Hard Love faces ultimate test in G2 Pennine Ridge

May 23, 2021

ELMONT, N.Y. – Hard Love proved stakes capabilities in his 2021 debut and will attempt to display his talent once more against eight others in Saturday’s eighth running of the Grade 2, $200,000 Pennine Ridge, a nine-furlong test for 3-year-olds over the inner turf at Belmont Park.

Owned by Robert V. LaPenta and George Strawbridge, Jr.’s Augustin Stable, Hard Love utilized tactical speed last out in the Woodhaven on April 17 at Aqueduct, where he tracked a half-length behind pacesetter Original along the rail before drawing off in the stretch to a 1 ¼-length victory.  

Following a two-length first out debut win over the Widener turf course on October 10, the Kitten’s Joy ridgling finished second to Never Surprised in the Central Park on November 28 at Aqueduct.

Hard Love will stretch out slightly in the nine-furlong Pennine Ridge, with all three of his starts having taken place going 1 1/16 miles. Trainer Jonathan Thomas, who saddled Catholic Boy to a Pennine Ridge triumph in 2018 for LaPenta, said the horse will relish any added distance that comes his way.

“My guess is that the further the races get, the closer to the pace he’ll be,” Thomas said. “He seems to have pretty good tactical speed. I would imagine the further the run, the better he’s going to get. His strength is his stamina.”

The Pennine Ridge is a local prep for the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Derby Invitational on July 10, which is the first leg of NYRA’s Turf Triple series.

Thomas has the 10-furlong event in mind for Hard Love with a strong effort on Saturday.

“Each race is a test and a stepping stone to the next,” Thomas said. “We’re trying to get to the Belmont Derby but the Pennine Ridge is no slouch of a race either. He’s going to have to show up and run really well. Obviously, we have our dirt classics, but NYRA bringing this series to the forefront is great. There are some really good grass races and some really, really good turf horses. Each task gets taller as it goes on.”

Hard Love put the final touches on his Pennine Ridge preparations with a sharp half-mile work over the inner turf on Sunday morning in tandem with Burning Bright. The pair completed the four furlongs in 47.60 seconds.

“Overall, I thought the work was pretty good,” Thomas said. “I thought his last two five-eighths works were very good as well. From a preparation standpoint, he’s dead fit and it will be a matter of trip and everything else.”

Hard Love will be reunited with Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano from post 4.

Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher, who won the inaugural Pennine Ridge with Gala Award in 2014, will seek his second win in the race when he saddles graded stakes-placed Sainthood and maiden special weight winner Shaftesbury.

Owned by WinStar Farm and China Horse Club, Sainthood will make his turf debut after an 11th-place finish in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby.

A son of second crop sire Mshawish, a Grade 1- winner on dirt and turf also trained by Pletcher, Sainthood won at second asking in his two-turn debut at Fair Grounds Race Course, where he led at every point of call. He followed up with a late-closing second to Like the King in the Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks on March 27 over the all-weather surface at Turfway Park.

Since the Kentucky Derby, Sainthood has worked twice over the inner turf at Belmont Park. Pletcher said Sainthood has the potential to succeed on turf given his pedigree, being out of the turf stakes-placed Lemon Drop Kid mare Lemon Hero.

“He and Mshawish have similar physiques and like Mshawish, this one seems pretty versatile,” Pletcher said. “We’ve had turf in the back of our minds with this one all along. With him being out of a Lemon Drop Kid mare and being by Mshawish, his breeding suggested that. I thought his two works on the turf here were really good.”

Sainthood will break from post 5 under jockey Joel Rosario.

While Sainthood brings stakes experience to his next engagement, Shaftesbury will dive into deeper waters after making his fifth start a winning one travelling 1 1/16-miles on April 24 at Belmont Park.

Owned by Repole Stable, St. Elias Stable and Coolmore partners Michael Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier and Derrick Smith, the bay son of Uncle Mo broke his maiden by 2 ¾ lengths after finishing behind solid runners such as dual stakes-winner Annex at second asking.

“He’s held good company,” Pletcher said. “His last race was a good race and hopefully was a breakthrough race to lead us into some better things.”

Breaking from post 3, Shaftesbury will be ridden by jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr.

Trainer Chad Brown will seek a record extending third Pennine Ridge triumph with Klaravich Stables’ Public Sector.

The bay son of European champion Kingman earned black type when finishing second to Fire At Will in the Grade 2 Pilgrim on October 3 at Belmont Park, which came after defeating eventual graded stakes winner Scarlett Sky by two lengths on debut at Saratoga.

After a distant 12th in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, Public Sector received a freshening and came back on May 2 to finish second beaten 2 ½ lengths to fellow Pennine Ridge rival Safe Conduct [post 8, Jose Lezcano].

Jockey Jose Ortiz has the mount from post 7.

Completing the field are Shawdyshawdyshawdy [post 1, John Velazquez], Step Dancer [post 2, Manny Franco], Minuteman [post 6, Luis Saez], and The Reds [post 9, Kendrick Carmouche].

The Pennine Ridge is carded as Race 9 on Saturday’s 10-race program at Belmont Park. First post is 1:00 p.m.

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