Gronkowski impresses Brown in final work before G1 Belmont Stakes & more
by NYRA Press Office
- Gronkowski impresses Brown in final work before G1 Belmont Stakes
- Blended Citizen breezes five furlongs in public workout Saturday
- Saturday was Miller time at San Luis Rey as Conquest Tsunami, Stormy Liberal, and Multiplier ready for New York assignments
- Belmont-bound Tenfold works five furlongs in 1:01 3/5 at Churchill
- Justify gallops; Louisville owners thanking their lucky Starlight
- Pletcher probables picture perfect for Belmont Stakes Racing Festival
- Better, smarter Whitmore returns for another shot at G2 True North
- Lull breezes on main track for G1 Just a Game; Disco Partner could be joined by Pure Sensation in G2 Jaipur
- Mind Your Biscuits ready to take center stage in G1 Met Mile
- G1 Manhattan a go for One Go All Go
- Bravazo gets a walk day following Thursday breeze
- Romans hoping Free Drop Billy better than a show horse
- Phoenix Thoroughbred Limited's Gronkowski put in his final workout before the 150th running of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets, breezing five furlongs in 1:01.87 on Saturday morning at Belmont Park's main track.
It was the Chad Brown trainee's second work since arriving at Belmont, having breezed four furlongs in 47.99 seconds last Saturday. Jockey Jose Ortiz, who will have the call on Gronkowski in the Belmont Stakes, was up again.
Gronkowski worked in company with Engage, who is targeting the Grade 2, $400,000 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun on Belmont Stakes Day, June 9.
"It went well, galloped out a good three-quarters and I was real happy with it," Brown said of Gronkowski. "This horse hasn't put a foot wrong since he's arrived. He's a real classy horse and came to me in outstanding condition."
Gronkowski will be making his first North American start after going 4-1-0 in six career races in Great Britain. The son of the Australian-bred Lonhro, who won 11 Group 1 races from 2001-04, will be stretching out to the Belmont Stakes' famed 1 ½-mile distance after winning four consecutive races at one mile.
"Based on his two workouts, he's made to go a mile and a half on the dirt to me," said Brown, who took over training duties from Jeremy Noseda last month. "In a perfect world, I wish I had him longer and had a better handle on the horse, but it is what it is and I'm fortunate to be in this position to go there with a chance to win."
Gronkowski had been scheduled to work Friday morning before a driving rainstorm led Brown to move the work, which was held Saturday in the sunshine with temperatures in the high 70s.
"I was ready to breeze him yesterday, but then the rain came, but it worked out," Brown said. "Today was always the day I preferred to work him anyway."
Ortiz will be going for his second consecutive Belmont Stakes win after piloting Tapwrit to the winner's circle in the "Test of the Champion" last year. Brown said he again received positive feedback from his rider, who will be looking to become the first jockey to win consecutive Belmont Stakes since Laffit Pincay, Jr. won three straight from 1982-84.
"He likes the horse and was as impressed with him as I was, and he felt the longer, the better for him," Brown said.
Gronkowski's last race was a 1 1/4-length score on March 30 at Newscastle. After changing owners, and continents, the namesake of Patriots All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski is working on an accelerated timeline going into a high-profile race in which he attempts to thwart Justify's bid for the 13th Triple Crown in history.
"I had the opportunity to train him a couple of weeks before I worked him. I could have squeezed three breezes in, but I just didn't feel the horse was completely acclimated over here yet, so I went with caution and did two works," Brown said. "I wanted to make sure he was ready to work, and he was. Based on what I see, he looks pretty fit. There's some unknowns - he did miss some time - and coming off a layoff going a mile-and-a-half, that's about as tough of a task as you can ask a horse to do. But he's a high-quality horse, so maybe he's good enough to do it."
Blended Citizen breezes five furlongs in public workout Saturday
The SayJay Racing, Greg Hall and Brooke Hubbard-owned Blended Citizen, winner of the Grade 3 Peter Pan on May 12, breezed a commanding five furlongs in 1:00.64 over the Belmont Park main track just before the first race on Saturday afternoon, his final serious move before his anticipated start in Saturday's 150th running of the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes.
The two-time Grade 3 winner took to the track alongside a pony at 12:45 p.m. in a special time reserved for the Doug O'Neill trainee.
Under jockey Mike Luzzi, the Proud Citizen colt began from the half-mile pole and ran the first eighth of a mile in 12.65 seconds and the quarter in 24.25, hitting the wire in 47.93, before finishing in 1:00.64 under the wire. NYRA clockers caught Blended Citizen galloping out six furlongs in 1:17.58. The smooth-moving colt did all the work, said Luzzi.
"He covers a lot of ground. He's a Cadillac," Luzzi said. "Obviously we know he likes the track. I wish the best of luck to them next week."
Assistant trainer Leandro Mora, who has been with O'Neill for 17 ½ years, arrived at Belmont late Friday afternoon from California to oversee the workout, and was pleased with the style and ease the multiple graded-stakes winner offered.
"What I like is how easily he did it," Mora said. "It was nice, I'm very pleased. He wasn't even making noise going by. I like how he went past the wire. That's when you know you have a legit horse. I like what I saw."
The afternoon workout is a tactic that O'Neill has used before, notably saddling Reddam Racing's then-undefeated colt Nyquist for a public workout at Santa Anita Park for his final breeze before he won the 2015 Breeders' Cup Juvenile by a half-length.
"We don't school horses like some trainers," said Mora. "If we work a horse prior or between races, or before the first race, we do it like a race, so they think they went through it, but they didn't go through the hassle. They come back to the barn, they've gone through the workout, and it's a whole psychological thing for them."
Unplaced through three starts earlier in his career on dirt, the half-brother to Lookin At Lee was switched to turf, where he broke his maiden in his fifth start at Del Mar. It took a while for the long-striding colt to get to his first Grade 1 start next Saturday.
"This is a late-developing horse," Mora said. "He was just a slow learner. We tried him on dirt, we thought he was just no good on dirt. So Doug put him on the grass and he won. [The owners] talked to Doug, and he said if you want to make it to the Kentucky Derby, let's do it like Animal Kingdom did. Run around synthetic, and try to qualify, and enjoy the Derby.
"Once we didn't get in, the owners brought up the [July 7 Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational] on the grass. Doug said, 'What about the Peter Pan?' and the owners said, 'Let's go."
Blended Citizen, who placed third in the El Camino Real Derby in February at Golden Gate Fields, returned to win the Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park the following month, before running fifth in the Grade 2 Blue Grass at Keeneland. Blended Citizen has earnings of $406,854, and will be ridden by jockey Kyle Frey, who has been aboard the colt for his last four starts.
Saturday was Miller time at San Luis Rey as Conquest Tsunami, Stormy Liberal, and Multiplier ready for New York assignments
Peter Miller confirmed Conquest Tsunami, Stormy Liberal, and Multiplier for the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival after the three runners turned in separate five-furlong workouts this morning at the San Luis Rey Training Center.
Conquest Tsunami and Stormy Liberal, respectively second and third in the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint on March 31 at Meydan Racecourse, are on target for the Grade 2, $400,000 Jaipur Invitational, while Multiplier, 10th in last year's Belmont Stakes, will be returning to Belmont for Grade 1, $1 million Woodford Reserve Manhattan. Both races will be contested on the turf next Saturday and are for 4-year-olds and up.
"All three worked great and are back where we want them to be," said Miller by phone. "Conquest Tsunami worked in 1:00 1/5 and galloped out six furlongs in 1:12 2/5. Stormy Liberal went in 1:01 2/5 and galloped out in 1:13. Those two went by themselves. I got Multiplier in 1:01 and change [officially in 1:01 1/5] and he galloped out in 1:13. He went in company because he's a little lazy and I wanted to give him a target."
Stormy Liberal, a 6-year-old gelding owned by Rockingham Ranch and David A. Bernsen, finished eighth in the 2017 Jaipur before returning five months later to post a 30-1 upset in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint at Del Mar. He was 11th in the Hong Kong Sprint before launching his 2018 campaign with seconds in the Grade 3 Daytona in February at Santa Anita and in the Al Quoz Sprint.
Conquest Tsunami began his career with trainer Mark Casse before joining the Miller barn last fall, escaping the San Luis Rey Fire, in Miller's words, "relatively unscathed." He easily won an optional claimer in January and the Grade 3 Daytona in February at Santa Anita before setting the pace and battling on well to finish third in the Al Quoz sprint.
"Conquest Tsunami is a very fast, speedy horse, while Stormy Liberal likes to come from a little off the pace," said Miller. "They complement each other."
Multiplier was transferred to Miller following his 3-year-old season, which included a victory in the Grade 3 Illinois Derby. He made three starts on dirt for Miller before making his turf debut last time out, taking an optional claimer by a nose May 13 at Santa Anita.
"His pedigree says grass as he is by The Factor, so we wanted to try him on that surface," Miller said of Multiplier, who is owned by Wachtel Stable, George J. Kerr, and Gary Barber. "He ran a big race last time and he fits on the Ragozin Sheets, but he'll have to step forward."
Miller also will start Bobby Abu Dhabi in the Grade 2, $250,000 True North at 6 ½ furlongs on Friday. Bobby Abu Dhabi, a 4-year-old owned by Rockingham and Bernsen, was second to City of Light in the Grade 1 Triple Bend in March before posting his first graded stakes victory in the Grade 2 Kona Gold in April. The Macho Uno colt worked five furlongs in 59 2/5 seconds on Friday and is slated to have a blowout on Monday.
"[Bobby Abu Dhabi] has really matured for us the past few months," said Miller. "He's become a bigger, stronger version of the horse we had last year."
Miller said all four of his Belmont Stakes Racing Festival horses will fly to New York on Tuesday.
Belmont-bound Tenfold works five furlongs in 1:01 3/5 at Churchill
Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen had said he wanted Winchell Thoroughbreds' Tenfold to work five-eighths of a mile in 1:02 or a couple of ticks faster ahead of Saturday's Grade 1 Belmont Stakes, and that's exactly what the Preakness third-place finisher did with a five-furlong work in 1:01 3/5 on a sun-soaked Saturday morning at Churchill Downs.
Churchill clockers timed Tenfold in splits of 12 3/5 seconds for the first eighth-mile, 25 1/5 for the first quarter-mile, 37 1/5 for three-eighths and 49 2/5 for the half-mile, then put in a strong gallop-out of 1:15 for three-quarters of a mile and 1:28 4/5 for seven-eighths under exercise rider Angel Garcia.
"I thought Tenfold worked really nicely today," said Asmussen, who won the 2016 Belmont with Creator. "He gets over the racetrack well, and we're obviously very excited about his chances in the Belmont. The horse is in a really nice rhythm right now. I feel he's 100 percent and really like his state of mind going into this. Nothing but respect for the field, but I think he'll represent well.
"He's always been very talented. He's a lightly raced horse. He's had four lifetime races now. I think his Preakness solidified his quality. The fact that he has continued to train well since has a lot of people talking about him that weren't before. He went into the Preakness the longest shot on the board [at 26-1], and I don't think that will happen in the Belmont."
Asked about how the pace might impact Tenfold, the Hall of Fame trainer said, "I think we're set up really well for Tenfold to run his race. What everybody else does is their business."
Among those watching were owner-breeder Ron Winchell and his family's long-time racing and bloodstock manager David Fiske. The Winchell operation, started by Ron's father, the late donut magnate Verne Winchell, has produced top-caliber racehorses for decades. But Tenfold's third by a total of three-quarters of a length in the Preakness was the closest the family has come in a Triple Crown race.
Tenfold is a son of the Asmussen-trained two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, who lost the 2007 Belmont by a head to the filly Rags to Riches, and the broodmare Temptress, who is a daughter of the Winchell-campaigned Tapit, now one of the leading stallions in the world, who has sired three of the past four Belmont winners.
"We went into the Preakness the longest shot on the board," Winchell said of his colt, who came into the middle leg of the Triple Crown off two wins at Oaklawn Park and a fifth in the Arkansas Derby. "We felt a lot more confident than what everybody else felt. So it was a little bit of a vindication of how we felt, and seeing the result. Turning for home, I thought he had a pretty good chance at winning. He obviously finished third, finished up well, made us very optimistic going into the Belmont. His breeding hopefully will come into play, being by Curlin and out of a Tapit mare. So, we'll see how that works out.
"We'd love to be a spoiler," he said of Justify's bid to become American racing's 13th Triple Crown winner. "Obviously we'd love to see a Triple Crown winner from the perspective of somebody who loves horse racing, but you have to earn those positions. Triple Crown races are something for me, growing up, we were always kind of chasing Derbys, chasing classic races and never able to get one. So what would it mean? It's huge. It's something I've chased my whole life."
Justify gallops; Louisville owners thanking their lucky Starlight
Triple Crown hopeful Justify galloped 1 1/2 miles in relaxed fashion Saturday at Churchill Downs under exercise rider Humberto Gomez. Even though Tenfold was working at the same time during Churchill's special 7:30-7:40 time slot for Belmont Stakes horses, most of the attention was on the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner's routine training exercise.
Also on the track were Preakness runner Bravazo, who jogged two miles, and Grade 1 winner Free Drop Billy, who galloped.
"He went good again. Every day has been a good training day for us," said assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes, overseeing the training of Justify and Bob Baffert's other Churchill horses while the Hall of Fame trainer is in California. "He was full of energy. Very happy. He goes over the track very nice. It's nice and quiet out there. It's good for us to train like that. It makes it much easier for us when there are just a few horses out there. He's looking good. Today was his normal training. We didn't do much [Friday] and came off a walk day and a jog day, so I expected him to be pretty happy. He was his professional self today."
Barnes said Gary and Mary West's Belmont contender Restoring Hope, who went out after Justify, also galloped 1 1/2 miles under Gomez. "Doing good, very good," he said.
Both horses are scheduled to work Monday and fly to New York Wednesday.
Having Justify at Churchill Downs has been a thrill for the members of Starlight Racing who live in Louisville. Starlight owns 15 percent of Justify, whose other owners are WinStar Farm, China Horse Club and Head of Plains Partners. Until Justify, the last time a Louisville resident owned the Derby winner was H.C. Applegate with Old Rosebud in 1914. The Louisville owners frequently show up to watch Justify train, thanking their lucky Starlight for involvement with a horse going for the Triple Crown.
"Right now, I feel like I'm still in a dream, that it's not actually happening," said Starlight member Anita Cauley. "God keeps rolling them out one after another. So, fingers crossed. People will say, 'Oh you're going to do it.' I'm like, 'Don't say anything out loud.' It's hard to do. Any of these races are hard to get. But to try to get all three, whew."
Ted Nixon and his 90-year-old father, Bo, got involved because Bo was so interested in his daughter-in-law's fillies with the all-women StarLadies Racing. Mary Nixon told her husband that he and Bo should invest with the regular Starlight Racing group, founded by Louisvillian Jack Wolf.
Bo Nixon grew up on Long Island, has been a fan for 80 years and struck gold with his first horses. Bo and Ted are 5 for 5 as owners, with Starlight buying into Audible before he won the Florida Derby and in Justify after his maiden victory. While Bo didn't go to Baltimore, he will be returning to his old roots for the Belmont.
"To be able to have a horse in a position to win the Triple Crown at the Belmont is nothing we ever dreamed of but is certainly a thrill of a lifetime," said Ted Nixon. "We finally decide to buy into some horses and we lock into Justify and Audible. Dad is thrilled. At 90 years old, he's heading up to the Belmont and looking forward to being there. It's the Super Bowl, the Stanley Cup and the World Series all thrown into one."
Another Starlight partner is Ed Glasscock, one of Louisville's true power brokers and sportsmen, also being involved in the city's Triple A baseball team and professional soccer franchise as well as a long-time horse owner. Glasscock's son, Clint, was one of the Starlight partners that asked Wolf if they'd look into buying into a Derby prospect to go along with the yearlings they buy every year.
"Dream come true," Ed Glasscock said. "Something very special that will never happen again, I'm sure."
Pletcher probables picture perfect for Belmont Stakes Racing Festival
Trainer Todd Pletcher reported Saturday morning that his cadre of contenders for the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival came back from their breezes the previous morning in fine fettle.
"I thought everyone came back well," said Pletcher. "I was pleased with the morning we had, and everyone seems to be on course for what they are on course for."
Pletcher added that Let's Go Stable and Richard Schibell's Outshine (a half-mile in 49.87 seconds) will likely be joined in Friday's $150,000 Tremont for 2-year-olds by Repole Stable's Social Fan and Starlight Racing's Sombeyay.
Also working Friday were Pletcher's two contenders for the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets, Noble Indy (5f in 1:01.22) and Vino Rosso (1:01.55). Going out as well were Grade 2, $400,000 Brooklyn Invitational candidates Hard Study and Outplay, who breezed a half-mile in 48.69; Grade 1, $750,000 Ogden Phipps hopefuls Ivy Bell (49.11) and Unbridled Mo (49.09); Grade 2 Jaipur Invitational candidate Blind Ambition (48.89), and Hi Happy in 48.89 for the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Manhattan.
Hi Happy, a 6-year-old Argentine-bred son of Pure Prize out of the French Deputy mare Historia, was a multiple Group 1 winner in his native country who arrived in Pletcher's barn over the winter. He was third in his first North American start, the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf, and next came from just off the pace to take the Grade 2 Pan American, also at Gulfstream Park. Sent off the favorite in the Grade 1 Man o' War on May 12, he came wide to win by a half-length.
"He's a horse that performs well, very straightforward and easy to train," said Pletcher, noting he saw several parallels with another import, Bribon, with whom he won the Grade 3 Bold Ruler and Grade 2 True North in 2010.
"Bribon was a very cool horse," said Pletcher of the French-bred, who he trained as a 7-year-old for Derrick Smith. "When you are fortunate enough to get the opportunity to train a ready-made horse, and don't have to go through the process of them learning how to run and all of those things, it makes your job so easy. You just try to keep them sound and healthy and point them in the right direction."
Pletcher said he did not know how Hi Happy, who is owned and was bred by La Providencia LLC, got his name.
"He is a very, very professional, straightforward model citizen," he said. "I wouldn't call him overly joyful on a daily basis, but he makes me happy."
Better, smarter Whitmore returns for another shot at G2 True North
Now a 5-year-old, Whitmore returns to Belmont Park for another appearance in the Grade 2 True North at 6 1/2 furlongs Friday. The chestnut gelding finished third in the race last year won by eventual champion sprinter Roy H.
Whitmore is co-owned by trainer Ron Moquett's Southern Springs Stables, Robert LaPenta and Head of Plains Partners.
The chestnut son of Breeders' Cup Classic winner Pleasantly Perfect is 10 for 19, with three seconds and two thirds, earning $1.5 million. But excluding his five races around two turns (including 19th in the 2016 Kentucky Derby), he's 10 for 14 sprinting. In his last start, Whitmore was fourth after getting stuck in traffic at the eighth pole of the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Stakes on Derby Day. That followed the two stakes victories at Oaklawn Park that started off his 2018 season after Whitmore finished eighth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Del Mar.
"He had a troubled trip, but he ran well," Moquett said of the Derby Day race in the slop. "I felt like if we got any kind of trip we had a horse that could have won."
Moquett said he's put more focus on races such as the True North this year "with the intent of trying to get to the Breeders' Cup Sprint [at Churchill Downs] in more familiar surroundings and with more of a fresh horse."
While Whitmore is unbeaten in five sprint races at Oaklawn Park (where he also had a pair of respectable seconds in the 2016 Southwest and Rebel and third in the Arkansas Derby going longer distances), Moquett said, "He takes his track with him. Some of his most impressive races were at Keeneland and Pimlico. But I think if everything goes along like it has, we'll see a better, more consistent representation.
"I think he's better [than last year]. He's smarter, or we're learning little things about him all the time. He's teaching us how he wants to be trained."
Ricardo Santana, Jr. has the mount.
Lull breezes on main track for G1 Just a Game; Disco Partner could be joined by Pure Sensation in G2 Jaipur
Lull, last seen winning the Grade 3 Honey Fox in March, on Saturday completed her major preparations for the Grade 1, $700,000 Longines Just a Game by breezing five furlongs on the main track in 1:00.44.
The Longines Just a Game for fillies and mares will be contested next Saturday at one mile on the Widener turf course.
"She had a very good work today," said trainer Christophe Clement. "She had been working weekly going five-eighths on the dirt. I have been keeping her on the dirt because she moves and trains very well on dirt. Jose Ortiz will be riding her, and I'm very excited to see her run a mile in a Grade 1."
Lull earned her first graded stakes victory last October when she scored by 3 ¼ lengths in the Grade 3 Autumn Miss at Santa Anita. The Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider homebred finished an even fifth in the Grade 1 Matriarch in November at Del Mar before returning to form with a gate-to-wire victory in the Honey Fox on March 31 at Gulfstream Park. All three of those starts came at one mile.
The 4-year-old daughter of War Front also has victories in the 2016 Exacta Systems Juvenile Fillies at seven furlongs and 2017 Kentucky Downs Ladies Sprint at 6 ½ furlongs.
"Her best distance, probably, is around six, seven furlongs on the grass, but I'm sure she is plenty good enough to go a mile, especially the one-turn mile at Belmont, which is rather speed favoring," said Clement. "It's exciting. It's a very good race. It's fun. We'll try."
Clement said he likely will have two runners in the Grade 2 Jaipur Invitational. Disco Partner is slated to defend his title in the six-furlong turf sprint and could be joined by 2016 Jaipur winner Pure Sensation or White Flag.
Disco Partner set a world record for six furlongs on turf when he won the 2017 Jaipur in 1:05.67. He has won four straight over the Belmont grass, having also captured last year's Elusive Quality, Forbidden Apple, and Belmont Turf Sprint. The 6-year-old was third in two most recent starts, the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint in November and the Grade 2 Shakertown on soft turf April 7 at Keeneland.
"He ran a good race over softer ground," said Clement. "We would have loved to win, but he actually ran well and he's been training well. I won't breeze him again; he will just gallop up to the race."
Overall, Disco Partner is 7-2-0 in 11 starts over Belmont's Widener and inner turf courses.
"The horse looks good, loves Belmont, and is doing well, so, let's go," added Clement.
Clement scratched Pure Sensation out of Saturday's Pennsylvania Governor's Cup at Penn National but isn't ready to fully commit the five-time graded stakes winner to the Jaipur. Most recently, the 7-year-old was second in an optional claimer in April at Gulfstream. Like Disco Partner, Pure Sensation carries the colors of his breeder, Patricia Generazio. White Flag, winner of the 2017 Allied Forces at Belmont, hasn't raced since finishing seventh in the Aqueduct Turf Sprint Championship in November.
"Between White Flag and Pure Sensation I will run one of the two, most likely Pure Sensation," said Clement. "[Pure Sensation] had one start [this year], got beat at Gulfstream. It was a nice race back. We always have a daily struggle because he's a difficult horse to keep sound with his feet. As long as he's doing well this week, I'm planning on running him."
Mind Your Biscuits ready to take center stage in G1 Met Mile
Though Justify will deservedly take top billing next Saturday, it's possible the main attraction on a loaded Belmont Stakes Day undercard could be the New York-bred Mind Your Biscuits in the Grade 1, $1.2 million Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap. The 5-year-old son of Posse is fresh off a second dazzling victory in the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen, and could be in the best form of his life, according to his trainer Chad Summers.
"I think this year he's bigger, faster, and stronger, as you're supposed to be [at 5]," said Summers. "A horse's 5-year-old year is supposed to be the best year of a horse's life; that's when they're at their peak. Everything he shows us is that he's at his peak."
After beginning his career in the New York-bred ranks, Mind Your Biscuits has made a steady ascent to the top of the sprint division. He began to blossom late in his sophomore campaign, finishing a fast-closing third in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Sprint before winning the Grade 1 Malibu, and continued his upward trajectory last year, including a three-length tour de force in the Golden Shaheen that stamped him as a world class runner.
Though he disappointed in the latter half of 2017 and finished second in his 2018 bow as the odds-on favorite, Summers confidence never wavered. The chestnut horse was shipped halfway around the world to Dubai for the second straight year, and he rewarded his trainer's confidence with a breathtaking performance. On a day when speed and the rail made for an unbeatable combination at Meydan, Mind Your Biscuits was wide throughout and came from the clouds to best a star-studded field.
"We were planning on going back all year," said Summers. "I watched the races [at Meydan] over the winter and all speed horses were winning. You trust in your horse and you trust in your team and [jockey] Joel [Rosario] knows the horse very well. We were hopeful, but to say that we weren't nervous running against horses of the caliber of X Y Jet and Roy H would be a lie. I'll be honest, I didn't think we were going to win 200 meters out, 100 meters out, 50 meters out. I thought maybe we had a shot at getting second, but he just has this will and this desire to win."
If Mind Your Biscuits does prevail on Saturday, just two months and change since his Golden Shaheen triumph, it will be no easy feat. The struggles of getting a horse to ship back to the U.S. from Dubai and put forth an 'A' effort first out are well documented, but Summers, by his own account, has benefited tremendously from being in this same position last year.
"Last year [Mind Your Biscuits] came back and he lost about 100 pounds," said the trainer. "We changed things up this year. We were able to stay an extra week in Dubai, and when he came back to the farm at Fair Hill, he had lost maybe 10 pounds, so it was completely different. We had no chance to make the Met Mile last year. This year this has been the plan since November. Everyone's going to be coming here for Justify, but we plan on putting on a show."
G1 Manhattan a go for One Go All Go
Trainer Scooter Dickey said that Rodney Paden's One Go All Go will take another shot at earning a Grade 1 victory in Saturday's Woodford Reserve Manhattan on turf after working five-eighths of a mile Thursday at Churchill Downs in 1:00 4/5 under jockey Chris Landeros.
"We wanted to feel he was still active and wanting to do it," Dickey said of the work.
The 6-year-old Virginia-bred son of Fairbanks led all the way in Belmont Park's Grade 1 Man o' War on May 12 before grudgingly giving way in the final sixteenth mile to finish third by a length behind favored Hi Happy and a half-length behind Sadler's Joy. One Go All Go was coming off a victory in Keeneland's Grade 2 Dixiana Elkhorn, which followed a five-race sequence where he had four seconds and a fourth.
"He'll give them hell every time," Dickey said. "I'm just hoping those first two [Hi Happy and Sadler's Joy] can't catch him at a mile and a quarter like they did at a mile and three-eighths and a mile and a half. I hope it turns out that way."
Of the tough Man o' War defeat, he said, "It made him madder that those two could catch him."
One Go All Go is to fly to New York on Wednesday.
Bravazo back to track after day off, jogging two miles
Preakness runner-up Bravazo resumed training by jogging two miles under Danielle Rosier after a walk day following Thursday's mile work in 1:42 3/5 at Churchill Downs.
"I watched some of those others go, and my stomach's aching a little bit," joked trainer D. Wayne Lukas. "Boy, Tenfold galloped out pretty. I thought he looked terrific. I don't know why I go out there and get a stomach ache, subject myself to that stuff, don't sleep worrying about it. Good thing I don't see them all."
More seriously, he said, "The gray area is we're going to change the game. We're going to change the field, we're going to change the configuration of the racetrack and change the distance. The distance, I think, is the big factor.
"None of us knows," Lukas said of horses handling 1 1/2 miles. "I think Tenfold is going to waltz around there. I think Bravazo will. I think Hofburg will; Vino Rosso will go around there. I think there are horses that have it in their scope. But they've got to do it. You got to go out there and show it to somebody. He [Justify] has to do it, too. They all will run a mile and a half - some a little faster than others."
Commendable in 2000 was the least probable of Lukas' four Belmont Stakes winners, coming into the race with only a maiden victory and no finish in a stakes better than fourth.
But, said Lukas, "That was the one Belmont where I actually felt in my heart that I had the horse who could dictate the race and do what I wanted him to do, and the others would underestimate him."
Lukas said one of the things that makes Justify so formidable is his ability to dictate the pace, forcing others to react to him, though obviously no one will underestimate him.
"He dominates the race," Lukas said. "He'll decide what the first half-mile is going to be, for sure. I think from the start to the quarter pole, I think Justify tells us what is going to go on. I think he's going to do whatever he wants. He's like the gorilla in the room. Where is he going to sit? Wherever he wants.
"After that, it may be a different story. It's a great superfecta, with so many different scenarios. You can make a superfecta bet up and say, 'Whoa, I can't leave that one out.'"
Romans hoping Free Drop Billy better than a show horse
With Albaugh Family Stables' Free Drop Billy, trainer Dale Romans hopes to improve on a very respectable record in the Belmont Stakes, in which he has four third-place finishes out of nine starts.
Romans, now Churchill Downs' all-time winningest trainer after clipping Hall of Famer Bill Mott last fall, was third in his 2005 Belmont debut with the maiden Nolan's Cat. He was third again in his second attempt, with First Dude in 2010. Medal Count was third in 2014 and Keen Ice the show horse in 2015, though he subsequently took Saratoga's Travers over Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
"Nolan's Cat was a thrill, for a lot of reasons," said Romans, who trained Nolan's Cat's sire, turf champion Kitten's Joy for Ken Ramsey. "Ken owned the sire, owned the mare, owned the babies. So when the water rose, all the boats rose. That was pretty exciting stuff. This is a side story, but my mother loves [NBC broadcaster] Tom Hammond because when I had the maiden in there, everybody was kind of knocking me. When Nolan's Cat was third, Tom said, 'I guess they'll stop doubting him now.' Ever since then my mother has been in love with Tom Hammond.
"Keen Ice, that was exciting just to be a part of the Triple Crown. When they show American Pharoah's form, they're going to show a lot of Keen Ice behind him and one in front of him."
Romans said he never felt his third-place finisher was better than the horse that won the Belmont that year.
"I thought we had what we had coming, and be happy with the thirds," he said. "Well, I was never happy with it. After you run third, you think, 'Man, I was so close.' Going into it, sometimes you say, 'I'd take third.' But not with this horse. This horse is a Grade 1 winner. We need to win a race."
Free Drop Billy won last fall's Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland. He had a second and two thirds in three starts this year before his 16th-place Kentucky Derby finish. Robby Albarado has the Belmont mount.
Free Drop Billy had a controlled gallop under Juan Segundo. He is scheduled to work Sunday morning at Churchill Downs' 7:30 time slot for Belmont horses.