â€¢ Triple Crown hopeful American Pharoah turns in final breeze for G1 Belmont Stakes; probable Belmont field now stands at eight â€¢ Multiple G1 winner Carpe Diem withdrawn from Belmont
ELMONT, N.Y. - On Monday morning at Churchill Downs, Triple Crown hopeful American Pharoah turned in his final breeze for the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes on June 6 at Belmont Park.
In a light rainstorm, the 3-year-old son of Pioneerof the Nile worked five furlongs in 1:00.20 under Martin Garcia, and galloped out six furlongs in 1:13. He is scheduled to arrive in New York on Tuesday morning.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert for Zayat Stables, American Pharoah is attempting to become horse racing's 12th Triple Crown winner. Since Affirmed last won the Triple Crown in 1978, 12 horses have run in the Belmont after winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, only to come up short in the 1 Â½-mile "Test of the Champion," including three runners trained by Baffert: Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), and War Emblem (2002).
American Pharoah's quest for racing immortality got a little easier on Monday, when it was announced that WinStar Farm and Stonestreet Stable's Carpe Diem and Ken McPeek's The Truth Or Else would not participate in the Belmont, leaving the prospective field at eight runners.
McPeek said via Twitter that The Truth Or Else was discovered with filling in an ankle on Monday morning, possibly sustained during a routine gallop last Saturday. McPeek described the setback as "minor" and tweeted that "we will give him the time he needs and bring him back when he's 100%."
The two defections leave American Pharoah on the right side of history, as no horse has won the Triple Crown facing more than seven horses in the Belmont. Citation in 1948 and Seattle Slew in 1977 each defeated seven challengers in the Belmont to claim the Triple Crown.
The probable field for the 147th running of the Belmont is: American Pharoah (to be ridden by Victor Espinoza), Frammento (trained by Nick Zito and to be ridden by Mike Smith), Frosted (Kiaran McLaughlin/Joel Rosario), Keen Ice (Dale Romans/Kent Desormeaux), Madefromlucky (Todd Pletcher/Javier Castellano), Materiality (Todd Pletcher/John Velazquez), Mubtaahij (Mike de Kock/Irad Ortiz, Jr.)and Tale of Verve (Dallas Stewart/Gary Stevens).
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The connections of Carpe Diem announced Monday morning that they would not run the colt in Saturday's Belmont Stakes.
Todd Pletcher will now be represented by Materiality and Madefromlucky in the Belmont. With Carpe Diem's defection, rider assignments have been firmed up: John Velazquez will ride Materiality and Javier Castellano has the mount on Madefromlucky.
Elliott Walden, CEO of WinStar Farm, which owns Carpe Diem in partnership with Stonestreet Stables, said he and Pletcher didn't believe the colt was at his best for the assignment at hand.
"Todd and I have been talking all of the last week," Walden said by phone from Kentucky on Monday. "We just felt he wasn't 100 percent going into what is a phenomenal race, with a horse of such high stature. He was maybe 85 to 90 percent."
Walden noted that while Carpe Diem's last two works were favorable from a final time perspective, the son of Giant's Causeway "drifted slightly" in his most recent work here last Friday.
The goal now for Carpe Diem, winner of the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes earlier this spring, is either the Grade 2 Jim Dandy on August 1 at Saratoga Race Course or the Grade 1 Haskell the following day at Monmouth Park.
WinStar still has a huge rooting interest in the final leg of the Triple Crown, as the farm stands Pioneerof the Nile, American Pharoah's sire.
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Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito said Monday morning he is finalizing plans for Mossarosa's Grade 2-placed Frammento to join his string at Belmont Park in advance of Saturday's Belmont Stakes.
"We're trying to coordinate everything by the track with the weather," Zito said. "It's either got to be later Tuesday or early Wednesday morning. We'll figure it out. Everything is good. We're looking forward to getting down there."
Frammento has been based at the Oklahoma training track in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. since his 11th-place finish in the May 2 Kentucky Derby. He has had three timed works over the surface, most recently a half-mile move in 48.15 seconds May 30, the fastest of 60 horses.
"I've just always like the [Oklahoma] track. I've said it for years; it's a good track and a good place to train. There's a lot to like about it," Zito said. "The main thing is he came out of the work good and he's happy. Hopefully we have a couple of good days down there and he'll do well."
Zito has started 24 horses in the Belmont Stakes but none since Fly Down and Ice Box were second and eighth, respectively, in 2010. He owns two wins - Birdstone in 2004 and Da' Tara in 2008, both ending Triple Crown bids - and seven seconds.
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Multiple Grade 2 winner Honor Code remains on track for his next scheduled start in Saturday's Grade 1, $1.25 million NYRA.com Metropolitan Handicap.
Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey said Monday morning that the 4-year-old A.P. Indy ridgling emerged from Sunday's half-mile breeze in good order. Honor Code was clocked in 49.01 seconds over Belmont Park's main track.
"He came back very good," McGaughey said. "His works have all been good since he ran. He seems to be doing good, he looks good, and he's training good. We're looking forward to running him."
Lane's End Racing and Dell Ridge Farm's Honor Code has worked three times since finishing fifth, beaten six lengths, in the Grade 2 Alysheba on May 1 at Churchill Downs.
The loss snapped a two-race win streak for Honor Code, knocked from the Triple Crown trail last spring with a suspensory injury. He won an Aqueduct allowance in November and the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap on March 7 at the Met Mile distance.
"I just didn't think he got hold of the racetrack," McGaughey said. "It happens to a lot of horses at Churchill."
Also being pointed to the Met Mile is multiple Grade 1 winner Bayern,whobreezed a strong five furlongs in company with graded stakes-placed Cat Burglar Monday morning at Churchill Downs for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.
Kaleem Shah's Bayern, a dominant winner of the Grade 2 Woody Stephens last June at Belmont, went in 59.20 seconds, second-fastest of 20 horses, while Cat Burglar got the same distance in 59.80.
Bayern, winner of last year's Breeders' Cup Classic, is expected to be on the same Tuesday morning flight from Kentucky that is carrying Kentucky Derby and Preakness-winning stablemate American Pharoah to New York.
The Met Mile is a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" qualifier for the Grade 1 Dirt Mile.
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Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC homebred Untapable, the unanimous choice as the 2014 champion 3-year-old filly, put in her final work over a sloppy Belmont Park track on Monday morning in preparation for the Grade 1, $1 million Ogden Phipps Stakes to be contested on Saturday as part of the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival presented by DraftKings.
Trained by Steve Asmussen, the now 4-year-old bay daughter of Tapit breezed an easy four furlongs in 49.50 seconds under regular exercise rider Mike Callaham. Her work was the fastest of three horses traveling the same distance, and her stablemate, Shook Up, turned in the second best time of 50.26 when Callaham took her to the track this morning.
Shook Up, who is owned by Regis Racing, was the Longines Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks runner-up in her last start, and she will run in Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Acorn Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on the Belmont Stakes Day undercard.
With Asmussen not expected to arrive until later in the week, assistant Scott Blasi supervised the final preparations and said that both efforts were easy maintenance breezes for the fillies as they had already completed all of their major works.
Untapable, undefeated against horses of her gender last year and the reigning Breeders' Cup Distaff champion, won the Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn in April in her last start. The Phipps is a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" qualifier for this year's Distaff.
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Trainer Jimmy Jerkens is preparing for what he hopes is a lucrative weekend here at Belmont Park. His stakes starters on Saturday's card are Wicked Strong (NYRA.com Met Mile Handicap); House Rules (Ogden Phipps); and Effinex and V. E. Day (Brooklyn Invitational).
Wicked Strong will have a new rider in Joel Rosario for the NYRA.com Met Mile. The colt is looking for his first win since taking last year's Jim Dandy. He was beaten in two starts this year, including his most recent start, a third in the Grade 3 Excelsior on April 25.
"I thought his first race back was okay," Jerkens said Monday morning. "He hadn't run a flat mile around one turn in a long time. So, I thought he ran really good, considering. The [Excelsior] was disappointing. He basically just galloped around there. He didn't offer much. It looked like he was sitting in the perfect spot to pounce. Then it was weird because he kind of finished up a little bit and just got beat three lengths. It was a strange race. Obviously, he just wasn't at his best that day."
Wicked Strong, with Rosario aboard, worked sharply on May 29, going a bullet five furlongs in 58.98 seconds.
Ogden Phipps contender House Rules is also coming off a slightly disappointing effort for Jerkens. The filly finished third, beaten nearly seven lengths, in the Grade 2 Ruffian.
"It was a little disappointing," Jerkens said. "I thought the rider [Javier Castellano] did a good job of saving ground on her. She likes to lay up a little closer than she was, but I don't think it was the rider's fault. The leaders were bunched up in a big ball there and she dropped down to the inside, and I don't think she wanted that. But when he tipped her out, I thought she was going to take off, but the leaders spurted away from her and she kind of got discouraged. She went through the motions after that."
Castellano is committed to ride Stopchargingmaria in the Ogden Phipps so the mount on House Rules goes to Junior Alvarado, who won the Grade 2 Top Flight aboard the filly in April.
The Jerkens-trained Effinex enters the Brooklyn Invitational off a gutsy victory in the Excelsior. It was the Mineshaft colt's second consecutive win this year.
"His first race back -- in the allowance race -- was just astounding," Jerkens said. "From a numbers standpoint, people have told me that Breeders' Cup horses don't run any better than that. He ran back to that race in the Excelsior."
As far as last year's Grade 1 Travers winner, V. E. Day, Jerkens is hopeful that he will rebound in his return to the dirt after finishing sixth in the Fort Marcy last month. That race marked his 2015 debut. From four starts on the turf, V. E. Day has one win and a second.
"I don't know what to make of his last race," the trainer said. "It was on the turf and he lost a lot of ground. It looked like he finished up very strong but he lost a lot of ground at a crucial time. I'm hoping the turf-back-to-dirt angle works for him. It's incredible how well that works. If a horse is a good horse and you try him on the turf and he runs like he doesn't like the turf or finishes mid-pack, and then you run them back on the dirt, it's usually the best race of their life. Probably the [key] there is the turf race didn't take much out of them."
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If it isn't broken, don't fix it.
That was the sentiment from Peter Miller, the trainer of Grade 1, $1 million Knob Creek Manhattan contender Finnegans Wake.
"Everything is on schedule and we are good to go and will ship on Wednesday," Miller said from his base at San Luis Rey Training Center in Southern California. "He'll have the same rider and there will be no changes at this stage of the game."
That rider is Victor Espinoza, who has been partnered with Finnegans Wake for his last five races. The pair won four out of the quintet, which were Grade 1 or Grade 2 races, and their most recent victory in the Grade 1 Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day solidified the horse's reputation as the top turf male on the West Coast and Midwest, and arguably the country, as they head into Saturday's Manhattan.
"He's at the top of his game, no question. This is his best moment," Miller said of the 6-year-old son of Powerscourt, who has won seven of 29 starts and bankrolled more than $1.4 million in earnings.
Later in the day on Saturday, Espinoza will ride American Pharoah in the Belmont Stakes as they attempt to win the Triple Crown.
In related news, trainer Mark Casse reported on Monday afternoon that John Oxley's Sky Captain, who finished second by a head to Finnegans Wake in the Turf Classic before being disqualified for drifting out and placed fourth, has been withdrawn from the Manhattan.