â€¢ Tale of Verve breezes five furlongs in advance of G1 Belmont Stakes â€¢ Belmont Stakes contender Frammento works for two-time winner and Hall of Famer Zito
ELMONT, N.Y. - Belmont Stakes hopeful Tale of Verve took to the Belmont main track early Saturday morning to log his final breeze in advance of the $1.5 million race on June 6.
With exercise rider and jockey Kortez Walker up for the work, the son of Tale of Ekati went five furlongs in 59.02 seconds, the fastest work at the distance.
"He galloped out good and came back blowing, which is good because it means he got something out of it," said Dallas Stewart, who trains Tale of Verve for Charles Fipke. "He came back great and looked awesome."
Coming off solitary maiden win on April 23 at Keeneland, Tale of Verve was entered as an also-eligible for the Kentucky Derby on May 2, but failed to make the race. The bay colt was then sent to Pimlico for the Preakness Stakes, where he finished second - seven lengths behind American Pharoah - at odds of 28-1.
"I hope he has another step forward in him; that's what we're here for," said Stewart, who finished second in a Triple Crown race for the third year in a row.
The Fipke homebred will have a long way to travel if he is to vanquish Triple Crown hopeful American Pharoah, who galloped 1 Â½ miles over the Churchill Downs main track on Saturday morning. The 1 Â½ miles of the Belmont is considerably farther than Tale of Verve has ever raced, but Stewart sees that as a positive.
"It's in his breeding," said the Kentucky-based horseman. "He's a big horse and has a great stride, so hopefully it will add up. It's going to be a matter of stamina, and hopefully the best horse will win."
In addition to American Pharoah, who will have his final work serious work for the Belmont on Monday before shipping to New York on Tuesday, Keen Ice took to the Churchill main track on Saturday morning to gallop two miles. The Dale Romans trainee is set to have his last work before the Belmont on Tuesday at Churchill.
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On a sunny Saturday morning at Saratoga Race Course, Mossarossa's Grade 3-placed Frammento put in his final timed work for the June 6 Belmont Stakes.
Working in company with maiden 3-year-old Hard Scuffle, Frammento was clocked in 48.15 seconds for a half-mile over the Oklahoma training track. Going out at 7:45 a.m. in the first set after the maintenance break, he galloped out five furlongs in 1:02.37.
"He looked great," Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito said. "They got him in 12 [seconds], 24, 48 - you can't beat that. I even got him a little quicker, but that was OK. I'm happy. It was good."
Regular exercise rider and Zito assistant trainer Maxine Correa was aboard for the work, Frammento's third since an 11th place finish in the May 2 Kentucky Derby, all in Saratoga.
"He felt great. He started off real cool and relaxed and he picked it up at the quarter pole and flew home. He galloped out beautiful and finished up strong," Correa said. "He started off just behind a horse and stayed a little wide. He was happy to stay behind the horse until the quarter pole and as soon as I asked him to go, he kicked on. It was really good."
A sophomore son of multiple Grade 1 winner and 2008 Champion 2-Year-Old Male Midshipman, Frammento was given a half-mile in 49.30 seconds on May 23.
"Last Saturday when he worked, he just kept going. Max does a good job on him. He went pretty darn good last weekend, and this is what we wanted him to do today, just sharpen him up a little bit. He's over-ready," Zito said. "Everything is good. He's developed nice, he's held his flesh and he's held himself. He's doing everything right."
Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith will ride Frammento in the Belmont for Zito, who won the race with Birdstone in 2004 and Da' Tara in 2008, both times spoiling a Triple Crown bid.
Prior to the Derby, Frammento was sixth in the Grade 2 Holy Bull and third in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park, and fourth in the Grade 1 Blue Grass April 4 at Keeneland. He will be racing for the first time at Belmont Park.
"In the times I've breezed him, sometimes with company and sometimes without, he seems to have matured a lot over the winter and sort of got his head together, realizing what he's supposed to do," Correa said. "He's coming around nicely."
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The widely traveled Belmont Stakes entrant Mubtaahij continued his preparations for next Saturday's race working five furlongs in 1:01.05 on the Belmont main track this morning, the seventh-fastest time at the distance.
The colt was scheduled to work on the turf, but the move to the main track was made because the turf was too firm, said Trevor Brown, assistant to Mubtaahij's trainer Mike DeKock. Brown said he was very pleased with the colt's effort over the main track andis positive the colt has taken more kindly to the surface compared to Churchill Downs, where he finished eighth in the Kentucky Derby in his first start in America.
With DeKock's arrival to New York expected for Monday, Brown said the horse would have an easy week.
"We'll freshen him up now this week. We've been pretty hard on him; that's our normal routine. Two weeks out we work him hard and the last week freshen him up, but he's going good and we're very happy with him."
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Todd Pletcher reported Saturday morning that each of his three Belmont Stakes contenders, Carpe Diem, Madefromlucky, and Materiality, exited their Friday works in good order.
"They all jogged this morning and stood in the starting gate," Pletcher said. There were no further updates on the status of riders for the trainer's trio. The services of John Velazquez and Javier Castellano have been procured, but it has yet to be decided who they will be paired with. Pletcher has yet to name a third rider.
Among this year's trainers with Belmont starters, Pletcher only takes a backseat to Nick Zito in terms of the number of past runners he has saddled in the third jewel of the Triple Crown. Zito holds the record  with fellow Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas.
Pletcher, 47, saddled his first Belmont starter in 2000, and has sent out 17 more in the ensuing years. On multiple occasions, he has saddled two or more horses in a single year. He won his second Belmont -- his first victory came with the filly Rags to Riches in 2007 -- with Palace Malice in 2013. That year the future Hall of Famer sent five horses postward.
As a Belmont Stakes veteran, Pletcher said his training approach hasn't changed too much over the years. One of the constants has been resisting the urge of "overdoing it" in his preparation of his horses for the 1 1/2-mile race.
"I think you're constantly evaluating your results and [seeing] if there is anything you would do differently," Pletcher commented. "But you're coming back with different horses every year, so each one of them is going to need a little something different.
"But I think you try not to overdo it," he added. "I think there is the temptation [because] it's a mile and a half that you really have to train them harder, which I haven't found necessarily to be the case. Most of them are coming off a prep race of some sort, whether it's the Derby or the Peter Pan. So most of their conditioning is going to come from the races they had. We generally have gone with two or three breezes -- if say they ran five weeks before the [Belmont]. But I think you try not to overthink it or overtrain them."
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Robert Luttrell's undefeated homebred Promise Me Silver threw out a bullet five-furlong drill on Friday morning at Churchill Downs, her final major preparation for the Grade 1, $750,000 Acorn Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at one mile on June 6 at Belmont Park.
Guided by top local jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr., Promise Me Silver covered the distance in 59.40 seconds, the fastest of 17 on the worktab.
"She worked great," trainer Bret Calhoun said by phone Saturday morning. "[It was] probably a little quicker than I would've liked, but I was looking for a good work and I got it. She came out of it great. I think we're ready to go."
A Texas-bred daughter of Silver City, Promise Me Silver has been unbeaten in eight career starts, posting wins at six different tracks, including open company stakes wins at Fair Grounds Race Course, Oaklawn Park and Churchill Downs. Her biggest score to date came in her most recent start with a 1 Â¼-length victory in the Grade 3 Eight Belles Stakes on the Kentucky Oaks undercard on May 1. The Acorn, one of six Grade 1 races during the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival presented by DraftKings, is expected to attract a full field, including Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks runner-up Shook Up, multiple graded stakes winner Condo Commando, Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks runner-up Luminance, Grade 2 Beaumont winner Miss Ella, recent 8 Â¼-length allowance winner Curalina, Grade 1 Frizette runner-up Wonder Gal, Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks winner Birdatthewire, multiple graded stakes-placed Oceanwave, Grade 1 Las Virgenes runner-up Light the City, Parx Oaks winner Danzatrice, Grade 2 Demoiselle runner-up Calamity Kate, and New York-bred Bar of Gold, undefeated in three starts.
"It's a wide open race," said Calhoun. "It'll be a tough race but I think she fits in well with them. It's going to be an exciting race, there's going to be some really great horses. She's had the experience of running over six different racetracks and I hope that that's helpful for her. I know that the track can be a little tricky, it's a little sandy. Hopefully her experience over the different surfaces will help her."
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With the lineup for the 147th Belmont Stakes virtually set, fields are starting to take shape for the five Grade 1 races that buttress the Belmont Stakes Day undercard.
Undefeated in four lifetime starts at Belmont Park, 2014 Belmont Stakes champion Tonalist returns to headline the 122nd running of the Grade 1, $1.25 million Metropolitan Handicap. The one-mile race for 3-year-olds and up is a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" qualifier for the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile October 30.
In addition to his Belmont triumph, the Christophe Clement-trained Tonalist won the Grade 2 Peter Pan and Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup last year and opened his 4-year-old campaign with a victory in the Grade 3 Westchester May 2 at Belmont Park.
Expected to join him in the Met Mile are fellow Grade 1 winners Bayern, who captured the 2014 Grade 2 Woody Stephens at Belmont; Wicked Strong, winless in two starts this year; 2014 Cigar Mile winner Private Zone, who took back-to-back editions of the Vosburgh (2013-14) at Belmont; and 2013 Met Mile winner Sahara Sky. Most recently, Private Zone won the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Stakes May 2, beating Met Mile candidates Pants On Fire (third) and Bayern (sixth). Also probable for the race are the Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Bay of Plenty, Grade 3 placed and 3-0 lifetime at Belmont Park, and Tamarkuz, multiple group stakes winner overseas making his North American debut; multiple graded stakes winners Honor Code, Kobe's Back and Pants On Fire, and Noble Bird, second by a head in the Grade 2 Alysheba May 1.
The field for the Grade 1, $1 million Knob Creek Manhattan is likely to feature Big Blue Kitten, who made a successful return to the races in 2015 with a win in the Grade 3 Fort Marcy at Belmont.
The 7-year-old son of Kitten's Joy, trained by Chad Brown for Ken and Sarah Ramsey, has won two Grade 1 races in his career - the United Nations and the Sword Dancer Invitational - both in 2013.
Last year, Big Blue Kitten won the Lure Stakes at Saratoga to kick off his abridged campaign, but was winless in four subsequent outings, including a runner-up finish in the Grade 1 Canadian International at Woodbine.
"We're very proud of this horse," said Brown. "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."
A strong group of older turf runners are probable to take on Big Blue Kitten, including Grade 1 winners Finnegans Wake, Jack Milton, and Twilight Eclipse. Biz the Nurse, General a Rod, Legendary, Magic Artist, Sky Captain and War Dancer are also likely to participate, while Il Campione, Imagining, and Umgiyo are possible.
A terrific line-up of older fillies and mares, headed by last year's champion 3-year-old filly Untapable, is taking aim on the $1 million Ogden Phipps on the Belmont Stakes undercard. The Grade 1 Phipps is a designated "Win and You're In" race for the Breeders' Cup Distaff.
In addition to multiple Grade 1 winner Untapable, who is owned by Ron Winchell and trained by Steve Asmussen, the probables for the 1 1/16-mile Ogden Phipps include Grade 1 winners Princess Violet, Rosalind, and Stopchargingmaria. Also probable for the Ogden Phipps, which is named for the late owner and breeder who campaigned champions Buckpasser, Easy Goer, and Personal Ensign, is graded winner Wedding Toast, a winner of three of four starts at Belmont Park, including a victory in her last start, the Grade 2 Ruffian. Another probable is Shayjolie, who is scheduled to make her Grade 1 debut in the race. House Rules, third in the Ruffian, is listed as possible to start in the Ogden Phipps.
The Pletcher-trained Stopchargingmaria was to be joined in the Phipps by stablemate Dame Dorothy but now will fly solo for the stable.
"Unfortunately, Dame Dorothy spiked a temperature earlier in the week," Pletcher said. "Her blood work is still not right, so she is not going to make it."
Town and Country Farms' Stopchargingmaria, the winner of the Grade 3 DuPont Distaff at Pimlico 15 days ago, was on the worktab at Belmont Park this morning. The daughter of Tale of the Cat covered four furlongs in :47.80 seconds.
"When she's on her 'A' game, she really touts herself in the morning," Pletcher said. "She went 47 and 4 this morning, literary pulling the rider's arms out. That is what we looked for to indicate to us that she is ready to go."
With John Velazquez, who has ridden the filly in her most recent three starts, partnered with Untapable, Stopchargingmaria will be reunited with Javier Castellano, who rode her to victory in last year's Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks.
The field for the Grade 1, $700,000 Longines Just a Game for fillies and mares 4-years-old and up is beginning to take shape, with the likely entrants led by last year's winner, Coffee Clique, for Amerman Racing LLC and trainer Brian Lynch.
In her most recent start, Coffee Clique finished second in the Grade 2 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile on May 2 to 4-year-old Tepin, who is also likely for the race for owner Robert Masterson and trainer Mark Casse.
Moyglare Stud Farm's Discreet Marq is probable for the race for trainer Christophe Clement, and looking to make her second start of the year following a win in the Grade 3 Beaugay on May 9.
Hall of Fame trainers Bill Mott and Shug McGaughey are each pointing toward the Just a Game with Flimbi for Mott and J Wonder for McGaughey. Others likely for the race include Photo Call for Graham Motion, Ball Dancing for Chad Brown, and Baffle Me from the barn of Mark Hennig.