· With Ramon Dominguez up, Mucho Macho Man works bullet for Belmont Stakes
· Stay Thirsty breezes five furlongs in final Belmont Stakes move
· Bush leaning against running Get Stormy in G1 Woodford Reserve Manhattan
· Multiple Eclipse winner Gio Ponti headlines Woodford Reserve Manhattan
· Aviate looks to fly in wide open Foxwoods Just a Game
· Turbulent Descent looms large in TVG Acorn
· Smiling Tiger and Trappe Shot highlight deep and contentious True North, presented by Emirates Airline
· Travelin Man and J J’s Lucky Train cut back in Woody Stephens, presented by VisitNassauCounty.com
Mucho Macho Man turned in his final serious work for Saturday’s 143rd running of the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Stakes this morning under new jockey Ramon Dominguez, covering the five furlongs in a brisk 59.57, the fastest of 15 at the distance.
The leggy bay colt, third in the Kentucky Derby and then sixth in the Preakness after losing a shoe, came onto the main track shortly after the renovation break at 8:45 a.m. Jogging past the “Breakfast at Belmont” fans in front of the grandstand, Mucho Macho Man stood quietly at the finish line for a few moments before Dominguez turned him around and cantered around the clubhouse turn. On the backstretch, Dominguez allowed the colt to quicken his pace at the 5 ½-furlong pole, turning in splits of 12.08, 23.93 and 35.22, and galloping out six furlongs in 1:13.18.
“He went very good today, I think Ramon fit him really well,” said trainer Kathy Ritvo. “He was comfortable on him, he let him do it on his own, and he went great. Finished up well, galloped out good, good energy. I’m happy that he’s doing really well.”
Mucho Macho Man will be one of a trio of horses in the Belmont to have competed in all three legs of the Triple Crown. Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, who had a 1 ½ mile gallop over the main track after his 7:30 a.m. arrival from Fair Hill, Md., and Preakness winner Shackleford, who was confirmed for the Belmont following Saturday’s work, are the others.
Ritvo said she was looking forward to the opportunity to take on the Derby and Preakness winners again.
“I think he’s going to run well on this racetrack,” said Ritvo, who trains Mucho Macho Man for Reeves Thoroughbred Racing and Dream Team Racing Stable. “It’s a great place to train a horse. It’s a great place to run. And I think the distance is going to suit him well. He’s the kind of horse who wants to keep going.”
Although Mucho Macho Man is technically three years old, as all thoroughbreds share a common January 1 birthday, his actual foal date was June 15, 2008.
“He’s been super, I’ve never had anything like this before,” said Ritvo. “He eats well, eats three or four times a day. He never leaves an oat. He loves to train; you put the tack on him, he’s a professional. I have to keep reminding myself he’s a June 15 foal.”
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Owner Mike Repole’s Stay Thirsty breezed five furlongs over the Belmont Park main track Sunday morning in 1:00.45 (third fastest of 15 works at the distance) as he prepares for a start in the Belmont Stakes.
“I thought he worked really well,” said trainer Todd Pletcher. “It was a good solid five-eighths, a minute and two-fifths with a strong gallop out. We were happy with it.”
Javier Castellano, currently the leading rider at the Belmont spring/summer meet, was aboard the 3-year-old Bernardini colt for the workout and will also ride him in next weekend’s race. They went an eighth in 12.22, a half in 24.36, three eighths in 36.55, and galloped out in 1:13.40, finishing two lengths ahead of workmate Joe Vann.
Pletcher said that Stay Thirsty, winner of the Grade 3 Gotham at Aqueduct on March 5 before running seventh in the Florida Derby and twelfth in the Kentucky Derby, is doing very well heading into the Belmont.
“He’s as good as he can be coming into the race,” he said. “We’re hopeful that he can handle the mile-and-a-half distance. We won't know until we try it but his pedigree suggests he could handle it. We’re under the radar a bit. There’s no pressure so we can just come into it and have fun.”
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In spite of a sharp six-furlong turf work in 1:14.05 Sunday morning, trainer Tom Bush said he was leaning against running Sullimar Stable’s dual Grade 1 winner Get Stormy in the Grade 1, $400,000 Woodford Reserve Manhattan at 1 ¼ miles on the Belmont Stakes undercard.
The 5-year-old son of Stormy Atlantic was a front-running winner of the Grade 1, 1 1/8-mile Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on the Kentucky Derby undercard in his most recent start, which came on the heels of a victory in the Grade 1 Maker’s Mark Mile at Keeneland in April. With a career record of 10-2-2 from 22 starts, Get Stormy has never competed beyond 1 1/8 miles and Bush said he didn’t think the horse’s pedigree would stand up in longer routes.
“He went really, really well today, I just don’t think I should run him at a mile and quarter,” Bush said. “I’m leaning against it. He’s training brilliantly, I just don’t know if I can take a chance. I have to think about it a little more.
“Today he worked unbelievable, but I hate this idea where you get high on horses and you start asking them to do things that you’re not supposed to be asking them to do. That’s not a good way to train, just because you’re high on your horses.”
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Heading the contenders for the Woodford Reserve Manhattan is reigning Eclipse Champion turf male Gio Ponti. Trained by Christophe Clement for Castleton Lyons Farm, the 6-year-old Tale of the Cat horse has not raced since finishing fifth, beaten less than two lengths, in the Dubai World Cup on March 26, his only start of 2011. He will be looking for his seventh career Grade 1 win in the 1 1/4-mile Manhattan, a race in which he finished second last year to stablemate Winchester.
Prince Will I Am will seek his second career Grade 1 win for trainer Michelle Nihei in the Manhattan, his fourth start of 2011. His other Grade 1 victory came over the Belmont Park turf in last year’s Jamaica.
European conditioner Aidan O’Brien is bringing the multiple Group 1-placed Viscount Nelson to contest the Manhattan, which will be his second race in eight days, having won a listed stakes at the Curragh in Ireland on June 3. The 4-year-old Giant’s Causeway colt ran third in both the prestigious Irish 2000 Guineas and Eclipse Stakes last year.
Also expected for the Manhattan are graded winners Al Khali, Bold Hawk, and Smart Bid, graded-placed Mission Approved, and allowance winner Center Divider. Listed as possible are Boisterous and Windward Islands.
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Aviate will attempt to earn her first Grade 1 victory when she competes in the Grade 1, $400,000 Foxwoods Just a Game for fillies and mares at one mile on the Widener turf course. A Juddmonte Farms homebred, Aviate has made two starts in North America, winning the Grade 2 Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill Downs on May 7 following a third in the Grade 3 Honey Fox at Gulfstream Park on March 5. She’ll attempt to emulate last year’s Just a Game winner Proviso and give Juddmonte and Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott their second straight victory in the race.
“[Her development this year] couldn’t have been better,” said Mott. “We’ll see on Saturday if it continues and gets us to where we want to go. Having a Grade 1 would be wonderful.”
Aviate is expected to face Team Valor International’s Gypsy’s Warning, who closed her 2010 campaign with a victory in the Grade 1 Matriarch at Hollywood Park in November and is looking to rebound off a seventh in the Grade 2 Jenny Wiley at Keeneland on April 16. Heading the local contingent are Much Rejoicing and Strike the Bell, the respective top two finishers of the Glia overnight stakes at Belmont Park on May 13.
The Foxwoods Just a Game field is also likely to include Bet On the Blue, Cherokee Queen, Fantasia, Justaroundmidnight, and La Cloche. C. S. Silk is also under consideration for the race.
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California-based Turbulent Descent, who won the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks on March 5 and traveled east to win Keeneland’s Grade 2 Beaumont by five lengths on April 17, will log more frequent flier miles when she invades New York to compete in the Grade 1, $300,000 TVG Acorn for 3-year-old fillies at one mile. Trained by Mike Puype for Blinkers On Racing Stable, the daughter of Congrats has five victories from six starts and is seeking her third Grade 1, having also won the Hollywood Starlet in December.
Victoria’s Wildcat has won three straight for owner Bob Bayer and trainer Bob Hess, Jr., including the Grade 3 Eight Belles at Churchill Downs on May 6. Her Smile and It’s Tricky are also probable for the race, and they could be joined by Snow Fall, according to Andrew Byrnes, stakes coordinator for The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA).
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Multiple Grade 1 winner Smiling Tiger headlines the probables for what is shaping up to be a terrific renewal of the Grade 2, $250,000 True North Handicap, presented by Emirates Airline. Trained by Jeff Bonde, the 4-year-old Hold That Tiger colt annexed the Bing Crosby and the Ancient Title last year in California, both Grade 1 events on the synthetic, and boasts wins in the Grade 2 San Carlos and Grade 3 Count Fleet this year. In his most recent start, he finished sixth, beaten 2 ¼ lengths in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs.
Conditioner Kiaran McLaughlin is expected to send out Trappe Shot, second in last year’s Grade 1 Haskell Invitational, to contest the six-furlong True North. The 4-year-old Tapit colt was victorious in his 2011 debut, a six-furlong overnight stake at Belmont Park on May 11. He worked a sharp five furlongs in 59.97 Saturday over the Belmont main track in preparation for next weekend’s race.
The deep and contentious True North is also likely to attract multiple graded stakes winners Calibrachoa, Custom for Carlos, and D’ Funnybone, stakes winners Rule by Night and This Ones for Phil, and allowance winner Irrefutable.
Calibrachoa has won four straight, including the Grade 3 Toboggan at Aqueduct Racetrack on March 5 in his most recent start. All four victories came at six furlongs, the same distance as Saturday’s race. He was entered in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap at the Big A on April 9 but was scratched with sore feet. Trained by Todd Pletcher for Mike Repole, the 4-year-old son of Southern Image breezed four furlongs in 48.93 Sunday morning.
“We had some foot issues and had to miss the Carter, but he’s back to his old self,” said Pletcher. “I think he’s fit.”
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Travelin Man, trained by Todd Pletcher for E. Paul Robsham Stables LLC, will cut back in distance as the likely favorite in the Grade 2, $250,000 Woody Stephens, presented by VisitNassauCounty.com. The 3-year-old Trippi colt was impressive in winning the seven-furlong Grade 2 Swale at Gulfstream Park on April 3 before faltering to finish sixth in the one-mile Grade 3 Derby Trial at Churchill Downs on April 30. He worked four furlongs in 47:50 Sunday morning at Belmont, third fastest of 63 at the distance.
“Travelin Man worked well this morning and is on schedule,” said Pletcher. “We’re drawing a line through that last race. We don’t think he liked the surface there. I don’t think it mattered the other day that is was a mile. He wasn’t going to win, no matter how far it was.”
Also coming out of the Derby Trial to run in the seven-furlong Woody Stephens will be J J’s Lucky Train, who won the Grade 3 Bay Shore at Aqueduct over the same distance on April 9 before finishing third at Churchill.
Also expected for the race is multiple graded-placed Justin Phillip, stakes winner Arch Traveler, and allowance winner Derivative. Listed as possibles are Coil, Little Drama, Runflatout, and Vee’s Accolade.