by NYRA Press Office
On the morning following Gronkowski’s runner-up performance in the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets, trainer Chad Brown was thinking about what could have been and what could be ahead for the colt owned by Phoenix Thoroughbred III and named for All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski.
“I’m glad our horse gave him [Rob Gronkowski, who watched the Belmont Stakes in person] a good thrill,” said Brown. "[The horse] didn’t disappoint anybody. I can only think about what might have happened if the horse had won, for horse racing and for everyone involved. But it’s good for racing to have a Triple Crown winner. We did our best to upend it, but it just didn’t work out. [Justify], my hat’s off to him. He ran a large number of races in a short amount of time with no 2-year-old foundation. This horse overcame a lot. He was managed so well by Bob [Baffert] and his staff. He’s a remarkable horse to run in all three legs as well as he did.”
Gronkowski, who made his North American debut in the Belmont Stakes, broke slowly from the gate and lagged in 10th before commencing a rally to finish 1 ¾ lengths behind Justify.
“I’m very proud of the way the horse ran,” said Brown. “He ran an incredible race from where he was to make up that much ground. [Jockey] Jose [Ortiz] effectively saved all the ground and he was coming rapidly up the rail. As he was making a good run of it I was really hoping he would sustain it. I thought he had a chance to go by in the stretch, but it wasn’t to be. Just short of the wire he seemed to get a little tired after that big, sustained run.”
While Brown hasn’t made any immediate plans for Gronkowski, the trainer has August 25, the date of the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers at Saratoga Race Course, circled on his calendar.
“My first thought is that the Travers would be a good race for this horse if he were to break better and get a better pace to run at,” said Brown. “It’s a race I would love to win, and it looks like it would suit this horse. How we get from this race to the Travers, I haven’t decided yet. But that’s the race I have in my mind. I’ll discuss it with the owners.”
Brown is eyeing a different race at Saratoga for A Raving Beauty, a three-quarter-length winner of the Grade 1, one-mile Longines Just a Game in her second start in North America. The 5-year-old mare could target the Grade 1, $500,000 Diana on July 21, Brown said.
“It’s a strong possibility to get her out to a mile and an eighth, and the timing [for the Diana] probably works fine,” said Brown. “We already have won a Grade 1 with her, and we’re going to find another race that fits her.”
A Raving Beauty is owned by Michael Dubb, Madaket Stables, and Bethlehem Stables. She was purchased by Mandore International Agency for $264,915 at an Aqana mixed breeding stock sale in December after making 17 starts in Europe, including a pair of stakes wins in Germany and a third last October in Italy's Group 1 Premio Lydia Tesio, her final start in Europe. She won the Grade 3 Beaugay by three lengths on May 12 at Belmont in her North American debut.
“She’s been a work in progress since she came over,” said Brown. “She has improved rapidly. She has become real good, real fast. A fine addition to the barn. We’re so lucky to have her. [The owners] have made two starts with her and already have a Grade 1, so they are doing well with her.”
Plans for Martin Schwartz’s Off Limits, fourth in the Longines Just a Game, will be determined at a later date.
“She’s been disappointing after such a strong year last year,” said Brown. “She’s trying to find her form again. She was really far back earlier. The race didn’t set up well for her at all. She came with her run to get up for fourth. We’re going to regroup with her to get her back into form because we know when she’s at her best and things go her way that she’s really tough.”
Brown sent out Woodford Racing’s Engage to a runner-up performance in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens, presented by Mohegan Sun and praised both his own runner as well the winner, Still Having Fun.
“[Engage] had a great trip and a great pace set up, but the winner just found more,” said Brown. “He was positioned behind us and rolled by near the wire. The winner was impressive, and I was super proud of Engaged.”
Brown was disappointed with the outcome of the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Manhattan, in which Convento Viejo’s Robert Bruce finished sixth and Al Shahania Stud, Sheep Pond Partners, Head of Plains Partners, and James Covello’s Beach Patrol was last of 13 as the 9-5 favorite.
“I thought [Robert Bruce] ran real well and had a challenging trip,” said Brown. “It wasn’t the trip we wanted. The winner [Spring Quality] got a good trip and ran really well. He kicked. That’s turf racing.”
“Beach Patrol was the big disappointment of the day, the favorite in the Manhattan. He has never retreated like that in a race since we have had him. I definitely need to take a close look at him and make sure everything is OK. He wasn’t himself for some reason. As long as he is healthy, he has earned the right to have a mulligan, so to speak. So far, I don’t see a reason as to why he did that. It concerns me, but I need to look at the horse.”
Brown said his other Saturday stakes runners – Mask (fourth in the Easy Goer), Pacific Wind (fourth in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps), and Take Your Guns (fourth in the Grade 2 Brooklyn Invitational – all seemed to be doing well upon preliminary inspection.
On the worktab for Brown was champion Good Magic, second in the Kentucky Derby and fourth in the Preakness. Good Magic, currently targeting the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational on July 29 at Monmouth Park, breezed four furlongs in 50.90 seconds on Sunday.
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Spring Quality looking good after huge upset in G1 Manhattan
Trainer Graham Motion was more than happy to discuss pulling a huge upset in the Grade 1, $1 million Woodford Reserve Manhattan for the second year in row on Saturday, a little more than an hour before Justify became the 13th Triple Crown champion.
“He seemed great this morning, very perky after a job well done,’’ said Motion, who left New York in great spirits Sunday morning on his way back to his base at Fair Hill in Maryland. “It was just a great race.”
Spring Quality put a neck in front of Sadler’s Joy in the final strides of the 1 ¼-mile Manhattan to capture one of the top turf races of the year at odds of 18-1. Last year, he won with Ascend at odds of 27-1.
The race was so close, Motion said he jumped up at the finish in celebration, but second-guessed himself momentarily. Hi Happy was another neck back in third, and Manitoulin just another neck back in fourth.
“One of the most rewarding parts of it was it’s not often you set a plan for a horse and it works out,’’ said Motion, adding that Spring Quality remains at the trainer’s Belmont Park barn. “We set a plan for this horse last fall at Aqueduct and pointed to this race as a goal. To be able to execute it … it’s not very often that happens.”
And to have Hall of Fame rider and friend Edgar Prado guide Spring Quality to a dramatic run to the wire made it even more satisfying.
“It’s a big thrill to win this race with Edgar,’’ said Graham. “We have a relationship that goes back to Laurel, and winning with him is very special to me.”
Runner-up Sadler’s Joy also came out of the race in fine order, and trainer Tom Albertrani said the next start could be the Grade 2 Bowling Green at Saratoga Race Course on July 28.
“It’s tough when you get beat a head, but I’m delighted the horse ran well,’’ said Albertrani. “He’s so consistent. We’re happy with the horse and we’ll just move on to the next race.”
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Vino Rosso, Noble Indy exit Belmont in good shape; Saratoga possible for Easy Goer victor Prince Lucky
Vino Rosso, Noble Indy exit Belmont in good shape; Saratoga possible for Easy Goer victor Prince Lucky
Graded-stakes winners Vino Rosso and Noble Indy, fourth and 10th, respectively, behind Triple Crown champion Justify in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, emerged well from the race, trainer Todd Pletcher reported Sunday morning.
“Excellent. They’re both in good shape today,” he said. “[Justify] got into that rhythm and was able to slow it down through a half [in 48.11 seconds], and that made him awfully hard to beat.”
Vino Rosso and Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez raced in a contending position early and took first crack at Justify on the far turn but was unable to maintain his move and wound up a neck behind third-place finisher Hofburg.
“I thought Vino Rosso ran well,” Pletcher said. “Johnny took a shot on the middle of the turn and tried to put some pressure on the winner and it might have cost him a position.”
Noble Indy, who was noticeably keyed up before the race in the paddock and on the track, brushed the starting gate as he broke and ran in mid-pack under Hall of Famer Javier Castellano before giving way past the quarter pole.
“I was a little disappointed in the way he behaved in the paddock and the post parade. He never really fired,” Pletcher said. “It’s not totally out of character for him. He’s one that we’ve done a lot of work with, and yesterday just seemed like the crowd and everything got to him a little bit.”
Regarding the next step, Pletcher is leaving his options open for both horses.
“We’re not really sure yet,” he said. “We’ll kind of let the dust settle and decide what we’re going to do.”
My Meadowview Farm’s Prince Lucky kicked off the Belmont Day stakes program with a hard-fought neck victory in the $150,000 Easy Goer for 3-year-olds, running 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.41. It was the fourth win from eight starts for the gelded son of Corinthian that was third in the Sir Barton May 19 at Pimlico Race Course on the undercard of the Grade 1 Preakness.
“I thought it was a gutsy effort. He was in between horses and kept fighting back and I was proud of him,” Pletcher said. “We ran him back in three weeks there, so we’ll probably give him a little bit of a freshening and point for something like the Curlin maybe, and if he trains unbelievably well we might even take a shot at something bigger.”
The $100,000 Curlin for 3-year-olds going 1 1/8 miles will be run Friday, July 27 at Saratoga Race Course.
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Asmussen ‘very proud’ of Bee Jersey’s G1 Met Mile victory
“I Love New York” may be the tried and true definitive marketing tag line, and it certainly applied to the sentiment expressed around Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen’s barn on the morning after Bee Jersey’s smashing victory in the 125th running of the Grade 1, $1.2 million Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap in gate-to-wire fashion.
Within the last 12 months, Asmussen won six Grade 1s with Gun Runner, including the Whitney at the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and Saturday added the Met Mile with Charles Fipke’s Bee Jersey, a 4-year-old colt by Jersey Town.
Asmussen may have trained three different Horses of the Year – Curlin (2007-08), Rachel Alexandra (2009), and Gun Runner (2017) – but the multiple Eclipse Award-winning trainer has plenty of accolades for Bee Jersey, now the victor in four consecutive races and a first-time Grade 1 winner.
“I’m very proud of him. He ran an amazing race,” he said. “I’m very proud to win the Met Mile. It’s a very significant race and this is the first time that we’ve won it. It’s definitely a very important race on the American calendar, and it’s awfully nice to win it with a homebred for Mr. Fipke by a Grade 1 winner and sire of his. This is definitely a sire-making race. You look at the previous winners of the Met Mile and it’s nice company to be in.”
Not only did Bee Jersey add to the Grade 1 trophies in the Hall of Fame trainer’s overflowing case, he traveled the one-turn mile in the eye-popping time of 1:33.13. Consider that the stakes record is 1:32.73 and the track record is 1:32.24.
“Without being positive, I don’t believe I’ve ever had a horse run a mile any faster than he did. I’ve been trying to think if I had, and I don’t think so. It’s not like we did any research on it. We just went by memory and I think I would remember if one of my horses had,” said Asmussen.
The Met Mile is a “Win and You’re In” event for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Churchill Downs in early November, and that remains the long-range goal for Bee Jersey, said Asmussen. But how he will bring the horse from this race to the Dirt Mile is still a game plan yet to be devised.
“I think that the race being run at Churchill this year and being a one-tun mile, that’s a completely different dynamic than in years past,” he said. “Obviously, he went from three races in a row that were two-turn races to this one-turn mile. Whether it was the pace or other scenarios that worked out perfectly yesterday, does that happen in the future?”
Asmussen, who shipped the horse back to his Churchill Downs base Sunday morning, said he’ll look at the seven-furlong Grade 1, $600,000 Forego on August 25 at Saratoga, among others. He noted that Bee Jersey’s energy level and how he trains going forward will be among the deciding factors.
The Asmussen-trained and Winchell Thoroughbreds-owned Tenfold, who finished fifth in the Belmont Stakes Saturday, also was in great physical shape on Sunday morning and is still held in high regard.
“He is a lovely horse and a beautiful physical specimen. He was beaten in a great race by a great horse and we’ll regroup,” said Asmussen, who won his 8,000th career race in May. “There are a lot of races left for him.”
Another Hall of Fame trainer who was looking ahead, and specifically to the Saratoga season, for his Belmont starter was D. Wayne Lukas, who trains sixth-place finisher and Calumet Farm homebred Bravazo.
“The horse is fine. He’s doing well this morning,” said Lukas, whose 5:30 a.m. departure time for the 15-hour van ride with Bravazo back to his Churchill Downs stable was delayed more than two hours by a mechanical problem. “This chapter came to a close and this fall, it will be something different. There are lots of races ahead and lots of dances left. We’ll be back. We’ll be at Saratoga all meet and this horse will be up there.”
Lukas, who turns 83 in September, remains pleased with Bravazo and had nothing but praise for the undefeated Justify, the 13th Triple Crown champion.
“We just got beat by a very good horse yesterday. The best horse won and he demonstrated he is the best all spring. I am happy for Bob [Baffert]. When the best horse wins like that it’s fine. It’s part of the game,” said Lukas, a three-time Belmont winner with Corporate Report (1991), Thunder Gulch (1995), and Will Take Charge (2013). “We all enjoyed it.”
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Monomoy Girl ‘happy, healthy’ morning after G1 Acorn score
Leading 3-year-old filly Monomoy Girl is in good order following her two-length victory in Saturday’s Grade 1, $700,000 Acorn presented by Nassau County IDA, trainer Brad Cox said Sunday.
Saturday’s win was the third straight Grade 1 for the chestnut Tapizar filly, also including a 5 ½-length romp in the Ashland on April 7 at Keeneland and a game half-length score in the Kentucky Oaks on May 4 at Churchill Downs.
“She looked great this morning,” said Cox. “We came out of the race extremely well. She looked great, happy, healthy.”
Owned by Michael Dubb, Monomoy Stables, The Elkstone Group, and Bethlehem Stables, Monomoy Girl is undefeated in four starts in 2018 and is 7-for-8 in her career for earnings of nearly $1.5 million. Her only loss came with a close runner-up finish in the Grade 2 Golden Rod last fall.
In the Acorn, at a mile around one turn, Monomoy Girl settled in third through the early going and came running with a five-wide move for home under Florent Geroux, drawing clear as the 3-5 favorite.
“The way she’s been training, we were expecting a big effort out of her yesterday and she gave it to us,” said Cox. “They give you confidence watching them train, but you never really know what’s going to happen when the gates come open. But, it set up extremely well for her and Florent did a great job putting her in a good position and she responded the way we thought she would. The filly that was second ran an incredible race as well.”
Monomoy Girl left Belmont Park around 8:30 a.m. Sunday morning to return to her trainer’s main base at Churchill, where Cox said she’ll ready for a likely start in the Grade 1, $300,000 Coaching Club American Oaks on July 22 at Saratoga Race Course.
“That’ll be our short-term goal,” he said. “We’ll see how it goes, but it’s good timing between races and hopefully we’ll have her ready and she’ll reward us again.”
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New York-bred Mind Your Biscuits in good order following Met Mile
Trainer Chad Summers reported that Mind Your Biscuits, runner up in Saturday’s Grade 1 Met Mile, was doing super physically following his nose defeat to the front-running Bee Jersey in the one-mile race. The strong-closing son of Posse once again applied his late kick, but fell short at the wire in an effort to catch the winner, who led from start to finish en route to his fourth-straight victory.
Making his first start since winning his second Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen in Dubai, Mind Your Biscuits was a victim of the pace, Summers said.
“I saw that [Bee Jersey] still had something left in the tank,” said Summers. “When you see the first quarter in 23 [seconds] you get a little bit concerned. I thought Joel [Rosario] rode [Mind Your Biscuits] perfect. We came up with a couple of game plans, and once the pace was developing as it was he had to be a little bit closer, and when he’s closer he closes, but he doesn’t have that same dynamite kick like he showed in Dubai. I’m proud of him. He shows up every time, and I think he stopped some of his critics.
“When the nominations came out, and you had an idea of who was going to the race, it looked like Bee Jersey, on paper, had the chance to be lone speed. It looked like Bee Jersey was the horse to beat. He had the 10 hole, we had the 1 hole, and we gave him four pounds. I know one thing, I tip my cap to him, but I wouldn’t mind running against him again.”
Mind Your Biscuits – who also owns victories in the Grade 2 Amsterdam, Grade 1 Malibu and Grade 2 Belmont Sprint Championship through 22 lifetime starts and is the all-time leading New York-bred in purses won with $3.9 million – proved a lot in yesterday’s race, and Summers has plenty to think about in the upcoming days.
“He hasn’t come out of a race this good since the  Gallant Bob, and that’s when we said, ‘All right, we’ll go to the Breeders’ Cup,’” said Summers. “I think in the immediate here and now, you nominate to the Belmont Sprint Championship [Grade 2 on July 7 at Belmont] because it’s logically the next one up, but also to look at stretching him out, possibly going in to the Whitney [Grade 1 on August 4 at Saratoga] or the Woodward [Grade 1 on September 1], but that all depends.
"I think he can stretch out,” he added. “I don’t see any reason why a mile has to be his max. He was closing on this horse, maybe this is as far as he wants, but he’s as honest as they come. I’m hoping as the year continues out he can leave no doubt that he’s the best New York-bred of all time. It was a big weekend for New York-breds.”
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Disco Partner gives Clement, Generazio three straight wins in G2 Jaipur
Trainer Christophe Clement and owner Patricia Generazio have plenty to be happy about following a successful Belmont Stakes Day in which they teamed to send out the first- and third-place finishers in the Grade 2, $400,000 Jaipur Invitational.
The Generazio homebreds proved to be a potent one-two punch in the Jaipur, with the speedy Pure Sensation jetting out to an early lead in the six-furlong turf dash as the late-running Disco Partner settled off the pace.
The New York-bred Disco Partner, who had already demonstrated a deep affinity for the Belmont turf course via a record-setting performance in last year's Jaipur, rolled home a one-length winner, with his stablemate finishing just a head behind runner-up Conquest Tsunami.
“You have to give credit to the Generazios for their breeding program,” said Clement. “The two horses ran great. Pure Sensation was on the lead and just got a little tired; he didn't get beat by much in third. Disco Partner was in a great stalking position, saved ground, and he has that great turn of foot which is always dangerous in these kinds of races. Over the past three years, Pure Sensation won [the Jaipur] once and Disco Partner won it twice, so the Generazios have won it three times in the last three years, which is great.”
The plan now, according to Clement, will likely be to point the two gifted grass horses to the Grade 1, $1 million Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint on November 3 at Churchill Downs.
“Now you have to work backwards a little bit,” said the trainer. “Do you try to run them in the Breeders' Cup, and if so, how do you get there? The Belmont Turf Sprint [Championship] could be the [Breeders' Cup] prep. I'm sure we'll run once or twice in between then. It's fun to win these kind of races and get to plan for the future.”
Clement added that Disco Partner may look to defend his title in the one-mile, $150,000 Forbidden Apple on July 14 at Belmont, though a repeat appearance in the Grade 1 Fourstardave at Saratoga Race Course is unlikely.
The native Frenchman also sent out Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider's Lull to a third-place finish in the Grade 1, $700,000 Just a Game. The 4-year-old filly led nearly ever step of the way in the Just a Game, but couldn't hold off A Raving Beauty and Proctor's Ledge in the final sixteenth of the one-mile turf event.
“I thought she ran great, she's a top class filly,” said Clement. “A mile is really the limit for her and she got beat a length and a quarter. She was on the lead, traveling very well – easily – through very fast times. She was third best yesterday, that's it. She's Grade 1 placed, which is always a good thing, and she's very well bred so it's a big deal.”
No plans are set for the daughter of War Front, but as Clement believes her best distance lies in the six- to seven-furlong range, a turn back in distance is likely forthcoming, he said.
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Newly minted graded-stakes winner Still Having Fun back home Sunday
Gary Barber, Wachtel Stable and Terp Racing’s Still Having Fun, long shot winner of Saturday’s Grade 2 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun was back at his base of Laurel Park and doing well, trainer Tim Keefe said Sunday morning.
The Maryland-bred son of Old Fashioned vanned back to Maryland shortly following the race. The trip took just over four hours, Keefe said.
“It was the easiest trip I’ve ever had,” he said. “The horse is doing great. He ate up well last night and he looked fresh and happy today. He’s very good.”
A $12,000 yearling purchase out of Fasig-Tipton’s Midlantic sale at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium in October 2016, Still Having Fun more than doubled his career earnings in the Woody Stephens to $431,703 following his 1 ¼-length triumph at odds of 13-1 over 10 rivals in 1:21.45 for seven furlongs.
Already a two-time stakes winner at Laurel over the winter, Still Having Fun was facing graded company for the first time in the Woody Stephens and provided Keefe with the first graded-stakes triumph of his career.
“I’d won a couple stakes at Aqueduct, some overnight stakes, but they were smaller races, obviously. Nothing compared to yesterday,” he said. “That was pretty cool for me.”
A return trip to New York for the Saratoga Race Course meet may be in the cards for Still Having Fun, Keefe said.
“I talked with Adam [Wachtel] this morning just to let him know that everything is good and he had said to Gary and myself that he’s got a couple of ideas that he said he’s going to run past us in a couple of days,” Keefe said. “We always like to make sure the horse comes out of the race well. All indications are right now that he has.
“Certainly Saratoga might be something that we’d consider. I’m sure there will be opportunities for him up there this summer,” he added. “He’s run pretty hard consistently since January. He hasn’t missed a beat. I’ll see what Adam has in mind. He’s been great. He’s a real numbers guy and he’ll help determine what a good next spot will be.”