Apr 25, 2019
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Haikal records final Derby breeze at Belmont; McLaughlin to saddle a trio of graded stakes contenders on Derby Day

by NYRA Press Office

  • Tax blitzes through half-mile in final work for Kentucky Derby
  • Atras pointing Royal Albert Hall and Roaming Union to Flat Out
  • College Day slated for Kentucky Derby day at Belmont Park

Shadwell Stable's homebred Haikal, winner of the Grade 3 Gotham at Aqueduct Racetrack on March 9 for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, breezed five furlongs in 1:01.21 on Thursday morning on Belmont Park's main track.

Haikal, who was a closing third in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial presented by NYRA Bets on April 6, finished 10th on the leaderboard for the Grade 1, $3 million Kentucky Derby, slated for Saturday, May 4, with 70 points.

The Daaher bay, who posted a bullet breeze in 47.59 on April 19 at Belmont, was in hand under exercise rider Luis Perlaya on Thursday morning while travelling outside of unraced 3-year-old stablemate Taamer. The pair traveled together from the top of the lane with Haikal taking control at the wire and galloping out well in front.

"I loved what I saw this morning. He kept going out and finished strong. It was an excellent work," said McLaughlin. "He went a little fast last week, but it was probably the track. This week was really nice. The way he galloped out and the way he worked he looked really good. In hand. I really like this work better this week."

Haikal will ship by van to Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky on Sunday afternoon and arrive early Monday morning, with his conditioner slated to arrive on Tuesday at the historic track in search of his first Kentucky Derby win with his ninth starter.

"It's great to get there. It's very hard to get there. It's very hard to get a horse that's eligible points wise and a horse that is doing very well at this time of the year," said McLaughlin. "We're excited and it's a great owner that we've been with for 25 years so it's fabulous. He's a homebred so the whole farm in Lexington gets to enjoy it and a lot of them will be there. My whole team, my assistant Joe Lee and my staff, have done a great job with this horse all winter. It's great to get there and hopefully we'll be in good shape tomorrow [exiting the work]."

McLaughlin will have a busy Kentucky Derby day as he also saddles Leonard Green's streaking A Thread of Blue in the Grade 2 American Turf for 3-year-olds over 1 1/16-miles on the Churchill green and Qurbaan in the nine-furlong Grade 1 Old Forester Turf Classic.

"It's great to have these types of horses pointing to those races on such a big day. We're excited," said McLaughlin.

A Thread of Blue, by Hard Spun, enjoyed a productive winter at Gulfstream Park where he captured an allowance race on December 22 and followed up with wins in the Dania Beach and Grade 3 Palm Beach.

The talented dark bay launched his career on the main track on August 11 at Saratoga Race Course, finishing sixth, and came back in a turf mile at Belmont to run a strong second to Current, who took the Grade 3 Dixiana Bourbon in his next start.

A Thread of Blue graduated in an off-the-turf event on October 7 at Belmont and followed up with a good third in the Awad on the Big A green.

McLaughlin said a return to turf has brought out the best in the improving colt.

"He's always trained well. I think the surface change was big for him. He's improved getting back on the turf. In his first start on the turf, he was second to a very good horse in Current," said McLaughlin. "He had a troubled trip in the Awad and then we took him to Florida.

"He won three in a row in Florida and he's improving, yes, but he's on the right surface and learning. He's a very nice horse and doing well."

A Thread of Blue will breeze on Friday morning at Palm Meadows in Florida before shipping up to Kentucky.

Bred in Kentucky by Flaxman Holdings Limited, A Thread of Blue is among the top contenders for the Turf Trinity, part of the recently launched Turf Triple series, which kicks off on July 6 with the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Derby Invitational, contested at 1 1/4-miles on the Belmont turf. The two additional legs of the Turf Trinity will include the inaugural $1 million Saratoga Derby on August 4 at Saratoga Race Course and concludes at Belmont with the first running of the $1 million Jockey Club Derby on September 7.

McLaughlin said he is hopeful that the ten-furlong distance of the Belmont Derby Invitational is within reach for A Thread of Blue.

"We hope so and we think so. We'll take it one race at a time, but after we get through Derby Day that's what we'll be pointing for," said McLaughlin.

Qurbaan, a 6-year-old Speightstown horse, breezed four furlongs in 48.20 on Thursday morning over the Keeneland main, and McLaughlin said he was pleased with the chestnut's effort last out.

"He ran very well. We thought we were going to win, and a couple got by us late," said McLaughlin. "We're going to run back on Derby day in the Old Forester going a mile and an eighth. We're hoping it will be a firmer turf. The extra distance should help him."

Stonestreet Stables' homebred Dawn the Destroyer breezed five furlongs in 1:00.87 on Thursday morning over the Belmont main track. The 5-year-old Speightstown mare won the Interborough in January at the Big A and followed up by completing the trifecta in both the Grade 3 Barbara Fritchie at Laurel Park and the Grade 3 Distaff Handicap at Aqueduct.

Although nominated to the Grade 2 Ruffian at one mile on May 5, McLaughlin said he will point the talented bay to the Grade 3, $200,000 Vagrancy here at Belmont.

"She's doing very well. She's going to point to the Vagrancy on May 11 going six and a half furlongs. She's been going six and seven [furlongs], so we'll point that way," said McLaughlin.

New York-bred maiden winner Flush, who ran third in the Franklin Square and sixth last out in the Maddie May, will take some time off before making her next start.

McLaughlin said the Carl Pollard-owned Violence filly is well but has missed some training.

"She spiked a temperature and we've had to miss a little bit of time with her. She's okay, but we'll have to wait with her," said McLaughlin.

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Tax blitzes through half-mile in final work for Kentucky Derby

In putting the final touches on his preparation for the Kentucky Derby, Tax worked a half-mile over the Belmont Park training track in a torrid 47.80 seconds - the swiftest of 48 recorded works at the four-furlong distance.

Owned by R. A. Hill Stable, Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Hugh Lynch and Corms Racing Stable, the 3-year-old gelded son of Arch impressed trainer Danny Gargan in his last work before shipping to Churchill Downs, breezing in company at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday with assistant trainer Rolando Quevedo aboard for the journey.

"I thought he worked really tremendous," Gargan said following the work. "We put a target in front of him because he likes to run at something and 47 and change is fast today. I worked a few horses earlier today and no one worked that fast. Divine Miss Grey went 48 and change and she's a good work horse. The gallop out was impressive and he's training really well. Obviously, he's bred to go longer, and we train our horses to gallop out big. When you're going a mile and a quarter you want to have a fit horse."

Tax is scheduled to ship to Churchill Downs on Sunday, April 28.

Tax was claimed by Gargan for $50,000 following a second-out maiden claiming victory going 1 1/16 miles over the main track at Keeneland last October. Gargan acquired the horse believing that he had a solid turf router on his hands, but the native of Louisville, Kentucky ended up instead with his first Kentucky Derby starter.

"I watched him run [second] first time out [on September 29] at Churchill," Gargan recalled. "I was handicapping and we're always looking for young horses. I like to claim young horses and he was in a [$30,000] maiden. He was a real well-bred horse and I was thinking that he's wanting to run long on the grass, so I claimed him thinking that I was getting a grass router.

"We brought him here and the first time that I worked him he went really well, then the second time I worked him he broke off in behind some horses and he breezed [like he did Thursday]."

Impressed with the dirt work, Gargan supplemented Tax to the Grade 2 Remsen, where the gelding ran third. Tax made his sophomore debut a winning one when taking the Grade 3 Withers on February 2 at the Big A and in his most recent effort was a close runner-up behind Tacitus in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial presented by NYRA Bets.

A son of a former jockey, also named Danny, Gargan spoke of what it would be like to win North America's most prestigious horse race.

"My father won the Oaks in 1973 [aboard Bag of Tunes] as a jockey. He never did ride in the Derby, but he rode in the Belmont and the Preakness," Gargan said. "It's obviously a race that everybody wants to win, especially when you grow up in the south end of Louisville. It's the biggest dance. You want to win it and it's pretty big just to be in it. It's a game changer for your career just to win the Derby."

On paper, the Kentucky Derby appears to have a lack of early speed. Gargan stated that, while Tax can show some speed, where he will be placed earlier in the race will depend mainly on the post position.

"He has natural speed," Gargan said. "We'll see what the post is. In the Wood we used him a little bit to get him into the position we wanted. I didn't want him to get stuck in behind horses, so I told the jock to move a little bit early.

"Obviously in the Derby we won't be pumping him at the half-mile pole to make a move around the turn there," continued Gargan. "When Derby points are involved you have to be more aggressive. I don't think we'll send him as much as we did in the Wood. It all depends on how he comes out of the gate."

Regular rider Junior Alvarado will be aboard Tax for the Kentucky Derby. He has ridden in the Kentucky Derby twice, guiding Mohaymen [4th, 2016] and Enticed [14th, 2018].

Also appearing on the Belmont work tab for Gargan is graded stakes winner Divine Miss Grey, who went a half-mile in 48.80 seconds and will accompany Tax in his journey to Louisville when she races in the Grade 1 $500,000 La Troienne on the Kentucky Oaks undercard.

"She always works well, she's a little warrior," Gargan said.

Claimed for a thrifty $16,000, the 5-year-old daughter of Divine Park has proven to be quite the return on investment having banked over $900,000. Her lone graded stakes triumph took place in last year's Grade 2 Chilukki on the Breeders' Cup undercard at Churchill Downs.

She has won a total of five non-graded stakes events including back-to-back scores in the Heavenly Prize Invitational at Aqueduct.

The talented chestnut finished a good second behind Wow Cat in the Grade 1 Beldame at Belmont, a race that Gargan said proved the mare's class.

"She loves to show up and run. We ran her in a Grade 1 last year and I think the filly that beat her [Wow Cat] was probably the best filly in the country last year in the fall," said Gargan. "I think the Beldame was a pretty significant race and no one realized it. Then we took her back to Churchill and she got left at the gate and ran second [in the Grade 2 Falls City]."

Gargan said he will pick his spots carefully with Divine Miss Grey in 2019.

"We're not going to run her as much this year, but we want to give her a chance to win a Grade 1. We're going to try a couple of spots and hopefully she can get it done," said Gargan.

Divine Miss Grey will to ship to Churchill Downs on Sunday, April 28 along with her stablemate.

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Atras pointing Royal Albert Hall and Roaming Union to Flat Out

Trainer Rob Atras enjoyed a successful launch at Aqueduct, posting a record of 14-9-5 from 38 combined starts through the winter and spring meets at the Big A.

The Winnipeg, Manitoba native, a former assistant to Robertino Diodoro, went out on his own over the winter and his grown his stable from eight horses to 20 on the eve of the Belmont spring/summer meet.

Royal Albert Hall, who provided Atras his first NYRA circuit stakes win after taking the Bernardini on March 2, and recent claim Roaming Union are both nominated to the 1 3/8-mile Flat Out, a $100,000 main-track stamina test for 4-year-olds and up on Friday, May 3.

Atras said it is possible that both horses will start in the Flat Out.

"I think so, but I'll decide over the next couple of days. Roaming Union we just claimed and we're just feeling him out a little bit. Royal Albert Hall worked this morning, so we'll make a decision in the next couple of days," said Atras.

Roaming Union was claimed by Atras for owner Lawrence Roman for $62,500 out of a good third in a one-mile event on a sloppy Big A track.

A 4-year-old son of Union Rags, Roaming Union put in a strong gallop this morning at Belmont.

"He galloped two miles and went a strong three-eighths at the end of it," said Atras. "He was real sharp so I told the rider if he was doing well to go ahead and let him blow out the last three-eighths and he went pretty good. I liked what I saw and as long as he comes out of it good, and the owners agrees to go in the race, we're ready."

Atras said he liked the past performance lines of the Kentucky-bred bay who has won four of 18 starts, including a four-length win in a $50,000 claiming route on February 22 at Aqueduct that earned a career-best 90 Beyer Speed Figure.

"I liked his form. He's a young horse that's run against some pretty good horses and it looked like he was getting better," said Atras. "I loved the race he won for $50,000 and I wish we'd taken him that day.

"He actually caught my eye that day," continued Atras. "I was looking at another horse and he [Roaming Union] walked by and I looked back at my form and thought maybe I should have been claiming him. Of course, he wins by four and the horse I tried to claim ran last."

Royal Albert Hall, a 7-year-old son of Royal Applause, has traveled the world, competing extensively on the turf. He arrived at the Atras barn from a pair of dirt starts at Zia Park and debuted for Atras with a rallying second on February 21 on a sloppy Aqueduct main track. The winner that day, Expert, was starting an active three-race win streak.

In his most recent effort, he posted a smart score in the 1 15/16-mile Bernardini. Atras said that Royal Albert Hall needed some time off following his first stakes win on March 2.

"He was supposed to run in April and things didn't work out. He had a bit of a virus and then a bit of a bruised foot and he missed some training," said Atras. "We've been targeting this race [the Flat Out]. He handled the dirt pretty good at Zia and when they sent him to me, I thought he was only a turf horse, but he trained good on dirt and he ran good on it.

"The horse that beat him, Expert, he's turned into a pretty good horse," added Atras.

Royal Albert Hall breezed a half-mile in 48.44 on Thursday morning on the Belmont main track.

"He galloped out really nice. He broke off at the three-eighths and finished up his work at the mile and three-eighths. The rider stood up on him and let him keep galloping out. I told the rider to let him gallop out as much as he wanted, and he went really good," said Atras.

Also slated as possible starters for the Flat Out are Forewarned, Marconi, Monongahela, Rocketry, Twisted Tom and You're to Blame.

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College Day slated for Kentucky Derby day at Belmont Park

The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) will invite college students to show their school pride as part of College Day slated for Kentucky Derby Day, Saturday, May 4 at Belmont Park.

The first 500 college students with valid I.D. will receive a Belmont Park commemorative t-shirt. College students will also have the opportunity to experience the 'Run for the Roses' at beautiful Belmont Park with an array of activities, including betting and handicapping advice from the NYRA Bets Squad to prepare for Triple Crown season's kick off.

Live racing at Belmont will boast a top-class card featuring three graded stakes including the Grade 2, $200,000 Sheepshead Bay, the Grade 3, $200,000 Westchester, and the Grade 3, $150,000 Fort Marcy.

Belmont's spacious backyard will feature a live DJ, giant-sized games of foosball, basketball, and ping pong. A best-dressed contest, with categories for both men and women, will offer a prize of $250 each for the best Kentucky Derby-themed outfit.

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