Drafted heads to the winner’s circle after his win in the 2022 edition of the Runhappy (Janet Garaguso)
By Ryan Martin – NYRA Press Office
ELMONT, N.Y.— Dublin Fjord Stables, Racepoint Stables, Kevin D. Hilbert and Thomas E. O’Keefe’s 9-year-old warhorse Drafted will return off a brief layoff to attempt a repeat score in Saturday’s Grade 3, $175,000 Runhappy at Belmont Park.
The six-furlong test for older horses will be Drafted’s first start since finishing sixth in the Grade 3 Tom Fool Handicap on March 4 at Aqueduct Racetrack for trainer David Duggan. The gray Field Commission gelding was a one-length winner of last year’s Runhappy, where he progressed through each point of call to collar graded stakes-winner Chateau in deep stretch.
Following a dual Group 3-winning campaign in Dubai from 2017-20 with trainer Doug Watson, Drafted joined Duggan’s stable and made his debut for the Irish conditioner when fifth in the 2020 Grade 3 Fall Highweight at Aqueduct. He won his ninth start for Duggan with an emphatic 4 1/2-length score in the Grade 3 Toboggan last February at the Big A, where he garnered a career-best 97 Beyer Speed Figure before capturing the Runhappy two starts later.
Initially slated for stakes action at Laurel Park, Drafted remained at Duggan’s Belmont barn due to issues with the main track at the Maryland oval.
“He’s training well now and we freshened him up a bit after the last race,” Duggan said. “Originally, we were going to go to Laurel with him and then with everything going on with the track down there we decided to scratch that idea. We wanted to take a step back and go the conservative route with him.”
Drafted is the field’s lone millionaire, bragging earnings of $1,176,943 through a 35-10-3-5 record. Although he has proven to be a very useful horse over the years, Duggan admits that he can be a bit difficult to train.
“He gallops with the pony in the mornings. We keep it fairly simple with him,” Duggan said. “When he works, he works fast. It’s basically just maintenance after that. He isn’t the easiest to ride and is a bit hard to control. But he put us back on the map and has been a great horse to be around. He’s a bit like a rockstar, he’s got that ambiance to him.”
Breaking from post 1, Drafted will be reunited with jockey Jose Ortiz, who piloted the horse to his Toboggan and Runhappy conquests last year.
Mr Phil will make his second start off an eight-month layoff for trainer Rob Atras.
The 6-year-old Mr Speaker gelding went gate-to-wire in an April 20 allowance optional claimer, where he fended off a late rally from fellow Runhappy aspirant Stage Left to win by a neck. The victory was his ninth career trip to the winner’s circle and first start since finishing a distant third in the restricted Tale of the Cat on August 10 at Saratoga Race Course.
After claiming Mr Phil from trainer Jim Ryerson last February, Atras saddled the talented bay to three straight wins, including a local seven-furlong allowance optional claimer where he earned a career-best 101 Beyer Speed Figure. He followed with a distant fifth to 2021 Champion Sprinter Jackie’s Warrior in the Grade 2 True North in June at Belmont.
Mr Phil spent his downtime with Bruce Jackson at Fair Hill Training Center.
“I think the freshening really helped him. He was at Bruce Jackson’s for a while and they always look good coming back from there. He put a good foundation underneath him so I didn’t need to do too much to get him ready,” said Atras, who saddled Chateau to a runner-up effort in last year’s Runhappy. “He had a big winter last year rattling off a few wins and then he met some pretty stiff competition. He tailed off in form just a little bit after that tough winter, so we gave him a little break and took care of a few things to try to get him back in form.”
Mr Phil was the pacesetter in all four of his victories for Atras. But nevertheless, Atras said he’s not a horse that needs the lead. He came from off the front end in three of his wins for Ryerson.
“He does get quite brave on the front end, but I don’t think he needs to be there,” Atras said. “If he can break sharp and be in the front, that’s always a positive, but he has come from right off the pace before.”
Mr Phil, owned by Sanford Goldfarb, Madaket Stables, Jorge Casal and The Estate of Ira Davis, will break from post 6 under Manny Franco.
Trainer Butch Reid, Jr. will saddle the highly consistent Beren, who returns to Big Sandy for the first time since May 2021 when capturing both the Gold Fever and an off-the-turf edition of the Paradise Creek.
Owned by St. Omer’s Farm and Christopher Feifarek, Beren has finished no worse than third in his last seven starts dating back to a 3 1/4-length score in the Jump Start in October against fellow Pennsylvania-breds at Parx Racing.
Beren, a seven-time stakes winner, has proven to be a well-traveled specimen having notched stakes victories over four different courses. In addition to Belmont and Parx, he won the Danzig in October 2021 at Penn National and the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash in July at Laurel Park.
“He’s doing extremely well so we decided to take a shot,” Reid, Jr. said. “He’s been fantastic and he’s danced every dance and gives it his all every time he goes over there. He certainly doesn’t need to take his racetrack with him. He handles it well. Parx has been a little deep lately, so that’s one of the reasons I decided to send him over there. I think he’ll handle the track well, especially if there’s some rain. He likes an off track.”
Reid, Jr. spoke volumes of Beren’s sire Weigelia, who was a multiple-graded stakes winning sprinter.
“I’ve had many of them over the years and they’ve all been cash cows,” Reid, Jr. said. “They’re solid, solid horses that you can take anywhere.”
Beren is out of multiple graded-stakes winning Maryland-bred Silmaril, who won at least one stakes race for five consecutive years and banked just over $1 million in earnings.
Irad Ortiz, Jr. will pick up the mount aboard Beren from post 2.
Frank Fletcher Racing Operations’ Candy Man Rocket will try to make amends following an uncharacteristic 10th in the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap on April 15 at Oaklawn Park.
Following a narrow runner-up to Beren in the 2021 Gold Fever, the son of Candy Ride was out of action until the following February when capturing a seven-furlong Gulfstream Park allowance optional claimer in wire-to-wire fashion for Hall of Famer Bill Mott. Despite being forced to the sidelines once more, he earned a career-best 94 Beyer off an 11-month layoff with an allowance optional claiming win at the South Florida oval on January 21 before winning the Gulfstream Park Sprint on February 25.
Junior Alvarado will retain the mount from post 4.
Completing the field are Twisted Ride [post 3, Andy Hernandez], who rides a four-race win streak for trainer Michael Moore, and the David Jacobson-owned and trained Stage Left [post 5, Javier Castellano] – winner of the King T. Leatherbury at Laurel Park last out.
The Runhappy honors Jim McIngvale’s 2015 Champion Sprinter, whose memorable victories include the Grade 1 King’s Bishop [now the H. Allen Jerkens Memorial] at Saratoga, the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Keeneland and the Grade 1 Malibu at Santa Anita.
The Runhappy is carded as Race 9 on Saturday’s 11-race program, which also features the Grade 1, $600,000 Man o’ War and the Grade 3, $200,000 Peter Pan. First post is 1:00 p.m. Eastern.