• Maturing Seymourdini eyes G1 Forego at the Spa; Matt King Coal ready for Saturday's G2 Suburban • Unified, Shaman Ghost all set for Stars & Stripes assignments
ELMONT, N.Y. - Iris Smith's Seymourdini is doing well after his impressive victory in Monday's State Dinner at Belmont Park, trainer Linda Rice said.
The son of Bernardini, who was purchased at auction as a 2-year-old for $900,000, won by an impressive 10 ½ lengths to improve to 3-for-3 in his 4-year-old campaign, including back-to-back wins against allowance company at Laurel Park.
"He was coming off two big efforts in Maryland and I had been pointing him towards the [Grade 3] Westchester on Derby Day, but when I found that Connect would be making his first start of the year, I opted out of that spot and took him back to Maryland to get him more seasoning and get him on track," Rice said. "The [State Dinner] was a naturally good spot for him. But the race had a lot of speed, so I was nervous about that. But he certainly performed well."
Seymourdini won two straight races after finishing as the runner-up in his first two career starts, leading to a spot in the 2016 Grade 2 Woody Stephens in which he finished seventh. Rice said he spiked a temperature coming out of that race and was given the summer off to recover from pneumonia. She said the six-month break helped Seymourdini's maturation process.
"He's shown talent for a long time," Rice said. "There's been a lot of starts and stops getting him to where he is now. I think he's matured physically and mentally into a pretty good horse. He has always had a lot of raw talent, but between his physical issues that came up, we had a few hurdles to get past. But as a 4-year-old, he's ready for bigger and better things."
Rice said there is a strong possibility Seymourdini could next race in Saratoga with the Grade 1, $600,000 Forego on August 26 a likely landing spot. Due to her preference for one-turns, Rice said the seven-furlong Forego could help set up a future start in the Grade 2, $300,000 Kelso on September 23 when racing returns to Belmont Park.
"If we can figure out how to get to the [Grade 1] Cigar Mile [on December 2 at Aqueduct Racetrack] unscathed, it would be nice in a perfect world," Rice said.
Matt King Coal appears ready for Saturday's Grade 2, $750,000 Suburban as part of the Stars & Stripes Racing Festival, Rice said. The 1 ¼-mile race on Big Sandy will mark Matt King Coal's first stakes start in New York since a fourth-place finish in the 2016 Grade 1 Wood Memorial.
Owned by Lady Sheila Stable, the 4-year-old posted his career-best Beyer Speed Figure, registering a 102 in cracking triple digits for the first time in 10 career starts in a winning Mountainview effort on June 3 at Penn National.
"It's a huge step up for him to run against the likes of Shaman Ghost but it's time for us to give it a try," Rice said. "He broke his pelvis in the Wood Memorial, but we're delighted with the way he's come back. He's matured into a nice 4-year-old. I didn't feel the Met Mile was the appropriate spot, so I took him to Penn National. Now, we're stepping into the deep end of the pool."
Matt King Coal drew post 2 in the six-horse Suburban field and is listed as 7-2 on the morning line. * * *
Centennial Farm's Grade 2, $350,000 Belmont Sprint Championship contender Unified has enjoyed an easy second half of the week following a sharp blowout Wednesday at Belmont Park, said trainer Jimmy Jerkens on Friday morning.
The 4-year-old Candy Ride colt went 35.02 seconds over the training track in a three-furlong blowout, a normal tool in Jerkens' training canon.
"He's had a long time between races and I like to do it if they haven't run in a while," said Jerkens. "It all depends on what they've done leading up to the race too, but if more than a week goes after their last work and the race is coming up in a few days, I like to do a little something. Just to make sure he has his air, make sure he's sharp enough."
Unified is installed as the 5-2 second-choice behind 9-5 morning-line favorite Mind Your Biscuits in Saturday's Sprint, a "Win and You're In" qualifier for the TwinSpires Breeders' Cup Sprint on November 4 at Del Mar.
Meanwhile, Jerkens' other Stars & Stripes Racing Festival entrant, Shaman Ghost, turned in a strong gallop Friday, wrapping up his preparations as the 4-5 favorite for the Grade 2 Suburban.
"He's been doing good," Jerkens said of the 5-year-old son of Ghostzapper. "He didn't have a blowout or anything, but we let him stretch his legs around the final turn here this morning." * * *
On target for Saturday's Grade 1, $1.2 million Belmont Derby, Pia Brandt's European invader Called To The Bar got acquainted with the Belmont turf on Wednesday, registering a three-furlong breeze with dogs up in 38.48 seconds. The 3-year-old gelding by Henrythenavigator has been training mostly over Belmont's main track since clearing quarantine on Monday, said Carl Brandt.
Called To The Bar hasn't finished worse than second in four career starts and is exiting back-to-back wins in May, both in front-running fashion, including a two-length score in the Group 3 Prix du Lys at Saint-Cloud on May 23. In his debut at Chantilly last fall, he closed well to finish second in a field of first-timers, two lengths behind the well-regarded Waldegeist, who went on to win a Group 1 the following month.
"His form is quite good and he's really easy," said Brandt, assistant to his wife. "He's run well in France coming from behind, and he's got a little bit of early speed. I just hope he's fast enough, but he's not complicated at all."
Called To The Bar will be the Brandts' second New York starter, following French stakes winner Rymska, who shipped from Europe to run a game second in the Grade 3 Miss Grillo last fall at Belmont. * * *
Sunday's co-feature, the $100,000 River Memories for fillies and mares 4-and-up, will feature a talented group of runners led by Grade 3 Orchid winner Summersault and graded stakes-placed Apple Betty.
Summersault, a 5-year-old daughter of Rock Hard Ten, has two wins from three starts this year. She kicked off her season with an allowance optional-claiming win in February at Gulfstream Park and returned April 1 with a three-quarter-length victory over 4-5 favorite Olorda in the Orchid.
Following her winter campaign in Florida, Summersault returned to Mark Hennig's Belmont training base this spring, entering the Grade 2 New York on June 9, where she finished ninth.
With Paco Lopez aboard, the pair will leave from post 5.
Following an eighth-place finish in the New York, Allen Stables' Apple Betty will look to regroup for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey. An Irish-bred daughter of Galileo, Apple Betty has made three starts in North America including a second-place finish in the Grade 3 Dowager Stakes last October and a third-place finish in the Grade 2 Sheepshead Bay.
"She's been training well," said McGaughey. "I always thought she had potential and hopefully she'll be able to work out a good trip where she can show her ability,"
With Hall of Famer John Velazquez in the irons, Apple Betty will leave from post 9.
Also in the field for the River Memories is Desiree Clary, Estrechada, Achnaha, Quiet Business, Feeling Bossy, Evidently, and Lottie.
One race before the River Memories is the Grade 3, $150,000 Victory Ride for 3-year-old fillies at 6 ½ furlongs, featuring the return of Grade 3 Miss Preakness winner Vertical Oak. Also on tap for the Victory Ride are Too Much Tip, Golden Mischief, American Gal and Noble Freud. * * *
The best way to mix a drink this weekend will be with a Belmont Park tumbler, the premium giveaway for paid admission and admission vouchers on Saturday for the Stars & Stripes Racing Festival.
To honor first responders and members of our military, general admission on Saturday, July 8 is free to anyone with a valid military, police, fire or EMT I.D. In addition to the world-class racing including five stakes races, there will be family fun activities, a food truck village and much more.