â€¢ Stewart has high hopes for Belmont contender Tale of Verve â€¢ Mubtaahij breezes for Belmont Stakes bid
ELMONT, N.Y. - Trainer Dallas Stewart could not have been more pleased with the appearance of Belmont Stakes contender Tale of Verve Sunday morning as he watched the Preakness runner-up grazing outside the barn following a 1 Â½-mile gallop around Belmont Park's main oval.
"He had a good long gallop all the way around the track yesterday and today under [exercise rider and apprentice jockey] Cortez Walker, who's from Hattiesburg, Mississippi," said Stewart, who arrived in New York late Saturday evening to supervise the rest of Tale of Verve's Belmont preparations, which will include a final breeze either Thursday, Friday or Saturday. "The horse looks great, his appetite is great - he had five scoops last night. He's doing really well. I'm pleased with the way he's handling things up here."
Tale of Verve was an also-eligible for the Kentucky Derby but failed to draw into the body of the race. He entered the Preakness off a solitary maiden win at Keeneland Race Course and then closed with an impressive late kick to finish second to Triple Crown hopeful American Pharoah at 28-1 in the Preakness.
"When we had him down in New Orleans I felt the races were too short for him," said Stewart of Charles Fipke's homebred son of Tale of Ekati. "Finally he got one 1 1/16 miles and he ran second. He gave me the feeling he's got a chance to be a good horse, and that's the way I approached it. When he won at Keeneland [against older horses] going 1 3/16ths I thought 'Man, he's not even blowing at all. He can handle this.' He's got a lot of physical ability."
Tale of Verve may have only a maiden victory on his resume, but has finished off the board only once in seven career starts, a seventh-place finish after being checked in a mile and 70 yard maiden at the Fair Grounds. His one win, two seconds and two thirds have earned him $354,640, $300,000 of which came from his second-place finish at Pimlico.
"You think how many foals were born his year [approximately 21,725, according to the Jockey Club], and of those, there are only nine shots to be 1-2-3 in the classics, and he's one of them," said Stewart. "We want to get the win for him. With his breeding, the way he eats, the way he handles himself, I think he can do it." . * * *
Group 2 UAE Derby winner Mubtaahij breezed an easy five furlongs in preparation for the Belmont Stakes on Sunday morning in his third official work since arriving in New York on May 15.
Breaking from the half-mile pole, the Irish-bred son of Dubawi worked over Belmont's main track in company with regular workmate Umgiyo. Mubtaahij finished several lengths ahead of his stablemate, earning an official time of 1:03.16, the 18th-fastest time of 24 at the distance.
Trained by South African-based conditioner Mike de Kock, Mubtaahij targeted the Belmont Stakes following an eighth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. Umgiyo, most recently ninth in Churchill Downs' Grade 1 Turf Classic, is nominated to the Grade 1 Knob Creek Manhattan and the Belmont Gold Cup Invitational during the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival
Recently, de Kock announced via Twitter that local jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. will be named to ride Mubtaahij in the Belmont Stakes. . * * *
Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey had a cadre of workers out this morning for the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival, but it was Grade 1 Metropilitan Handicap hopeful Honor Code who perhaps had the most eye-catching move, covering five furlongs in a bullet 59.91 seconds under jockey Javier Castellano.
The move was the fastest of 24 at the distance for Honor Code, who is looking to bounce back from a fifth-place finish in the Grade 2 Alysheba at Churchill Downs. The A.P. Indy ridgling opened his 2015 campaign with a victory over Private Zone in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap.
"He did it easily," said McGaughey. "He left his company [Gold Shield] behind. I thought that would carry him along a little father, but Javier said everything was good. He galloped out good, finished good ... all systems go so far.
"I just don't think he liked the track at Churchill, or at least that's what I'm banking on," he added. "He came out of the race good and has had a couple of good works here at Belmont."
Also out for McGaughey were J Wonder, who went four furlongs in 49.05 on the inner turf in preparation for the Grade 1 Longines Just a Game; Reflecting, who covered the same distance in 49.83 for the Belmont Gold Cup Invitational on Friday, June 5, and multiple Grade 1 winner Imagining, who turned in a bullet five-furlong move in 1:00.08, also on the inner turf.
McGaughey said, however, he was not sure whether the 7-year-old Imagining, a disappointing fifth in the Grade 1 Man o' War, would run in the Grade 1 Knob Creek Manhattan.
"He worked good, I just might give him a little more time," he said.
* * *
Trainer Chad Brown is pointing a strong contingent of horses to possible Belmont Stakes Racing Festival assignments, led by multiple Grade 1 winners Big Blue Kitten, who is targeting the Grade 1 Knob Creek Manhattan on June 6, and Stephanie's Kitten, who is likely for the Grade 2 New York on June 5.
A 7-year-old son of Kitten's Joy, Big Blue Kitten returned to the races with authority in 2015, taking the Grade 3 Fort Marcy by 2 Â¼ lengths in his seasonal bow. Two years ago, the bay horse captured the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Invitational and Grade 1 United Nations at 1 Â½ miles and 1 3/8 miles, respectively.
"We're very proud of this horse," said Brown, who trains Big Blue Kitten for Ken and Sarah Ramsey. "At his age, to come off that long a layoff and show such an explosive move in the Fort Marcy is very impressive. He's always been a horse we can rely on though, so we're not surprised by it."
Last year's Grade 1 Flower Bowl winner Stephanie's Kitten has not run since winning the Grade 3 Hillsborough at Tampa Bay Downs in March, but is on track to make her next appearance in the 1 Â¼-mile New York. The 6-year-old mare was entered to face males on the Kentucky Derby undercard in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, but was scratched the morning of the race.
"It was a timing issue when I had her entered in Kentucky; it wasn't really a suitable race for her," said Brown. "The New York is always what we planned on running her in. She seems to be training very well; she breezed well here yesterday."
Grade 1 Jenny Wiley winner Ball Dancing is likely headed to the Grade 1, one-mile Longines Just a Game on Belmont Stakes Day. The Exchange Rate filly finished second to her stablemate Stephanie's Kitten in the Hillsborough to kick off the year before capturing the 1 1/16-mile Jenny Wiley by 2 Â½ lengths in her most recent start.
"She hasn't run since the Jenny Wiley, but she's training very well," said Brown. "I don't think the cut back to a mile will bother her, we cut her back successfully to 1 1/16 miles in the Jenny Wiley, and she should be able to cut back a touch further."
Coming off a rousing win in a 1 Â½-mile allowance at Keeneland, Innovation Economy is possible for the second edition of the Belmont Gold Cup Invitational. The son of Dynaformer is 2-for-2 in his career at marathon distances on turf, winning both starts by a combined 10 lengths.
"He's never run in a stakes race before," said Brown. "It's kind of an odd race at two miles, so there are some unknowns there, but he seems to be a long-winded specialist."
Rounding out Brown's likely entrants for the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival is March, who is probable for the Grade 2 Woody Stephens. Rosalind, who last won the Grade 2 Sheepshead Bay on turf, is possible for the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps, according to the trainer.
Brilliant turf filly Lady Eli worked Sunday morning toward a possible date in next weekend's $200,000 Wonder Again on May 31 at Belmont. The daughter of Divine Park, who is undefeated in four starts, including a win in last year's Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, went five furlongs in 1:01.16 over Belmont's inner turf course.
"Lady Eli worked real well and is on target for the Wonder Again on Sunday," said Brown. "We were very impressed with her work today; she's ready to go."
The 3-year-old filly has yet to run beyond 1 1/16 miles in her career, but Brown does not foresee the added ground of the 1 1/8-mile Wonder Again as a problem, nor Lady Eli's ultimate objective, the Grade 1, 1 Â¼-mile Belmont Oaks on July 4.
"My feeling is she's talented enough, has a good enough mind, and relaxes enough to handle the stretch-out," said Brown. "We'll first try her at 1 1/8 miles, which she's never done before, and see how she handles it. If she does, we'll point her to [the Belmont Oaks]."