Farmington Road, Gouverneur Morris and Dr Post lead strong Belmont Stakes (G1) contingent for Pletcher
by Keith McCalmont
• Farmington Road, Gouverneur Morris and Dr Post lead strong G1 Belmont Stakes contingent for Pletcher
• Maker lining up stakes contenders for Belmont spring meet
St. Elias Stable's Dr Post, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Chrysalis Stables and Robert V. LaPenta's Farmington Road, and Team Valor International and WinStar Farm's Gouverneur Morris will represent trainer Todd Pletcher in the 152nd renewal of the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Stakes, a 1 1/8-mile test set for June 20 at Belmont Park.
Pletcher said he is looking forward to the return of live racing in New York which will celebrate Opening Day on Wednesday, June 3 at Belmont Park.
"We're all looking forward to New York racing getting back underway," said Pletcher. "It's an important part of the industry and arguably the most important in the United States. It's great to see racing approaching re-opening at Belmont Park."
A dark bay son of Quality Road, Dr Post is out of the graded-stakes winning sprinter Mary Delaney. He finished fourth in a loaded maiden race on debut in July at Belmont Park won by Green Light Go, who exited that event to win the Grade 2 Saratoga Special.
Dr Post graduated at second asking on March 29 in a seven-furlong maiden sprint at Gulfstream Park and followed up at the Hallandale oval with a 1 ½-length win last out on April 25 in the 1 1/16-mile Unbridled.
"I was impressed that he was able to get going at seven-eighths and get up in time, and then take a step forward stretching out to a mile and a sixteenth. A mile and an eighth should suit him well," said Pletcher.
The veteran conditioner said Dr Post shares some similarities with his sire, the multiple Grade 1-winning Quality Road, who was also trained by Pletcher.
"Everything we've seen from him reminds us of his sire. He looks a lot like him," said Pletcher. "He's versatile enough that he can run multiple distances, but we've always felt like he was looking for more ground. Certainly, to go from a maiden win to a stakes race like he did against seasoned horses, we felt he handled that step up in class pretty well. We like the way he's been training and if he continues to train like he is, we'll focus on the Belmont."
Farmington Road, also by Quality Road, graduated at third asking in a maiden route on January 12 at Tampa Bay Downs. The bay followed up with a pair of deep-closing efforts when fourth in the Grade 2 Risen Star won by Mr. Monomoy and second in the Oaklawn Stakes captured by Mr. Big News.
Last out, Farmington Road finished fourth in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby which was won by likely Belmont Stakes rival Nadal.
"He's a horse that likes to drop back and make one run," said Pletcher. "He'd benefit from a good, solid pace and unfortunately we've found ourselves in a few races where there hasn't been much pace on. He's still closed well, but would certainly benefit from a hot pace up front."
Gouverneur Morris, a gray or roan son of Constitution, was a nine-length winner on debut at Saratoga Race Course on September 2. He finished second next out in the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland to Maxfield, who captured Saturday's Grade 3 Matt Winn at Churchill Downs.
After winning an optional-claiming tilt in his seasonal debut at Tampa Bay Downs, Gouverneur Morris finished fourth in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, which was captured by Belmont Stakes contender Tiz the Law. Last out, Gouverneur Morris was a closing third in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby to complete a trifecta of Belmont Stakes hopefuls in the undefeated Charlatan and last year's Grade 1 Runhappy Hopeful champ Basin.
Pletcher said he was pleased with the Arkansas Derby effort from Gouverneur Morris.
"I thought it was a good effort. He's also looking for the right kind of trip and it seemed that at Oaklawn that day it was hard to make up a lot of ground," said Pletcher. "Ideally, he's suited for a race with a true pace where he can settle and make one run.
"He didn't have a bad trip in the Arkansas Derby, but at the same time he was never really able to settle into the rhythm you'd like him to," added Pletcher. "He always had horses inside and outside of him and in front of him and he was always in an awkward position, so I thought it was encouraging that he continued on and tried to the wire."
Wertheimer and Frere's Portos, by Tapit, graduated at fourth asking on New Year's Eve in the slop at the Big A. He followed up with a rallying third in the Grade 3 Withers in February at Aqueduct, but faltered last out when off-the-board in the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds.
Portos is entered in an allowance event on Thursday's card at Churchill Downs and Pletcher said he is hoping for a return to form from the talented individual.
"He's teased us along a little bit. He's shown things in some races and in the mornings that indicate he's capable of taking a step forward," said Pletcher. "But, everything went wrong in the Louisiana race. He didn't seem to care for the Fair Grounds at all. He's training sharply and we hope he'll come back with a good effort. If he's able to do that it will move him forward into a possible stake."
Pletcher also noted that well-regarded maiden winner Candy Tycoon is continuing to train at Palm Beach Downs in Florida toward a return later in the summer, and that fellow maiden winner Texas Swing is being freshened for a return at Saratoga.
Harrell Ventures Halladay, a 4-year-old War Front colt, has posted back-to-back 102 Beyer Speed Figures in winning an optional-claiming mile in April and the Sunshine Forever last out on May 9 at Gulfstream Park.
The Elkstone Group's Social Paranoia boasts a consistent record of 3-4-5 from 13 starts including scores in the Dueling Grounds Derby in September at Kentucky Downs and the Grade 3 Appleton on March 28 at Gulfstream Park. The 4-year-old Street Boss colt closed to complete the trifecta in the Sunshine Forever.
Pletcher said Social Paranoia will target the Grade 2, $150,000 Fort Marcy on June 6, while Halladay is pointing to the Grade 3, $150,000 Poker on July 4.
"Right now, the plan is to run Social Paranoia in the Fort Marcy and with Halladay we'll wait until something a little later like the Poker," said Pletcher. "Halladay seems to have found his niche and is doing well at a mile, so we'll probably focus on those types of races."
Pletcher will have a pair of contenders for the $80,000 Tiller, a 1 3/8-mile turf stamina test slated for Thursday, June 4 in Repole Stable's Noble Indy and the stunning Current, a chestnut son of Curlin owned by Eclipse Thoroughbreds, Robert V. LaPenta and Dixiana Farms.
Current made the grade in the 2018 Grade 3 Bourbon at Keeneland. He finished third last out in the Grade 2 Pan American on March 28 at 12 furlongs on the Gulfstream Park turf.
Noble Indy boasts a record of 17-5-1-2 with purse earnings of $820,845 and will enter the Tiller from a 1 ½-length score in an optional-claiming route on March 15 at nine furlongs on the Gulfstream Park turf.
"Current ran really well last time and seemed to handle the distance," said Pletcher. "Noble Indy can be a bit inconsistent, but when he's on his game he runs really well. Given a pace scenario, we think he can be dangerous in a mile and three-eighths type race."
Calumet Farm's Channel Cat, a 5-year-old English Channel horse, boasts a record of 5-2-5 from 22 starts and purse earnings of $948,592. He captured the Grade 2 Bowling Green in July at Saratoga and finished third in a pair of Grade 1s - the United Nations at Monmouth Park and the Sword Dancer at Saratoga - in a productive 2019.
Pletcher said he is targeting a Saratoga return for Channel Cat, who is currently being freshened.
Early look at the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Stakes
Saturday, June 20
Probable: Basin (Steve Asmussen), Charlatan (Bob Baffert), Dr Post (Todd Pletcher), Farmington Road Pletcher), Gouverneur Morris (Pletcher), Max Player (Linda Rice), Modernist (Bill Mott), Nadal (Baffert), Sole Volante (Patrick Biancone), Tiz the Law (Barclay Tagg)
Possible: Maxfield (Brendan Walsh), Ny Traffic (Saffie Joseph, Jr.), Shivaree (Ralph Nicks)
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Maker lining up stakes contenders for Belmont spring meet
Trainer Mike Maker will be well represented early on in the Belmont spring / summer meet, which is set to kick off on Wednesday, June 3.
The veteran conditioner said Three Diamonds Farm's Field Pass, a neck winner of the nine-furlong Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks on March 14 at Turfway Park, is possible for the Grade 2, $150,000 Pennine Ridge at one-mile for sophomores on the turf.
Last out, Field Pass closed to finish third in the War Chant on May 23 at one mile on the Churchill Downs turf.
The Lemon Drop Kid grey graduated as second asking in July on the turf at Saratoga in a juvenile campaign that also included a second in the Grade 3 With Anticipation at the Spa. After opening his campaign with a neck win in the turf Dania Beach at Gulfstream Park in February, Field Pass proved resilient on the Turfway synthetic to win the Jeff Ruby Steaks.
Three Diamonds Farm's New York-bred Cross Border, a 6-year-old son of English Channel, won four-of-seven starts last season. Bred in the Empire State by Berkshire Stud and B.D. Gibbs, Cross Border performed well in graded company this winter at Gulfstream Park when a close sixth in the Grade 2 Fort Lauderdale and a last-out second in the Grade 3 William L. McKnight.
Maker said he's considering a few turf options for Cross Border including the $80,000 Tiller, at 1 3/8-miles, on Thursday, June 4 and the Grade 2, 150,000 Fort Marcy, at nine furlongs, set for Saturday, June 6.
"We're still undecided with him. He's coming off an extended layoff," said Maker. "We're looking at options the first week of Belmont, but we're not sure which one yet."
Paradise Farms Corp. and Mad Dog Racing Stable's Temple, a 4-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Temple City, is set to make his Belmont Park debut in the Fort Marcy.
Temple shipped to New York in November and captured the Gio Ponti at 1 1/16-miles on the Big A turf. The consistent gelding boasts a record of 17-5-3-4 with purse earnings of $254,075 and will ship to the Empire State off a rallying 1 ¼-length score in a nine-furlong Gulfstream Park optional-claiming event that garnered a career-best 95 Beyer Speed Figure.
"He's doing well and we'll likely bring him up for the Fort Marcy," said Maker.
Maker said Paradise Farms and Parkland Thoroughbreds' Stunning Sky, a sophomore daughter of Declaration of War, is likely to target the Grade 3 Regret a nine-furlong turf route on Saturday, June 27 at Churchill Downs rather than the one-mile Grade 3 Wonder Again on June 20 at Belmont Park.
"We're looking to stretch her out, so the Regret makes a lot more sense going a mile and an eighth," said Maker.