â€¢ Keen Ice makes final preparations for G1 Belmont Stakes â€¢ Ortiz gets familiar with Belmont Stakes mount Mubtaahij
ELMONT, N.Y. - Donegal Racing's Keen Ice turned in his final major work at his Churchill Downs base this morning for the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes and a showdown with Triple Crown hopeful American Pharoah.
"He worked great," said trainer Dale Romans. "He went by himself, which he doesn't usually do but we're going for the endurance at this point. I thought it was a great work."
With assistant trainer and exercise rider Tammy Fox aboard, Keen Ice breezed six furlongs during the track's special training period for Belmont Stakes runners. The son of Curlin completed the move in 1:13.60, the fastest of two at the distance.
Keen Ice endured a troubled trip in the Kentucky Derby. Ridden by Kent Desormeaux, Keen Ice lacked running room for much of the race but managed to split rivals in the stretch with a strong closing kick to finish seventh.
Romans said he is not only pleased with his colt's progress, but he believes that Keen Ice will be well-suited to the 1 Â½ mile-Belmont Stakes.
"It's pedigree, plus it's just him," Romans said. "He's not one that has a lightning turn of foot but he doesn't get tired and he's just been getting stronger and stronger. I think he ran the second-fastest final eighth in the Kentucky Derby and he probably could've gone another three-quarters of a mile after that."
According to Romans, Keen Ice is expected to leave for Belmont Park on Tuesday, June 2. Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner American Pharoah, who walked this morning at Churchill Downs following Tuesday's half-mile breeze in :48, and Conquest Curlinate, second in the Peter Pan, are expected on the same flight to New York.
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Trainer Mike de Kock's Belmont Stakes hopeful Mubtaahij continued to keep busy Wednesday morning with his fourth timed workout since arriving at Belmont Park on May 15.
Ridden for the first time by Irad Ortiz Jr., who has been named to ride on June 6, Mubtaahij visited the main track shortly after the renovation break, where the Irish-bred son of Dubawi worked an easy half-mile as planned, picking up the pace at the three-eighths pole, according to de Kock's assistant trainer, Trevor Brown. "He went well," said Brown. "He basically did exactly what we wanted him to. The important thing was just getting the jockey on him to give him a chance to get accustomed to the horse and get to know him. Irad was pretty happy with the horse. He said he's ready." Mubtaahij got an official time of 38.05 seconds for three furlongs, the fifth-fastest of seven at the distance. The UAE Derby winner will very likely make another appearance on the worktab in the remaining ten days until the Belmont Stakes. "I speak to Mike every day and he tells me what he wants from the horse, obviously gauging from his well-being and how he's eating," Brown said. "And [Mubtaahij] doesn't stop eating. If they're eating, they'll work. Mike isn't shy to work horses." Mubtaahij's Australian-bred stablemate Umgiyo also took to the track on Wednesday for a little light training.
"He just had a jog around the track today so it was an easy day for him," said Brown. "He's doing very good. He'll probably work sometime this weekend."
The Danehill Dancer gelding is in consideration for either the Grade 1 Knob Creek Manhattan Stakes or the Belmont Gold Cup Invitational during the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival.
* * * Fields are beginning to take shape for the first two days of the inaugural Belmont Stakes Racing Festival, which will feature seven stakes races worth a total of $1.6 million on Thursday, June 4 and Friday, June 5 at Belmont.
The $250,000 Astoria for 2-year-old fillies and $150,000 Intercontinental for older fillies and mares on turf kicks off the stakes action on Thursday for the three-day event.
The 5 Â½-furlong Astoria is likely to feature a field of precocious fillies, including Decked Out, Fleet Grey, Little Cherie, One Minute and Tonasah.
In the Intercontinental, Zindaya heads the probable field coming off a convincing score in the License Fee Stakes on May 1 at Belmont. The 4-year-old daughter of More Than Ready is 2-for-2 over the local turf for trainer Christophe Clement and Regis Racing.
Also likely for the race are A Little Bit Sassy, a stakes winner on turf for trainer Michael Matz and Ramona Bass; Baffle Me, winner of the Powder Break Stakes at Gulfstream Park last out; Believe in Charlie, fifth in the License Fee; Dauphine Russe, third in the License Fee; Devilish Love, runner-up in the License Fee; Kune Kune, who has not raced since November for owner/trainer James Nicol; Radiator, sixth in the Grade 3 Beaugay at Belmont in her most recent outing; and Water Hole, 12th in the Grade 2 Distaff Turf Mile in her North American debut for trainer Chad Brown.
On Friday, the Grade 2, $250,000 True North for older sprinters gets top billing. The probable field for the race includes multiple Grade 1 winners Dads Caps and Palace, budding superstar Rock Fall, and Belmont seven-furlong track-record holder Clearly Now.
Also likely to participate are Eastwood, winner of two straight for trainer Todd Pletcher; Favorite Tale, a speedy son of Tale of the Cat; and Stallwalkin' Dude, who capped a four-race win streak by taking the Diablo Stakes in his latest start. Multiple stakes winner Gentlemen's Bet is a possibility, as well.
Friday's $250,000 Belmont Gold Cup Invitational at two miles on the turf will field at least eight, including the Phipps Stable's Reflecting, who came off a three-month layoff to finish a close-up second in a May 8 allowance at Pimlico. Expected to start as well are Comes the Dream, second in his 2015 debut; Diplomat, making his North American debut; Dynamic Sky, winner of last year's Grade 3 Red Smith Handicap; Innovation Economy, making his first stakes start; Manchurian High, eighth in the Grade 2 Dixie Handicap at Pimlico; Excelsior runner-up Red Rifle; and Unitarian, third in the Elkhorn.
Also on the day's card is the $150,000 Jersey Girl Stakes for 3-year-old fillies going six furlongs, featuring noted probables Enchantress and Noble and a Beauty.
Enchantress will represent trainer Todd Pletcher in her return to the races after finishing 12th in the Grade 2 Davona Dale Stakes last February at Gulfstream Park, while Rick Violette Jr. plans to send Cicada Stakes winner Noble and a Beauty, following her sixth-place finish in the Grade 2 Gazelle on April 4 at Aqueduct. Also in consideration for the Jersey Girl are Cavorting for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, Coco's Wildcat for Kathleen O'Connell, So You Say for Michelle Nevin and Spark from the barn of Jimmy Jerkens.
Friday will also host the return of multiple Grade 1 winner Stephanie's Kitten in the Grade 2, $300,000 New York Handicap at 1 Â¼ miles for older fillies and mares on turf. Ken and Sarah Ramsey's homebred multimillionaire has faced rivals in the last two runnings of the Grade 1 Longines Just a Game Stakes on the Belmont Stakes undercard and boasts a record of two wins from three starts at Belmont for trainer Chad Brown.