Belmont Park Notes 5.12.17
by NYRA Press Office
- Zhukova (pictured above) ready to take on the boys in Saturday's G1 Man o' War
- Highway Star looks to shine in G2 Ruffian
- Practical Joke pointed toward G3 Dwyer; Cloud Computing tentative to work Saturday for Preakness
- Bar of Gold back to dirt for Ruffian
John D. Murrell's European invader Zhukova is calm, cool, and collected - and ready to take on the boys in Saturday's Grade 1, $400,000 Man o' War at Belmont Park, said Mark Weld on Friday morning at Belmont Park.
Despite making her first start outside of the United Kingdom, Weld, the assistant trainer to his father Dermot, said it's familiar territory for the 5-year-old Irish-bred mare by Fastnet Rock. She's won six of her nine career starts, including two in 2016 against males, and has already faced many of Europe's top turf stars, most notably with a victory over 2015 Breeders' Cup Turf and 2016 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Found in the open-company Alleged Stakes in 2016 at the Curragh.
Zhukova closed out her 4-year-old season in the Group 1 British Champions at Ascot in October, where the ground came up too firm for her liking, Dermot said, and she faded to seventh. She made her first start of the year in the Noblesse Stakes at Cork on April 15, where she drew off to a two-length win for Weld, who won the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes with Go and Go in 1990 and the Grade 1 Flower Bowl in 2003 with Dimitrova.
"Last year was a very strong year for her," he said. "She started the year beating Found at the Curragh. She went on and subsequently beat other European Group 1 winners in a Group 3 after that at Naas in an Oaks trial. She's off to a nice start this year, and a trip to the States was very much in the cards after that. I think it's no secret that my father has always had a soft spot for Belmont. It's a track that's very suited to the Europeans and it's a track that only good horses tend to win on as well.
"From Ascot, Cork, Naas, Leopardstown, and the Curragh, they're like Belmont; they're all very open-running, galloping tracks," he added. "She really gallops and stays, that's what she does, and she has a nice turn of foot as well when she needs it."
Zhukova has been primarily under the care of her groom, Caroline Cashman, since her arrival last week. She cleared quarantine without incident, Weld said, and has adjusted to her new surroundings, taking a particular liking to "Lucky," a 14-year-old retired Thoroughbred gelding owned by Juan Galvez, who was brought in to keep the mare company. The pair have been inseparable since, said Weld.
"She traveled over well on the plane, but when she got here, she got a little bit upset," he said. "It was very new for her and she missed her companions, so getting the pony in was a master stroke, it was key. Some European horses don't take to them because they're not used to them, but she's taken to him like a duck to water. It's helped her unbelievably; it's been a huge thing for her.
"We might have to bring him home," he joked.
Weld noted that if all goes to plan, Zhukova, who was bred by Dermot's late mother, would likely be pointed toward the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in France at the end of the year, but the connections haven't ruled out another start in North America, or even a try on dirt, following the positive reviews she's received for her training over Belmont's main dirt course.
"As a homebred, it's very important to us to get the Grade 1 if we can," he said. "It would be a huge achievement. This is a stepping stone for her. She's got big targets in Europe for the second part of the year. The European racing season is weighted more towards the second part of the year, particularly in the fall. First things first, though, we've got to get over the Man o' War.
"I imagine she's going to have a holiday when she gets home," he added. "I think she'll get the month of June back at the farm and come back into training in July and then run at York in August. Then we'll see from there where she goes, whether she goes to Paris, or comes back to the States or goes north to Canada for something. I'm intrigued with what Caroline and Juan saying about her on the dirt, so there could be another race here, who knows?"
Zhukova, 5-1 on the morning line, has drawn post 4 and will run on Lasix for the first time in the Man o' War. Installed with the field's low weight of 112 pounds, Hall of Famer John Velazquez has been named to ride.
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Highway Star looks to be in good order heading into Saturday's Grade 2, $250,000 Ruffian, trainer Rodrigo Ubillo said from his barn on Friday morning.
The 4-year-old Chester and Mary Broman homebred won the Grade 3 Distaff Handicap last out on April 9 at Aqueduct Racetrack, marking her fourth win in her last five starts. She worked Tuesday on the Belmont Park training track, going three furlongs in 39.59 seconds with Ubillo serving as the exercise rider.
"It wasn't even a breeze as much as a two-minute lick to just keep her on her toes," Ubillo said. "She's a nice filly and she's been healthy. There's been no issues. We expect her to run a good race."
The Ruffian, for fillies and mares 4-years-old and up, will feature a five-horse field running at one mile on the main track. It also will present a rematch against the Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Indulgent, who Highway Star defeated by a half-length in the Distaff despite carrying one additional pound. For the Ruffian, Highway Star will carry 123 pounds, compared to 117 for Indulgent.
"She carries me in the mornings and I'm a big guy, so I don't think she'll mind the added weight," Ubillo said. "Sometimes, it [a small field] is more confusing and it's more of a rider's race, but I'm not concerned. The best horse is going to win no matter what, so we'll see what happens."
Highway Star is 6-0-1 in nine career starts and is 3-for-3 at one mile on the dirt, including a victory by a nose in the Grade 3 Go for Wand Handicap on December 3 at the Big A for her first career graded stakes win.
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Following a fifth-place finish in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby, trainer Chad Brown reported that Klaravich Stables and William Lawrence’s Practical Joke was back and settled in at his barn at Belmont. The 3-year-old Into Mischief colt visited the main track Wednesday morning for a gallop and Brown reported his next start would most likely be in the Grade 3, $400,000 Dwyer on Stars & Stripes Day, Saturday, July 8.
The lightly raced Cloud Computing, who was on the Derby trail earlier this year after breaking his maiden at Aqueduct Racetrack in February and following up with a second-place finish in the Grade 3 Gotham March 4 and a respectable third-place finish in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial on April 8. Cloud Computing, also owned by Klaravich and Lawrence, is still on target for the Grade 1 Preakness Stakes on May 20, said Brown.
The son of Maclean’s Music posted a bullet workout on May 7, covering five furlongs in 1:00.20, and is tentatively scheduled to work again Saturday morning at Belmont, depending on the possibility of rain forecasted.
“I’d like to work him tomorrow,” said Brown. “We’re going to prepare as if we will, and if I can get a clean strip of dirt, we will, but it’s all dependent on the weather. He came out of the Wood Memorial great and has been galloping good so far following the race.”
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Set to make her second start of the year and first on the dirt following a fourth-place finish on April 15 in the Plenty of Grace at Belmont, Bar of Gold will once again try graded stakes competition in Saturday's Grade 2 Ruffian.
In four career starts over Big Sandy, the 5-year-old daughter of Medaglia d'Oro has two wins and one third-place finish, not to mention a perfect 5-for-5 record on off tracks. The Ruffian will mark Bar of Gold's return to a graded stakes since running fourth in the Grade 3 Go for Wand at Aqueduct on December 16.
Kimmel was not discouraged by her turf debut, he said, but has elected to run Bar of Gold back on the dirt for more opportunities to pick up black type.
"I thought she ran deceptively well in her performance over the turf," said Kimmel. "I think that she can handle any surface, but looking at the filly and mare dirt division versus the turf, it just seems a little easier on the dirt, especially looking at a race like the Jenny Wiley, where you have fierce competitors like Lady Eli, Dickinson and others."
Encouraged by the way she has been in training this year, Kimmel thinks Bar of Gold is entering the race at her strongest yet and hopes to work out a perfect stalking trip, whether over either a dry or wet track.
"She certainly has an affinity for Belmont Park," added Kimmel. "I think she's had a number of unlucky trips but she has two wins from four starts over the surface and is a perfect 5-for-5 on off tracks so hopefully she can work out a good stalking trip from a small field and we'll get a good result."