ELMONT, N.Y. – Trainer Todd Pletcher will be well-represented with three contenders in Saturday’s Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets. But the Hall of Fame conditioner will also send out a strong contingent in another 1 1/2-mile graded stakes contest on the day, with Ajaaweed and Moretti forming a potent one-two punch in the Grade 2, $400,000 Brooklyn Invitational presented by Northwell Health for 4-year-olds and up.
Carded as Race 4 on the 13-race slate, the 134th running of the Brooklyn is part of a sensational card on Saturday at Belmont Park that includes nine graded stakes and eight Grade 1 events, making it the only Grade 2 race on the Breeders’ Cup-quality program.
Pletcher, who won last year’s Brooklyn edition with Marconi, has a strong chance for repeat success with Shadwell Stable’s homebred Ajaaweed, who improved suddenly last out in the Flat Out on April 30 over Big Sandy.
Ajaaweed showed potential when starting his career in former trainer Kiaran McLaughlin’s barn as a 2-year-old in 2019 before he abruptly fell off the Kentucky Derby Trail in early 2020.
The Curlin colt was given an 11-month respite, returning in January at Gulfstream Park for Pletcher. His first back featured an eighth-place finish, beaten 26 ½ lengths in a one-mile optional claimer, on January 31. His fortunes didn’t improve much in his next start at Aqueduct Racetrack, where he was again beaten double-digit lengths on March 14. But everything changed once he was stretched out to 1 3/8 miles in the Flat Out, as he closed strongly in the stretch to nearly overtake Musical Heart before settling for second.
“He gave us that impression he would do well with some added distance,” Pletcher said of Ajaaweed, who earned a 99 Beyer Speed Figure for his Flat Out performance. “He just keeps galloping. He was coming on strong there in the end, he just got up there a little too late. Hopefully, we identified what he really wants to do.”
With Ajaaweed being a potential up-and-comer at marathon distances, the other half of the Pletcher’s duo, Moretti, brings much-needed experience to the table for owners Repole Stable and Eclipse Thoroughbreds.
The 5-year-old son of Medaglia d’Oro hasn’t run since August 2 of last year, when he won the 1 3/4-mile Birdstone at Saratoga Race Course, though his proficiency at longer distances is well-documented. Coincidentally, it was actually in the 2020 edition of the Flat Out that Moretti first showed an affinity for marathons. He won the 1 3/8-mile race by 5 ¼ lengths and followed with a second-place finish in the Grade 2, 1 1/4-mile Suburban before his year came to a premature end in the Birdstone.
“I think this is what he does best,” Pletcher said. “It’s a tall order to run a mile and a half off the long layoff. I hope we have him fit enough. I like the way he breezed on Friday; he galloped out nice and strong so hopefully that’s got him nice and cranked up.”
Ajaaweed and Moretti will break from posts 7 and 6, respectively, with Hall of Famer John Velazquez and Irad Ortiz, Jr. set to ride.
The winner of the Flat Out, Musical Heart, will also be back for more in the Brooklyn. A $62,500 claim by trainer Rob Atras and owners Michael Dubb and Michael Caruso on November 13 of last year, Musical Heart had been knocking on the door in stakes company for his new connections until his breakthrough finally came in the Flat Out, which he won in wire-to-wire fashion by three-quarters of a length with a 99 Beyer. The 6-year-old son of Maclean’s Music will break from post 5 with Kendrick Carmouche aboard.
The Brooklyn additionally attracted a few out-of-town shippers to spice up an eclectic lineup of older dirt horses. Chief among these runners is the 4-year-old Tizamagician, who hails from California and enters the race off a dominant, nine-length win in the Grade 3 Tokyo City on April 18 at Santa Anita Park.
A Tiznow colt trained by Hall of Famer Richard Mandella for MyRacehorse and Spendthrift Farm, Tizamagician has really come to hand in 2021, with a win in an optional claimer to begin the year and runner-up finish in the Grade 2 San Pasqual to go along with his coming-out party in the 1 ½-mile Tokyo City. He will be ridden by Flavien Prat from post 8.
Joining Tizamagician from the West Coast is veteran marathoner Campaign, who’s had a down 2021 thus far but is a two-time graded stakes-winner at the distance and missed by less than a length in this race in 2019. Trained by John Sadler for Woodford Racing, Campaign will break from post 3 with Luis Saez in the irons as he looks to bounce back following a distant fourth-place finish in an optional claimer at Oaklawn Park on April 11.
“He’s coming into it well,” Sadler said. “We’re adding the blinkers for this race. He’s trained well with them on at Santa Anita. Two years ago, he was right there and just got beat, so we’re going back. The big wide turns and the distance should suit him.”
Ubiquitous horseman Robertino Diodoro will be represented by Lone Rock, another shipper that appears well meant in this spot. Reminiscent of Musical Heart, Lone Rock was claimed by Diodoro and owner Flying P Stable for $40,000 last fall at Churchill Downs, and the 6-year-old gelding has been terrific in 2021, particularly at 12 furlongs.
Three starts ago, Lone Rock just missed in the 1 1/2-mile Temperence Hill at Oaklawn Park, and he’s since rattled off two victories at this distance, including an open-length score last out in the Marathon Overnight on April 27 at Churchill Downs. Lone Rock will again be ridden by Ramon Vazquez, who has been aboard for his last two wins, and the duo will depart from the outermost post 9.
Rounding out the field for the Brooklyn are Ry’s the Guy and You’re to Blame, second and fourth, respectively, last out in the Marathon Overnight, and Rocketry, a salty older marathoner for trainer Jimmy Jerkens who finished third in the Flat Out in his most recent outing.
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Belmont Park Press Release
Photo: Ajaaweed, (Churchill Downs)