OZONE PARK, N.Y.— Maitha Salem Mohammed Belobaida Alsuwaidi’s Group 3-winning sprinter Meraas could be speed of speed in Saturday’s Grade 3, $200,000 Bold Ruler, a six-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds and upward, at the Belmont at the Big A fall meet.
The Bold Ruler co-headlines a stacked card that includes the Grade 2, $300,000 Kelso, a one-turn mile for 3-year-olds and upward offering the top-four finishers a free nomination and starting fee in the Grade 1, $750,000 Cigar Mile slated for December 3 at the Big A. Also featured Saturday are the $120,000 Awad at 1 1/16-miles on turf for juveniles and the $120,000 Pumpkin Pie at seven furlongs on the main track for fillies and mares 3 years old and up.
Meraas finished a pacesetting third in his North American debut in a six-furlong optional claimer in September at Saratoga Race Course.
With Antonio Fresu up for trainer Chad Summers, Meraas blitzed through splits of 22.14 seconds and 44.76 over the fast main track. But the 5-year-old Oasis Dream gelding could not maintain the tempo in his first start from a seven-month layoff, finishing 4 1/2-lengths back of Elite Power, who exited that race to win the Grade 2 Vosburgh here. The runner-up of that event, Hoist the Gold, has since completed the exacta in a Churchill Downs allowance and the Perryville at Keeneland.
Summers said he was proud of the effort from Meraas to stay on strong in his first start off the layoff while under pace pressure from the Kendrick Carmouche-piloted Foolish Ghost, who faded to fifth.
“In hindsight, he might have been a work short. We went a little fast,” Summers said. “Antonio said he was trying to give him a little breather and Kendrick was in second and smooching at his horse and every time our horse heard the smooch, he wanted to take off again.
“I thought he ran admirably off the long layoff,” added Summers. “We always thought he would come on from that race and this is the next spot.”
Meraas entered his Spa debut from a three-quarter length score in the Group 3 Al Shindagha Sprint in February at Meydan for former conditioner Musabbeh Al Mheiri. He had made his first 12 starts on either grass  or synthetic  for conditioner Mark Johnston, but found rejuvenated form when trying the Meydan dirt, besting a field of 11 by 4 3/4-lengths in December while under top weight of 137 pounds ahead of his Group 3 score.
Meraas has worked swiftly every other week over the Belmont dirt training track in preparation for the Bold Ruler, including a bullet five-eighths breeze in 59 seconds flat on October 7 followed by a bullet five furlongs in 59.40 on October 19.
“He’s training super. He galloped out tremendously two works back,” Summers said of the October 7 breeze. “With a horse like him that’s so brilliantly fast, he’s not a horse that you want to breeze once a week. We give him time between his breezes and let him be happy. He just does it on his own.”
Summers said he had initially wanted to come back in the Vosburgh on October 8, but with that race increased in distance by one furlong to seven-eighths this year, he decided to wait for the Bold Ruler to take advantage of his gelding’s abundant speed.
“His first step isn’t his fastest but it’s after he gets into his rhythm, he’s naturally fast,” Summers said. “He’s super fresh coming into this race and he’s been ready to go for a few weeks now. We’re very excited about Saturday.”
Flavien Prat has the call from the inside post carrying 125 pounds.
West Point Thoroughbreds and Marvin Delfiner’s graded-stakes winner Jaxon Traveler [post 4, Irad Ortiz, Jr., 125 pounds] could be the one to push Meraas on the front end for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.
The 4-year-old Maryland-bred Munnings colt was a gate-to-wire winner of the Grade 3 Maryland Sprint in May at Pimlico Race Course before switching to turf and landing third in the restricted Ben’s Cat on July 30 at Laurel Park. He enters from a distant second to Sibelius in the six-furlong Lite the Fuse on September 10 at Pimlico.
The ultra-consistent Jaxon Traveler, who boasts a record of 18-6-7-4 for purse earnings of $598,810, has finished second in both previous Big A starts, including in last year’s Gravesend.
Dublin Fjord Stables, Racepoint Stables, Kevin D. Hilbert and Thomas E. O’Keefe’s multiple graded stakes-winning millionaire Drafted [post 2, Trevor McCcarthy, 125 pounds] will look to close into the expected fast Bold Ruler pace.
Trained by David Duggan, the late-running gray finished a distant third last out in the aforementioned Vosburgh over a fast Big A main track. Drafted was third throughout the Vosburgh as Elite Power marked the half-mile in 47.68 and six furlongs in 1:11.87, drawing off to a 5 3/4-length score in a final time of 1:23.98.
“He came out of it in good shape. The flow of the race didn’t quite suit his style, but he came back fine,” Duggan said. “We know his running style – he needs a fast pace and needs to be off it – but the dynamics of the race didn’t play into his wheelhouse. We altered his style to try and give ourselves a chance, but the winner is an exceptional horse.”
Duggan said the potential pace battle should benefit Drafted.
“We’ll probably get a little more pace in this race and that plays better for us. The last race was cat-and-mouse and it just didn’t play in our favor,” Duggan said. “He’s a true late-running sprinter. That’s his gig. Even though he’s had decent numbers [at] seven-eighths, his main thing is having pace to run into. He always finishes well when he has that pace.”
The 8-year-old Field Commission gelding has posted a record of 7-3-1-1 this year, including Grade 3 wins in the seven-furlong Toboggan in February at Aqueduct and the six-furlong Runhappy in May at Belmont. He finished a distant fifth when ambitiously placed in the seven-furlong Grade 1 Forego in August.
“He’s in a good rhythm this year and shown up every time at his right level,” Duggan said. “We tested the waters a little too deeply at Saratoga and found where we belong. There’s a series of races here in the next few months that fit where he belongs.”
Duggan is enjoying a resurgence this year with a record of 47-13-5-4 for purse earnings of $829,330 – nearly doubling his win and purse totals from last year when he sent out 51 starters. His record at the Belmont at the Big A meet is a solid 8-3-0-2.
“We’ve had a great year,” Duggan said. “It all comes down to the quality of the horses you have and keeping them consistently running well. We’ve been lucky enough to have the right horses and have them in the right spots.”
Trainer Norman Cash has entered a trio of contenders in Eastern Bay [post 7, Javier Castellano, 121 pounds], Jalen Journey [post 10, J.D. Acosta, 123 pounds] and Steinbeck [post 6, Dylan Davis, 118 pounds].
Eastern Bay, trained and co-owned by Cash and Lola Cash, closed from last-of-5 to finish second in the Vosburgh under Hall of Fame rider Javier Castellano.
The 8-year-old E Dubai gelding also completed the exacta in his only other graded attempt, finishing a nose behind Laki in the 2020 Grade 3 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash at Pimlico.
Bred in Maryland by Nancy Lee Farms, Eastern Bay, an 18-time winner, has posted a record of 10-6-2-0 this year for purse earnings of $316,507. Four of his wins this year have come in optional claimers at Laurel Park.
Jalen Journey, a 7-year-old With Distinction ridgling also owned by Cash with Lola Cash, was elevated to victory in last year’s Grade 3 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash following the disqualification of Wondrwherecraigis.
Cash claimed Jalen Journey for $50,000 out of a winning effort at Colonial in July and the Florida-bred bay paid immediate dividends when elevated to victory in the Chesapeake following the disqualification of Necker Island.
A veteran of 26 starts, Jalen’s Journey has posted a record of 10-3-2, including a Grade 1-placing when third in the 2019 Bing Crosby at Del Mar.
Built Wright Stables’ sophomore Kentucky-bred Steinbeck, a $650,000 purchase at the Fasig-Tipton Florida Select 2-Year-Olds in Training Sale, has posted a record of 14-2-2-1.
The Frosted gray, who will be making his stakes debut, garnered a career-best 91 Beyer two starts back in a six-furlong allowance sprint against older company at the Big A. He enters from a last-of-12 effort in a nine-furlong optional claimer on October 20 at Keeneland.
Karen Zimmerman’s multiple graded stakes-placed Runninsonofagun [post 8, Kendrick Carmouche, 118 pounds] has hit the board in four consecutive graded events for trainer John Toscano, Jr.
The Gun Runner sophomore completed the exacta behind Charge It in the one-mile Grade 3 Dwyer in July at Belmont ahead of third-place finishes in the 6 1/2-furlong Grade 2 Amsterdam and seven-furlong Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial this summer at the Spa. Last out, Runninsonofagun closed to complete the trifecta in the six-furlong Grade 2 Gallant Bob on September 24 at Parx.
Rounding out the 10-horse field are Factor It In [post 3, Jorge Ruiz, 121 pounds], last-out winner of the restricted Challedon on October 1 at Laurel for trainer Carlos Mancilla; graded-stakes placed Greeley and Ben [post 5, Jorge Vargas, Jr., 123 pounds], a 21-time winner conditioned by Jeffrey Englehart; and multiple graded stakes-placed Repo Rocks [post 9, Andrew Wolfsont, 121 pounds] for trainer Gregory DiPrima.
The Bold Ruler is slated as Race 9 on Saturday’s 10-race card. First post is 12:35 p.m. Eastern.
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By Keith McCalmont – NYRA Press Office
Main photo by NYRA/Coglianese
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