Chez Pierre tops talented field in G3 Poker
by Brian Bohl
Lael Stables’ Chez Pierre headlines a competitive field of seven in Saturday’s Grade 3, $200,000 Poker for 4-year-olds and up contesting one mile on the Belmont Park Widener turf course on Saturday, Belmont Stakes Day.
The 38th running of the Poker, slated for Race 5, is one of nine graded stakes on a loaded card that is highlighted by the 155th running of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets in Race 12. First post for the 13-race card is 11:20 a.m. Eastern.
Chez Pierre made a big statement by drawing away to a 3 1/2-length win in the Grade 1 Maker’s Mark Mile last out on April 14 at Keeneland, earning a 106 Beyer that is unsurpassed by anyone in the Poker field.
Trained by Arnaud Delacour, he will bring a 3-for-3 record going one mile into the Poker, which started with his North American debut win against optional claimers in March over the Tampa Bay Downs course and a 5 1/2-length win in his stakes debut next out in the Henry S. Clark in April at Laurel Park.
“A mile, a mile and a sixteenth is probably right,” Delacour said. “He can run seven furlongs too – he’s got enough tactical speed to run a bit shorter if we want to. But at the moment, I think the mile is just perfect for him.
“The Belmont mile is a little different and it’s almost like an extended sprint,” he added. “He’s tactical enough to hopefully run well on that kind of track. I think at this stage, he can do both two turns or one turn.”
The 5-year-old French bred son of Mehmas won his last three races in his native country for Francis-Henri Graffard before shipping over to the United States. After making just one start in 2021, Chez Pierre was able to race for the first time since crossing the Atlantic and has won three of his four starts for Delacour, including a last-out win over runner-up Modern Games, the winner of the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Mile in November in his previous race.
“We’re excited. He’s always shown potential,” Delacour said. “He had a few issues we had to deal with – nothing major, but a few setbacks. We always thought very highly of him and we are just very happy that the last time in the Maker’s Mark Mile that he could show his true potential. He’s definitely an exciting horse. When he’s running well, he’s right up there at the top of the division. Modern Games might not have been on his best game or needed the race coming back, but that race was very solid and everyone who ran in that race came back to run solid races.”
Flavien Prat will be in the irons for Chez Pierre out of post 1.
Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey will send out Phipps Stable’s Dreams of Tomorrow [post 4, Manny Franco], who returned from a three-month layoff to run seventh in the Appleton in April at Gulfstream Park.
With that first contest back, Dreams of Tomorrow posted a two-length win in an optional claimer last month at Belmont going 1 1/16 miles and will now look to make his first graded stakes appearance since running fourth in the 2021 Grade 2 Bernard Baruch at Saratoga.
“So far, so good. I think the time off sort of helped him a little bit and I think he got a perfect ride by [Manny] Franco [in his last-out allowance win],” McGaughey said. “The little infirmities he’s always had are maybe behind him and he liked the firm turf. I wonder maybe a mile, a mile and a sixteenth is his best distance. Down in Florida when I ran him [in the Appleton], he was wide the whole way. I think kind of taking it easy with him over the winter sort of helped him.”
Gary Barber, Wachtel Stable and Peter Deutsch's Filo Di Arianna [post 7, Luis Saez] showed a propensity for going longer sprint distances last year, winning the Grade 2 King Edward at the Poker distance in August at Woodbine.
After an eighth-month layoff, Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse saw the Brazilian-bred son of Drosselmeyer make his awaited 7-year-old bow with a runner-up effort in a 5 1/2-furlong optional claimer over Woodbine’s all-weather track.
“I thought he was really good last out,” Casse said. “It was a little shorter than he likes and he drew the one-hole, which didn’t help. He ran well though. This will be a tougher race, but the distance of the Poker should be to his liking.”
Emaraaty hasn’t raced since winning the Grade 3 Bernard Baruch in September for trainer Chad Brown. After a nine-month respite, the British-bred son of Dubawai can make the first start of his 8-year-old year, with jockey Jose Ortiz on the call from post 2.
Brown will also saddle ERJ Racing, Madaket Stables and Dave Kenney’s multiple graded-stakes placed Mackinnon [post 3, Joel Rosario] out of a prominent runner-up effort in the nine-furlong Grade 2 Hill Prince, while making his debut for the four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer on October 22 at Belmont at the Big A.
The 4-year-old American Pharoah colt enjoyed a terrific 2-year-old campaign for trainer Doug O’Neill, winning the Del Mar Turf Juvenile and Zuma Beach at Santa Anita en route to a closing third-place finish in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Del Mar.
Three Diamonds Farm's Anaconda [post 5, Tyler Gaffalione] found success over the Belmont turf last time, capturing the seven-furlong Elusive Quality on May 6. Including a win in a seven-furlong Kentucky Downs turf sprint in September, the now 6-year-old son of Pioneerof the Nile has registered three victories in his past eight starts with a pair of runner-up efforts and a third-place finish in that span.
“It was nice to see him win because he had been knocking on the door and he deserved it,” trainer Joe Sharp said. “I thought he started to turn a corner going into his Kentucky Downs race, and after that, he showed signs he would be good enough to be a graded stakes horse.”
Siena Farm and WinStar Farm’s multiple graded-stakes winner Emmanuel [post 6, Irad Ortiz, Jr.] has thrived since switching to the turf and capturing the Grade 2 Pennine Ridge in frontrunning fashion last June for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher.
The 4-year-old More Than Ready colt added a pair of Grade 3s to his ledger in Florida this year, taking the Tampa Bay in February and the Canadian Turf in March at Gulfstream Park. He enters from a close third in the Grade 3 Dinner Party on May 20 at Pimlico.
Bourbon Calling is entered for the main-track only.
The FOX Sports family of networks will present expansive coverage and analysis of Belmont Stakes Day beginning with America’s Day at the Races on FS1 at 11 a.m. Coverage then shifts to FOX, where America’s Day at the Belmont and Belmont Day on FOX will air from 3-7:30 p.m. America’s Day at the Belmont Stakes will complement the FOX broadcast with parallel coverage geared to the avid and experienced horseplayer from 4-7:30 p.m. on FS1. For the complete broadcast schedule, visit https://www.nyra.com/belmont/racing/tv-schedule.
NYRA Bets is the best way to bet every race of the Belmont Park spring/summer meet. Available to horse players nationwide, the NYRA Bets app is available for download today on iOS and Android at www.NYRABets.com.