ELMONT, N.Y. - New York-bred 2-year-olds will take the stage at Belmont Park in a pair of stakes races on Sunday, the $150,000 Bertram F. Bongard and $150,000 Joseph A. Gimma for fillies, supporting the day's feature race, the Grade 3, $200,000 Miss Grillo, and demonstrating that there is no shortage of homegrown talent in this year's crop of juveniles from the Empire State.
The first crop from New York-based stallion Giant Surprise will be well represented with a trio of contenders for trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Mike Repole. Giant Surprise, an impressive maiden winner at Saratoga before an injury brought his promising racing career to an early end in 2011, is the sire of 2-1 Bongard contender Sudden Surprise in the Bongard, as well as 6-5 morning-line favorite Super Surprise and Surprise Cameo (6-1) in the Gimma.
"Mike decided to give him a chance at stud," Pletcher said of Giant Surprise, who was owned by Repole during his short campaign. "Mike has supported him through the auction ring and by breeding mares to him. So far, he's gotten off to a good start."
The Repole-bred Sudden Surprise, winner of the Funny Cide at Saratoga, has been installed as the second choice on the morning line in the Bongard which, like the Gimma, will be contested at seven furlongs. The bay colt debuted at the Spa on July 30, breaking his maiden on a wet track against state-breds by 2 ¾ lengths to earn a first-out Beyer Speed Figure of 89 before tackling his peers at the stakes level, leading at every call and drawing off to a two-length victory on August 28.
"He's a nice horse. He's done everything right so far," said Pletcher. "He's won on a sloppy track and a fast track. He's two for two and stretching out a little more. We like him, he looks like a nice colt."
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, who has been aboard for the colt's first two wins, has the return call. The pair will leave from post 4.
Runner-up in the Seeking the Ante in her second career start, Gimma favorite Super Surprise showed ability in her first race, racing between rivals to get within a length of the win in August. Stepping up against stakes company 13 days later, the dark brown filly missed her second chance to break her maiden in two weeks, finishing three lengths behind two for two winner She's All Ready.
"I thought she ran very well both times. She missed the break the first time and I thought that probably cost her the win," Pletcher said. "Then we ran her back on short rest in the Seeking the Ante and she was second best that day to a pretty fast filly. I think the added distance will help and having a little better spacing from that race to this race will help as well."
Surprise Cameo was nosed out for second in her Spa unveiling, finishing 8 ¼ lengths behind She's All Ready in their collective August 7 debut. Nearing the end of the Saratoga meet, her connections opted to enter the chestnut filly in a turf maiden sprint on Labor Day, a race in which she successfully held off her rivals throughout, gamely holding on to win by a neck.
"We thought that Giant Surprises could go on either surface, so we thought we'd give it a try and it worked out well," said Pletcher.
Velazquez, who has been the regular rider for both Super Surprise and Surprise Cameo in their respective, short careers, will be aboard Super Surprise for the Gimma. The pair will leave from post 2. Surprise Cameo will be ridden by Joel Rosario from post 4.
The Gimma will also feature Gabrielle Farms' Frosty Margarita, who finished second to eventual Lynbrook stakes victor Wonderment in her July debut at Belmont. Trained by Rudy Rodriguez, the second-time-out maiden winner will be ridden by Irad Ortiz, Jr. from post 3 as the second choice on the morning at 7-5.
Fellow Spa maiden winner Melodic (8-1) will make her second career start for Leah Gyarmati with Carmouche riding from the outside post 5. Seeking the Ante runner Ben's Girl (15-1) will be ridden from the rail by Fernando Jara for trainer James Lawrence, II.
The Bongard will also feature Championofthenile, trained by Linda Rice and owned Lady Sheila Stable and Iris Smith Stable. An $840,000 2-year-old in training purchase this spring, the Pioneerof the Nile colt bounced out of his career debut, where he finished sixth against New York-breds on the grass, with a commanding six-length score in his second asking, earning a field-high Beyer Figure of 94.
Favored at 7-5 on the morning line, Championofthenile will break from the outside post 5 with Jose Ortiz in the saddle.
Get Jets, a 4 ½-length maiden winner at Saratoga on August 19, will leave from the rail for trainer Tony Dutrow. Installed at odds of 3-1, the Scat Daddy colt will be ridden by current leading rider Irad Ortiz, Jr. Trainer Jimmy Jerkens will be represented by Funny Cide runner-up Manipulated (5-1). The son of Malibu Moon will break from post 2 with Luis Saez. Steve's Image (12-1) will be ridden by Kendrick Carmouche for trainer Carlos Martin from post 3.