the inner turf at Belmont.
The gray or roan son of The Factor’s most recent start on grass took place three starts back with a close runner-up effort behind Synchrony in the Grade 3 Fair Grounds Handicap in February, where he recorded a career best 99 Beyer Speed Figure. He then made his career debut on dirt next out in the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap, where he was fourth beaten three lengths.
“His two races on dirt are obviously black and white,” Sisterson said. “You have to put a line through the last race. He trains well on dirt at Keeneland and did so over the winter at Fair Grounds. We’re excited to get him back on grass, which might be his better surface.”
Bandua’s two career victories took place going the classic distance in Ireland, where he began racing for trainer Dermot Weld. His American debut also was going 1 ¼ miles with a third-place effort in the Grade 1 Secretariat in August at Arlington.
Fresh off of a graded stakes win in the Grade 3 Chick Lang on May 18 at Pimlico where he lit up the tote board at 17-1, Lexitonian could target the Grade 1, $400,000 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun on June 8.
The son of Speightstown broke his maiden at first asking over the Belmont main track last summer when trained by Todd Pletcher. He made his debut for Sisterson on Derby Day at Churchill Downs with a fifth-place effort in a first level allowance event.
“He’s not the biggest horse, but he’s got a huge heart,” Sisterson said. “He always gives 100 percent. Every time he runs, he shows up and his last race was a very exciting win.”
In search of a second graded stakes victory is the royally-bred Vexatious. The full sister to graded stakes winners Creative Cause and Destin has placed twice on dirt as a 3-year-old and notched her first graded stakes win via disqualification in the Grade 3 Dowager on October 21 at Keeneland.
The daughter of Giant’s Causeway and graded stakes winner Dream of Summer could race in the Grade 2, $600,000 New York on Belmont Stakes Eve. Last out, she was a distant fifth over a soft Widener turf course in the Grade 3 Sheepshead Bay on May 4.
Vexatious, previously conditioned by Neil Drysdale, will make her first start for Sisterson.
“She came from Drysdale in great shape and I haven’t had to do anything with her,” Sisterson said. “Hopefully she can catch a firm ground, she didn’t care for the soft ground she got at Belmont last time.”
Grade 2 Wood Memorial presented by NYRA Bets winner Tacitus breezed over the main track at 8:45 a.m. on Sunday at Belmont Park, working in company with Multiplier.
“It was very good, very even; I liked the rhythm of it – 12, 12, 12, 12. Each furlong was in about 12 seconds and he went out six furlongs in about 1:12, so I thought it was a very steady, solid work.”
“In Kentucky, after the race, his jockey Julien said, ‘I needed one more furlong,”
“Maybe we wouldn’t have beaten Maximum Security and Country House, but he has a strong late kick. His movement is not like a sprinter. We asked Julien last time to please put pressure on him for the last six furlongs. He has a really strong heart,”
“It was just a maintenance work, I wanted a nice easy work, he gallops out like he always does, nice and strong. We worked him by himself so he wouldn’t go too fast.”
“When he was in company, he grabs the bridle and works more impressive but today we just wanted to keep him going forward. We’ll come back next week and work him and get a stronger breeze in him. Hopefully we can work on Saturday next week. I’ll work him with another horse next week, so he gets a lot more out of it.”
“We didn’t do much running in the Derby. I expected the track to be sealed tight so I told him to stay on the inside and they harrowed it and it was kind of a disaster, we didn’t do that right thing by getting on the rail when it was so deep. It is what it is and we’ll just move on to the next race. Hopefully the Belmont will be a good track that day and we can show that we can run with these horses.”
“He trained this morning and it went well. He’s been through a lot the past couple weeks, so right now we’re just trying to gather up energy and get him feeling good,”
“The plan is for him to breeze on Friday [May 31] or Saturday [June 1] the week prior to the Belmont at Keeneland. If all goes as planned, he’ll get on a van Sunday night or Monday afternoon to New York to arrive for the week of the Belmont,” said Casse. “We’ve had pretty good luck doing it that way, not only with him, but with others. I talked it over with Gary Barber and David Carroll [assistant trainer] and that’s the way we’re going to do it.”
“He came out of it well. We wanted to give him a good finishing work. We’re not looking for track record speed in any regard, it’s just the fact that he comes home and builds some confidence,”
“I thought he [Spinoff] worked well, I think the main track was a bit fast, but he galloped out [six furlongs] in one [minute], twenty-four [seconds] and change and a mile in one [minute] thirty-seven [seconds] and change so it was the kind of big work we were looking for from him today.”
Courtesy of NYRA Press Office
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