by Ryan Martin
A fully-loaded field of 12 juvenile colts will line up in Saturday’s eighth running of the $80,000 Awad going 1 1/16 miles over the inner turf at Belmont Park.
Named in honor of Ryehill Farm’s four-time Grade 1-winner trained by David Donk, the Awad is one of three stakes events carded for the penultimate day of racing for Belmont Park’s fall meet, which also includes the Grade 3, $100,000 Bold Ruler for 3-year-olds and up going seven furlongs on the main track, and the $80,000 Zagora for fillies and mares going 1 ½ miles over the turf.
Madaket Stables’ Wootton Asset will attempt to make his second start in the United States a winning one following a runner-up finish in the Laurel Futurity on October 3 over a yielding Pimlico turf.
The Graham Motion-trained dark bay son of Wootton Basset tracked an unhurried pace on the front end of the 8 ½-furlong event after being bumped and checked in the early stages. He gave chase in mid-stretch to finish second by a nose to Awad-rival Catman.
Motion said he would prefer to see firmer ground for Saturday’s race. While no rain showers are currently in the forecast for Saturday, the National Weather Surface is calling for a 90 percent chance of precipitation for Friday afternoon.
“Interestingly enough, we didn’t want to run him on soft ground, but he seemed to handle it as well as some of the others,” Motion said. “I would prefer firmer turf, but I don’t think we’ll get it. On that day it could have been a matter of who disliked it the least because it seemed like everyone struggled over it. It could very well be the same on Saturday.”
Wootton Asset previously raced in his native France, where he won his first two starts at six and seven furlongs, respectively.
“I only had him a couple of weeks before his last race, so we kind of just ran him right off the plane,” Motion said. “I think he’s done well since. He’s woken up and seems to be pleased with himself. I’m encouraged with the way he’s trained.”
Wootton Asset fired a five-furlong bullet in 1:02.40 on Friday morning at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland.
While Wootton Asset is remaining at a mile and a sixteenth for the time being, Motion said the horse could improve with more distance.
“The jock who rode him last time [Paco Lopez] said the farther he went the better,” said Motion.
Jockey Joel Rosario will pilot Wootton Asset from post 12.
Tim Hamm, conditioner of Grade 3 Schuylerville and Grade 1 Frizette winner Dayoutoftheoffice, will seek more stakes prosperity on the NYRA circuit when he sends out Heat of the Night.
Owned by John Fielding, Fred Hertrich III, and Blazing Meadows Farm, the son of second crop sire Summer Front was an11-1 upset winner on debut going one mile over the Gulfstream Park turf. He then tried his luck against Grade 1 competition at Woodbine, where he was a troubled fifth in the Grade 1 Summer on September 20.
“I really felt he was that caliber,” said Hamm. “It was a rough trip and he was pinned down there on the inside. It happened a few times. He’s such a big horse and the last thing he needs is his momentum stopped. He was really bottled up and never got to stretch his legs until the eighth pole. He was waiting and waiting until he got through. Past the wire, he galloped out in front.”
Despite going to post at long odds on debut, Hamm said he was confident of a strong effort.
“We thought he would run well,” Hamm recalled. “He worked great on turf. He’s a really big horse and when we first started doing his gate schooling, he broke like a quarter horse.”
Jockey Junior Alvarado will be aboard Heat of the Night from post 9.
Trainer Christophe Clement seeks his third victory in the Awad when he saddles maiden winner Space Launch. The son of Bernardini was victorious on debut going one mile over the Widener turf, defeating next out winner Scarlett Sky.
“Everything is good. I’m happy with his training,” said Clement, who previously sent out Awad winners Frostmourne (2016) and Therapist (2017). “There is not much we can do about the weather, but we’re excited to have the chance to run him in a stakes.”
Owned by Athlone Racing, Daniel Burke and Jane Burke, Space Launch is out of the multiple black type producing Awesome Again mare Spacy Tracy, who also produced main track graded stakes winners Benner Island and Victim of Love.
Jockey Manny Franco seeks his fourth Awad triumph from post 7.
Catman, trained and co-owned by Mike Maker with Paradise Farms Corporation, David Staudacher, John Piehowicz, and Angelo Carlesimo, won the Laurel Futurity last out in his stakes debut.
The son of Kitten’s Joy battled for control of the pace in the Laurel Futurity before holding off a late charge from Wootton Asset while breaking his maiden against stakes caliber at third asking.
With jockey Kendrick Carmouche in the irons, Catman will break from post 2.
After acquiring graded stakes black type when third in the Grade 3 Pilgrim, Hayward Pressman, Diamond M Stable and Donna R. Pressman’s Step Dancer will go for his first stakes victory for trainer Barclay Tagg.
The New York-bred son of War Dancer, bred by Sugar Plum Farm and Richard Pressman, was forwardly placed in the Pilgrim while tracking a length behind gate-to-wore winner Fire At Will and finished four lengths behind the pacesetter.
Step Dancer lit up the tote board in his debut on September 4 over a Mellon turf course rated “good” at Saratoga, where he went off at 24-1.
Jockey Dylan Davis was aboard for both career outings and will return to the saddle from post 8.
Completing the field are Shawdyshawdyshawdy [post 1, Jose Lezcano], Like A Saltshaker [post 3, Jose Ortiz], Claw [post 4, John Velazquez]. Kidnapped [post 5, Irad Ortiz, Jr.], Take Profit [post 6, Eric Cancel] It’s A Gamble [post 10, Luis Saez], and It Can Be Done [post 11, Javier Castellano]. Master of the Ring [post 13] is an also eligible.
The Awad is slated as Race 8 on Saturday’s 10-race program, which offers a first post of 12:40 p.m. Eastern. America’s Day at the Races will present daily television coverage of the 27-day fall meet on FOX Sports and MSG Networks. For the complete America’s Day at the Races broadcast schedule, and additional programming information, visit https://www.nyra.com/belmont/racing/tv-schedule.
NYRA Bets is the official wagering platform of Belmont Park, and the best way to bet every race of the 27-day fall meet. Available to horseplayers nationwide, NYRA Bets is currently offering a $200 new member bonus in addition to a host of special weekly offers. The NYRA Bets app is available for download today on iOS and Android at www.NYRABets.com.
Photo Credit: NYRA