ELMONT, N.Y. – Vegso Racing Stable’s multiple graded stakes-winner Officiating will look to return to winning form in Saturday’s Grade 3, $150,000 Runhappy, a six-furlong sprint for older horses, at Belmont Park.
The Runhappy, slated as Race 5, tops a lucrative card which boasts five graded stakes, including the Grade 1, $700,000 Man o’ War in Race 8; the Grade 3, $200,000 Peter Pan in Race 9; the Grade 3, $150,000 Beaugay in Race 10; and the Grade 3, $150,000 Vagrancy in Race 3.
Trained by Saffie Joseph, Jr., the 4-year-old Blame colt romped to a 5 1/2-length victory at Aqueduct Racetrack in the Grade 3 Tom Fool Handicap on March 5 over returning rival Chateau, but faltered to fourth last out in the six-furlong Sprint on March 27 at Tampa Bay Downs.
“I think I ran him back a little too quick last time in that Florida-bred race at Tampa,” Joseph, Jr. said. “We’re looking forward to getting him back to New York where he ran good last time and hopefully he’ll follow suit again.”
Officiating won the seven-furlong Grade 3 Mr. Prospector in December at Gulfstream Park, besting older horses by three-quarters of a length in the final start of his sophomore campaign. He followed by completing the trifecta behind the victorious Speaker’s Corner and runner-up Fearless in the one-mile Grade 3 Fred W. Hooper in his seasonal debut on January 29 at the Hallandale Beach, Florida oval.
He then shipped north to Aqueduct and easily bested a field of five in the Tom Fool, drawing away to an emphatic score under returning rider Manny Franco. Joseph, Jr. said he is hopeful Franco can work out a similar trip when again taking on four others on Saturday.
“It looks like a similar race to the Tom Fool that he won with a small field. Hopefully, he can sit a similar kind of trip and get some pace to run at,” Joseph, Jr. said.
Officiating, a Florida homebred, will leave from post 5.
Michael Dubb’s Chateau, who boasts a record of 40-8-11-10 for purse earnings of $655,019, is in search of his first win at Belmont.
Trained by Rob Atras, the 7-year-old Flatter gelding set the pace in last year’s Runhappy and stayed on strong to finish second, 3 1/4-lengths back of Firenze Fire.
The pacey dark bay made the grade last March in the Grade 3 Tom Fool Handicap at Aqueduct and has hit the board in 5-of-7 starts since, including a score in the six-furlong Gravesend in December at the Big A.
Chateau, who will be racing from a two-month layoff out of the Tom Fool, tried seven furlongs when fourth in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap last April at the Big A, but Atras said it has been difficult finding suitable spots recently, while trying to keep the hard-trying dark bay at six furlongs.
“He had a foot issue but it has been a little tough finding races for him. We tried the Carter and seven-eighths and that wasn’t ideal,” Atras said. “It would have been nice to run again at Aqueduct because he’s run so well there, but he has run some good races at Belmont, too.”
Atras said he is hopeful Kendrick Carmouche will be able to conserve some of Chateau’s abundant energy for the lengthy Big Sandy stretch run.
“There’s been a few starts where Kendrick has been able to rate him on the front end and he’s had some horse left and a little spurt towards the end of the race,” Atras said. “I’m hoping we can save some horse and finish a little stronger.”
Chateau breezed a bullet half-mile in 48.01 seconds Sunday over a Belmont dirt training track rated muddy.
“He worked really well,” Atras said. “We worked after the break and the track was back-raked, but it wasn’t that bad. I was able to put a good work into him, and I was really happy with the way he went.”
Chateau will emerge from post 1.
Atras could also saddle Sanford J. Goldfarb, Alan Kahn, Estate of Ira Davis and Samuel Abraham’s Mr Phil for his stakes debut.
Atras haltered the 5-year-old Mr Speaker gelding for $32,000 out of a runner-up effort in a six-furlong sprint on February 27 at the Big A. He is 2-for-2 since, taking a pair of optional-claiming sprints at Aqueduct in gate-to-wire fashion. He garnered a career-best 92 Beyer last out contesting six furlongs over a fast Big A main track.
“I’ve really liked him since we got him,” Atras said. “That first race for us, he got out in front and got real brave and I think that picked up his confidence for the next race. He’s a nice horse and he’s real confident right now. That’s a dangerous combo.”
Atras said Mr Phil could scratch from Saturday’s test in favor of an allowance spot next week at Belmont.
“It’s a short field and I entered to take a look at it. Things can change a lot in 48 hours in this game, so at least we have the option,” Atras said. “Most likely, only Chateau will run. If something comes up where there are a couple scratches, we might consider it. But chances are we’ll be looking towards a ‘3X’ with him.”
Mr Phil was assigned the outermost post 6 under Abner Adorno.
Dublin Fjord Stables, Racepoint Stables, Kevin Hilbert and Thomas O’Keefe’s Drafted enters from a fifth-place finish last out in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap on April 9 at the Big A.
The 8-year-old Field Commission gelding posted a 4 1/2-length score in the seven-furlong Grade 3 Toboggan in February at Aqueduct ahead of his Carter effort.
The well-traveled Drafted made a winning debut in 2016 at Keeneland ahead of stakes efforts at Ascot and Del Mar. He competed in Dubai from 2017 through 2020, capturing a pair of Group 3 wins for conditioner Doug Watson at Meydan Racecourse, before returning to North America in November 2020 with Duggan.
Drafted was eased last year in the Runhappy and did not return until nearly five months later, running a close fifth in an optional-claimer in October at Belmont.
Drafted found rejuvenated form over the winter at the Big A, finishing third in the Gravesend in December before registering a career-best 97 Beyer Speed Figure in the Toboggan.
Jose Ortiz, aboard for the Toboggan score, has the call from post 2.
Rounding out the field are multiple graded stakes-placed Repo Rocks [post 3, Ruben Silvera], and graded stakes-placed Answer In [post 4, Flavien Prat].
NYRA Press Office
Photo: Chelsea Durand