ELMONT, N.Y. - Multiple stakes winner Loki's Vengeance returns to action Friday to defend his title against eight other New York-breds in the $100,000 Affirmed Success, the opening-day feature as Belmont Park begins its 54-day spring/summer meet.
First race post time is 1:30 p.m., with gates opening at 11:30 a.m. Admission is $5 and general parking is free.
The six-furlong Affirmed Success is the first of 63 stakes worth $19.2 million this spring and summer and the first of three on opening weekend, to be followed by a pair of turf stakes in the $100,000 Elusive Quality on Saturday and the $100,000 License Fee on Sunday. The centerpiece of the meet is the three-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival from June 9-11, capped by the 148th running of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes.
Loki's Vengeance, a 5-year-old son of Frost Giant who carries the colors of Blue Bison Stable, will be making his second start of 2016 in the Affirmed Success, having finished seventh on March 12 at odds of 19-1 in the Grade 3 Tom Fool Handicap behind Salutos Amigos, who then went onto victory in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap.
"It was an ambitious spot for his comeback race," said trainer Mike Hushion of Loki's Vengeance, who in 2015 also won the New York Stallion Series at Aqueduct. "He's not an easy horse to place - he's got a lot of wins, so there aren't allowance spots for him. We looked at the Hollie Hughes [February 15], but the timing wasn't right. Hopefully with this race, he'll get back in the right rhythm and be ready for a real campaign."
Loki's Vengeance, who will be ridden by Jose Ortiz, drew post position 5 and was tabbed the 3-1 favorite on the morning line.
The Affirmed Success will also see the return of Eric Fein's Ostrolenka, whose lone start of 2016 came in February, when he finished a close-up third behind winner Good Luck Gus in the Haynesfield for New York-breds. A 4-year-old homebred son of Musket Man, Ostrolenka has proven somewhat perplexing for his connections, having demonstrated real talent in the mornings, but only occasionally living up to that promise in the afternoons with a record of 4-2-1 from 14 starts.
"He's doing well training-wise, and timing-wise this race fits," said Byron Hughes, assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher. "Early on, he looked like he might be something special, so it's been a bit frustrating. He still has ability, and in his last race he came from out of it [to miss by 1 ¼ lengths] instead of being close to the pace, perhaps that will be a difference."
With all four of his lifetime wins coming at Belmont Park, including the 2014 Sleepy Hollow and the 2015 Mike Lee, Ostrolenka, who will be ridden by Joel Rosario from post position 3, was listed at 8-1 on the morning line. Making his second career stakes start is Tristar Farm's 6-year-old Between the Lines, who in his stakes debut was third in the Hollie Hughes, in which he bled.
"I'm pleased with the way he's been training since then, although he went a bit too fast for my taste on April 20 [a bullet :59 4/5]; he went out in 1:16, so we're going into the race in decent shape," said trainer Joe Lostritto of the lightly raced son of Read the Footnotes, who is 4-4-2 from 13 career starts. "Jose [Ortiz] is on him, so that's a plus, too."
At 8-1 on the morning line, Between the Lines will leave from post position 6.
Expected to attract support as well are the Rudy Rodriguez-trained Drama King, who won the Hollie Hughes and returned to finish a non-threatening fourth in the mud on April 7, and Eye Luv Lulu, who was second in the Hollie Hughes and most recently won the April 7 allowance by five lengths.
Rounding out the field are Weekend Hideaway, seeking his first win at Belmont Park since taking an allowance in 2014; Bond Vigilante, sixth last time out in the Caixa Eletronica; Little Popsie, making his stakes debut for trainer Bruce Levine; and multiple stakes winner Possessed, third on April 7.
Pletcher, who won the training title at Belmont's spring meet last year with 43 winners, will be going for his ninth training title at the meet, while reigning Eclipse Award-wining jockey Javier Castellano will be trying for his fourth straight Belmont spring riding title. Expected to challenge him are Irad Ortiz, Jr., who was second last year, and his younger brother Jose, who was third, along with Joel Rosario, Luis Saez and Hall of Famer John Velazquez.
Racing at Belmont Park generally is conducted Wednesday through Sunday, and also on Monday, Memorial Day, May 30 and Monday, Independence Day, July 4. For more information, please visit nyra.com.
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