May 22, 2020
NYRA/Coglianese Photo

Max Player breezes in preparation for Belmont Stakes (G1)

by Keith McCalmot

Belmont Park Notes

  • Max Player breezes in preparation for G1 Belmont Stakes
  • Mr. Buff targeting $125K Commentator
  • Clement barn eyeing several stakes at Belmont

George E. Hall's Max Player will race out of his own barn as one of the local hopes in the 152nd renewal of the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Stakes, to be contested at nine furlongs on June 20 as the opening leg of the Triple Crown for the first time in history of the series.

"He had a nice workout today. He went six furlongs in 1:13.4 on the training track and did it easily," said trainer Linda Rice. "We were happy with it. We'll give him two more workouts before the Belmont."

Rice said she had considered sending the Kentucky-bred Honor Code colt, a last-out winner of the Grade 3 Withers at the Big A, to Saturday's Matt Winn at Churchill Downs but changed course with the news of live racing returning in New York.

"Mr. Hall and I discussed it and decided that we didn't think we should travel our 3-year-old once we had a schedule here and things were starting back up at home," said Rice.

Out of the Not For Love mare Fools in Love, Max Player's second dam [Parlez] produced multiple graded-stakes winner International Star. The lightly-raced Max Player is currently 37th on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 10 points and will look to add to those totals in the Belmont Stakes which offers 150-60-30-15 Derby qualifying points to the top-four finishers.

Max Player closed to finish second on debut in November at Parx in a one-mile maiden and graduated at second asking on December 17 over a sloppy Parx surface at the same distance. With Dylan Davis up for the first time in the nine-furlong Withers, a two-turn test, Max Player overtook Grade 2 Remsen-winner Shotski and powered home a 3 ¼-length winner.

Rice said the one-turn mile and an eighth should suit Max Player, who will again be piloted by Davis in the Belmont Stakes.

"Frankly, he's been a little green and inexperienced. Maybe the one turn will actually be good for him with less negotiating of two turns. Obviously, he's won at two turns but I think it will be helpful for him," said Rice. "It's going to be a strong race and all the best 3-year-olds in the country will be there, but it's in our backyard and we're going to give it a go. He's already won at a mile and an eighth, so we're not concerned about the distance."

An early list of possible contenders for the Belmont Stakes includes Basin, Charlatan, Farmington Road, Gouverneur Morris, Modernist, Nadal, Sole Volante, Shivaree and Tiz the Law.

Montauk Traffic, who captured the Jimmy Winkfield in February at the Big A for owner Chris Fountoukis, is currently taking some time off.

"He had a little inflammation in an ankle so we decided to stop on him and give him a break," said Rice.

Everything's Cricket Racing and Lawrence Goichman's Nicodemus breezed five-eighths in 1:02.58 Thursday on the dirt training track. The 5-year-old Candy Ride horse, bred in Kentucky by WinStar Farm, was second last out in the Grade 3 Toboggan at the Big A.

He won the 2019 renewal of the Grade 3 Westchester at one mile at Belmont, but Rice said she is considering both the Grade 1, $250,000 Runhappy Carter at seven furlongs on June 6 and the $80,000 First Defence at seven furlongs on the turf as alternatives to this year's renewal of the Westchester at 1 1/16-miles.

"He's doing very well. The Westchester was a flat mile last year - in the mud - and that worked out well for us," said Rice. "We'll nominate to the Carter, Westchester and First Defence and figure out what looks like the best opportunity. The best distance for him is probably the Carter, but it's going to be a very strong race."

Wicked Trick, a 5-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Hat Trick owned by Rice with Stephen G. Cooper, enjoyed a strong 2019 campaign winning five-of-nine starts. Rice said the gelding is under consideration for both the Grade 1 Runhappy Carter and Grade 2, $150,000 True North, a 6 1/2-furlong test slated for June 27.

"He's doing well. We've nominated him to the Carter and True North and we'll give both of those some consideration," said Rice.

Darlene Bilinski and Harry Patten's New York-bred Prince of Pharoahs showed early promise with a five-length win at second asking in a one-turn mile in October at Belmont. The dark bay American Pharoah colt finished second in the one-mile Jerome on New Year's Day at the Big A, but landed sixth when stretched out to nine furlongs in the Withers in search of graded black type.

Rice said Prince of Pharoahs will target the $100,000 Mike Lee at seven furlongs for Empire State-bred sophomores on June 14.

* * *

Mr. Buff targeting $125K Commentator

Chester and Mary Broman's multiple stakes-winning millionaire Mr. Buff worked a half-mile in 48.45 Thursday on the Belmont Park dirt training track with jockey Junior Alvarado up.

Trainer John Kimmel said he is eyeing the $125,000 Commentator Handicap, a one-mile test for New York-breds slated for June 12 as the next start for Mr. Buff.

"It was a good breeze. Junior said he felt good. We're probably going to go in the Commentator," said Kimmel. "He had a good break. I sent him to the farm for three weeks, but it hasn't had any effect on his program."

Trained by John Kimmel, the 6-year-old New York-bred son of Friend or Foe is in the midst of a three-race win streak with scores in the Alex M. Robb, Jazil and Haynesfield all at the Big A.

Mr. Buff matched a career-best 106 Beyer Speed Figure with his visually-appealing 20-length score in the Haynesfield.

Alvarado and Mr. Buff have teamed up to win seven races and Kimmel said the partnership has improved with each outing.

"Junior understands him. He understands that he doesn't have to have the lead," said Kimmel. "The most important thing about him is letting him find his rhythm before you ask him. He has a tremendous stride and he can go a long way, so you don't have to overuse him early."

Tobey Morton's Famished earned a career-best 82 Beyer when fifth on February 29 in the Grade 3 Palm Beach, a 1 1/16-mile turf tilt at Gulfstream Park. The sophomore bay son of Uncle Mo also finished fifth in his seasonal debut in the Dania Beach at one-mile on the Gulfstream green on February 1.

Bred in Ontario by Michael C. Byrne, Kimmel is pointing Famished to the $1 million Queen's Plate, first leg of the Canadian Triple Crown which is re-scheduled for September 12 at Woodbine Racetrack at 1 ¼-miles on the Tapeta.

Famished is under consideration for the Grade 2, $150,000 Pennine Ridge, a one-mile turf test for 3-year-olds slated for Belmont Stakes Day June 20 at Belmont Park but Kimmel said he might try an allowance test first early in the meet.

"He's doing really good. I may run him in an allowance first early in the meet for 3-year-olds, and then decide if we short cycle him into the Pennine Ridge," said Kimmel. "The race in Ontario [The Queen's Plate] is moved back to September, so we have a lot of time to get ready for that."

Famished graduated at second asking on the Saratoga main track before finishing fourth in both the grassy Grade 3 Pilgrim at Belmont and the main track Grade 3 Nashua at Aqueduct.

The unique Canadian Triple Crown includes the Prince of Wales on September 29 at 1 3/16-miles on the Fort Erie dirt and the $400,000 Breeders' at 1 ½-miles on Woodbine's E.P. Taylor Turf Course on October 24.

Kimmel said Famished should suit the Canadian-bred series.

"He can run on everything," said Kimmel. "I work him on dirt most of the time. I know he can run on the grass. He'll breeze on the grass here tomorrow in Florida."

Nedlaw Stable's New York-bred Harris Bay, a chestnut son of Carpe Diem, graduated at first asking in a six-furlong restricted maiden in September at Belmont Park. He followed up with a third in the one-mile Sleepy Hollow and was later fourth in a strong renewal of the Notebook won by Dream Bigger over stakes winners Scilly Cay and Bank On Shea.

Harris Bay was impeded at the start last out when second in the Rego Park in January at the Big A and is now back in training at Belmont.

"He's probably another ten days from starting a breeze program. If not by the end of the Belmont meet, he'll be ready for Saratoga," said Kimmel.

The Kentucky-bred Mandatory, by 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, worked a half-mile in 49.66 Thursday on Big Sandy. Owned by Tobey Morton, Mandatory is a half-brother to three-time Grade 1-winning multimillionaire I'm a Chatterbox.

A maiden after two starts, Kimmel said Mandatory should be ready to roll at the end of the Belmont spring meet.

"He's doing really good. He worked a half mile the other day and is three or four works from running, probably before we go to Saratoga," said Kimmel. "He had three or four works on the farm before shipping in."

P. G. Johnson stakes winner Crystalle, owned by Tobey Morton and Chuck Hovitz, is close to a return to training after some downtime following a four-race juvenile campaign that included a second in the Grade 2 Miss Grillo on September 29 at Belmont ahead of an off-the-board effort in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at Santa Anita Park.

The Kentucky-bred daughter of Palace Malice is a leading contender for NYRA's Turf Triple series which will see dates announced in the coming weeks.

Crystalle is currently getting back underway in Ocala and Kimmel said she would be ready for a summer campaign.

"We lost a couple months with her but she'll be back at end of June and we'll have her ready for Saratoga," said Saratoga.

Kimmel said he hopes to debut New York-bred juvenile Miss Buff, a full-sister to Mr. Buff, in the fall at Belmont Park.

"She's so big. She's 16.3 hands now and we won't need to put much pressure on her until we get back from Saratoga," said Kimmel. "She's not as wide as he is, but she's just as tall.

"Mr. Buff was kind of gangly looking when he was a 2-year-old," added Kimmel. "He wasn't the swiftest looking critter out there...he looked like two men in a horse suit until everything came together for him."

* * *

Clement barn eyeing several stakes at Belmont

Trainer Christophe Clement boasts a bustling stable at Belmont Park, including a number of promising stakes contenders for the upcoming spring meet led by a pair of turf sophomores by Declaration of War in Otter Bend Stables' Gufo and West Point Thoroughbreds, William T. Freeman, William Sandbrook, and Cheryl Manning's Grade 1-winner Decorated Invader.

"They're by the same stallion, have a similar running style, and they run the same distance on the same surface," said Miguel Clement, assistant trainer to his father. "They were working together last May as 2-year-olds at Saratoga and they'll likely run against each other soon enough."

Gufo, who won the English Channel last out at Gulfstream Park, is out of the Petionville mare Floy and is a half-brother to multiple graded-stakes winning millionaire Hogy. Gufo earned a career-best 90 Beyer Speed Figure for his last-to-first effort in a loaded 11-horse edition of the 1 1/16-mile English Channel.

Decorated Invader, a $200,000 purchase at the 2018 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, graduated impressively at second asking in August at Saratoga Race Course. He then traveled north to Woodbine where he won the Grade 1 Summer on a yielding turf ahead of a fourth in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita Park in November.

Out of the Arch mare Gamely Girl, Decorated Invader rallied from 11th to win the Cutler Bay, a one-mile turf test on March 28 at Gulfstream Park in his seasonal debut.

Clement said Decorated Invader will target the Grade 2, $150,000 Pennine Ridge, a one-mile turf test for 3-year-olds slated for Belmont Stakes Day June 20 at Belmont Park, while Gufo is under consideration for the $150,000 Cinema, a nine-furlong turf test for 3-year-olds on June 6 at Santa Anita Park.

"I'm very happy with both of them," said Clement. "Declaration of War is at Payson Park and will head up to New York next week. He's training very well and will work again here tomorrow on the grass. We're very pleased with him and he's looking well."

Oak Bluff Stables' Therapist, a 5-year-old son of Freud, has continued to train well toward his seasonal debut. Bred in the Empire State by Christophe Clement and Oak Bluff Stables, Therapist boasts a record of seven wins and four thirds from 16 career starts.

He worked five furlongs in 1:03.77 Tuesday on the Belmont main track.

Clement said the popular Therapist is pointing to the $80,000 First Defence, a seven-furlong turf test slated for June 7.

Castleton Lyons' Gucci Factor, a New York-bred son of Gio Ponti who won the 2019 Grade 3 Poker, could make his seasonal debut in the Grade 2, $150,000 Fort Marcy at nine furlongs on the turf. Bred in New York by Highclere, the 7-year-old bay rallied to win the Mohawk by a nose last out in October at Belmont.

"Gucci Factor might go in the mile and an eighth race [Fort Marcy] as a prep for the New York-bred stakes later on," said Clement.

Focus Group, a 6-year-old son of Kitten's Joy, was off-the-board last out in the Grade 2 Pan American at Gulfstream Park in his first start for new connections.

A five-time winner from 17 starts with $494,569 in purse earnings, Focus Group, previously conditioned by Chad Brown, was purchased from the Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale and is now campaigned by West Point Thoroughbreds, New Phoenix Stable, Louisa Stevenson and Tango Uniform Racing.

"He'll be heading back to New York soon," said Clement. "He was unlucky in his seasonal debut. He was a victim of both pace and trip, nevertheless he is training forwardly and I expect him to perform better next out."

The now 9-year-old Pure Sensation continues to train forwardly at Payson Park for Clement. A Patricia Generazio homebred, the Zensational gelding boasts a record of 36-14-5-7 and is just shy of $2 million in career earnings. Out of the multiple-stakes winner Pure Disco, Pure Sensation is under consideration for the Grade 1, $250,000 Jaipur presented by America's Best Racing. The six-furlong turf test for 3-year-olds and up is slated for Belmont Stakes Day June 20 and offers a berth in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint.

Clement said the ageless grey, who won four-of-six starts in 2019, continues to impress as he prepares for his seasonal debut.

"He's enjoyed an extended holiday by design. His next race might be the Jaipur. He's a testament to the Generazio homebred program," said Clement.

Calumet Farm's undefeated 3-year-old Casino Grande has shown tremendous ability with a 1 3/4-length debut sprint score on March 14 at Tampa Bay Downs ahead of a commanding last-out win in a one-mile optional-claiming event on May 16 at Gulfstream Park that garnered an 82 Beyer Speed Figure.

Clement said the Cairo Prince bay has significant upside and is likely to target a stakes race at Belmont next month.

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