by NYRA Press Office
Katsumi Yoshizawa's homebred Master Fencer, an eye-catching sixth in the Kentucky Derby for trainer Koichi Tsunoda, breezed five furlongs in 1:01.21 under Julien Leparoux on Wednesday morning in his final prep for the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets slated for Saturday, June 8 at Belmont Park.
The Japanese-bred son of Just a Way warmed up on the training track ahead of the timed breeze on Big Sandy.
"First, we went to the training track to warm up and then we went and stood in the gate for a little bit. He was good at the gate and then we went to breeze," said Leparoux. "He felt good. He's got stronger from when I was on him in Kentucky. It was a good breeze and I'm excited about the race on Saturday."
[Video of Master Fencer's breeze and additional Belmont Stakes Racing Festival content is available on NYRA's YouTube channel https://youtu.be/v5SskGidZfE]
A start in the Belmont Stakes will make Master Fencer eligible for NYRA's $1 million bonus offered to any Japan-based winner of New York's most prestigious race.
Introduced for the 2017 Triple Crown season, the entire $1 million bonus would be awarded to the winning Japanese horse's connections in addition to the $800,000 winner's share of the purse for the last and longest leg of the Triple Crown.
If successful, it would also be the first Belmont Stakes score for Leparoux, who has developed a strong bond with the chestnut.
"He's very easy to be around. He's a kind horse and very calm and professional. It makes my job easy," said Leparoux.
Leparoux said the late-closing Master Fencer will need some pace to chase on Saturday.
"We will need some racing luck. A lot depends on the pace in front and how the track plays, but we'll give it a good race," said Leparoux.
Post time for the Belmont Stakes is scheduled for approximately 6:37 p.m. ET on Saturday, June 8 (7:37 a.m. JST on Sunday, June 11) and will be broadcast live on NBC.
With the 151st running of the Belmont Stakes as its centerpiece, the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival, from June 6-8, will include 18 stakes races over the three days including eight Grade 1 races on Belmont Stakes Day, June 8.
To purchase tickets, and for additional information on all premium hospitality options, please visit BelmontStakes.com.
* * *
Casse trainees in good order ahead of G1 Belmont Stakes
The main thing Mark Casse wanted to achieve with War of Will in the three weeks between the colt's triumph in the Grade 1 Preakness Stakes and his run in Saturday's Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets was refilling his charge's proverbial gas tank following the first two legs of the Triple Crown.
Judging by how tough the colt has made life for his handlers of late and how quickly his blood got pumping during his time on the track Wednesday morning, fatigue seems to be the least of Casse's concerns about War of Will heading into the 1 ½-mile Classic.
In his second morning on the track since arriving at Belmont Park early Monday, War of Will got the stamp of approval from exercise rider Kim Carroll during his routine gallop, displaying some eager tendencies early on before settling into a rhythm down the backside. Both parts of that equation were welcome sights for Casse as he readies Gary Barber's runner for a race which often demands both tactical speed and the ability to relax from its most successful starters.
"Kim said he was sharp today. She said he broke off and he could see a couple horses in front of him and she was like 'No, we're not going after them,'" Casse said. "She let him ease up to them and then he was happy. Once he got by them, he relaxed. So that's good. The good news is he has lots of energy. The other good news is she said he shut off when she asked him to. I think those are two important things."
As War of Will's resume has grown in stature, so too has his popularity - brought on in part by his striking looks and affable personality. Recent days, however, have seen his caretakers have to take extra caution not to get caught by his displays of attitude.
"He's a handful in the morning, you have to be careful. He's not as sweet as he used to be," Casse grinned. "He's no longer the young, innocent boy. He's acting more like a college kid. We are making our third start in five weeks but all that being said, I think he's as good as he can get. We're ready."
Tracking just behind War of Will on the Belmont oval Wednesday morning, and in pre-race hype, is stablemate and fellow Belmont Stakes contender Sir Winston. The runner-up in the May 11 Grade 3 Peter Pan Stakes will be at the mercy of the pace Saturday but does have the advantage of having raced and trained regularly over the track known as Big Sandy.
"Sir Winston is a sleeper. It would not shock me at all if he's right there at the finish, especially if they give him a little pace," Casse said. "One he loves Belmont. Two, he is going to thrive at a mile and a half. There are a lot of people overlooking him, but better to do the interviews after then before."
* * *
Tapit a continuing presence in the "Test of the Champion"
Currently standing for $225,000 at Gainesway in Lexington, Kentucky, Tapit has produced three of the last five Belmont Stakes winners in Tonalist (2014), Creator (2016) and Tapwrit (2017). On Saturday, three sons of Tapit will contest the final leg of the Triple Crown - Tacitus, Intrepid Heart and Bourbon War.
Mark Hernon, Director of Sales at Gainseway, said that the Belmont success has added to Tapit's legacy as a stallion.
"I think it's very significant," Hernon said. "What really stands out is their competitive nature and will to win. Some of them were won by short margins but that's part of their DNA and their will to win. I've watched them race over the years and if a race comes down to a photo finish and there's a Tapit in it, you want to be holding a ticket for the Tapit because they really seem to come out on top. They have that ability combined with soundness and ability to carry at a distance."
Tacitus, the first progeny out of 2014 Champion Older Filly Close Hatches, is the 9-5 morning line favorite for the Belmont Stakes. The two-time Grade 2-winning Juddmonte homebred, who finished third in the Kentucky Derby, is conditioned by Hall of Famer Bill Mott.
"Tacitus stands out and he had an unfortunate trip in the Derby," Hernon said. "He closed well and he looks good from the videos I saw of him training. He's out of a champion mare [Close Hatches]. He'll love the distance. He's had a break and three works over the Belmont track.
"I'm pretty excited about Tacitus," Hernon continued. "He overcame trouble in the Wood Memorial. He was very strong finishing up that day and made up a lot of ground in the latter part of that race. He's a big, strapping horse and he's going to be running at a distance that he'll relish. I expect him to make a big account for himself."
While Tacitus has the most attractive resume of Tapit's three sons in the Belmont, Hernon was also excited to see graded stakes placed Intrepid Heart and Bourbon War in the race as well.
Also boasting highly prestigious pedigrees, Intrepid Heart is out of Flaming Heart who is by Touch Gold - winner of the 1997 Belmont Stakes - and also produced graded stakes winner Commissioner who was a close second behind Tonalist in the 2014 Belmont. Bourbon War is the first foal out of Grade 1 winner My Conquestadory.
"The other horses are legit as well," Hernon said. "It seems like Todd Pletcher [trainer of Intrepid Heart] is always competitive. He got nosed out with Destin a few years ago and won with the filly Rags to Riches, who beat Curlin. I expect his horses to jump up and run. Bourbon War's last race [Preakness Stakes] can be looked past. He's a nice horse and has a license to be running well when it really matters."
Tapit has stamped himself as an effective broodmare's sire as well as a sire of sires. Last year, his son Tapizar produced the eventual Champion 3-Year-Old Filly in Monomoy Girl.
"We stand his son Tapizar who won the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile and produced that fabulous filly and champion Monomoy Girl," Hernon said. "Tapit has a big book of quality mares and he positioned himself to become the sire that he is today. We've even seen plenty of good progeny coming out of Tapit's daughters. He's got several sires at various other farms as well."
Tapit also has runners in four of the 10 stakes events carded for Saturday, including stakes winner Nitrous in the Grade 1, $400,000 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun, who is out of multiple stakes winner Speedinthruthecity and Bellavais in the Grade 1, $700,000 Longines Just a Game, whose dam La Cloche was out of Memories of Silver, who won the Just a Game in 1997.
Tapit currently leads all sires in North America in black type winners with a total of 18. He has sired eight graded stakes winners in 2019, trailing only Curlin, who has sired nine.
"He put himself in this spot," Hernon said. "He's having a tremendous year so far and we're only at the beginning."
* * *
Sacco to saddle Grade 1 contenders Joevia and Mind Control
Trainer Gregg Sacco will be hoping for a Grade 1 double on Belmont Stakes Day when he saddles a pair of horses at opposite ends of the odds board in Mind Control and Joevia.
Michael and Jeff Fazio's Joevia, a dark bay son of Shanghai Bobby, is listed as the longest shot on the board at 30-1 on the morning line for the Belmont Stakes. The lightly-raced Joevia won his only start as a 2-year-old and has hit the board in three of four sophomore starts finishing second in the Jimmy Winkfield and Private Terms along with a win last out in the Long Branch at Monmouth. The lone blemish on an otherwise improving record came in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial presented by NYRA Bets, where he cut across the face of the field from the outermost post en route to finishing seventh and subsequently was disqualified and placed last of 11.
Sacco said the Long Branch effort, a front-running score at 1 1/16-miles on the main track, demonstrated that the colt is back on the right track ahead of Saturday's stamina test.
"He's an improving colt and he did it the right way - and the main thing is, he came out of it the right way," said Sacco. "We haven't got to the bottom of him yet. He was a late developing horse and missed most of his 2-year-old campaign. He ran well in his return at Aqueduct in the Jimmy Winkfield and again at Laurel against Alwaysmining. He's rebounded well from the Wood Memorial and we're excited to see him run on Saturday."
Sacco considers the Wood Memorial effort an anomaly and he expects a better showing on Saturday in his first start at Belmont.
"The way the race unfolded we, and everyone else, were compromised at the beginning. It wasn't a true indication of his ability. He is improving and if he improves again and can handle the Belmont distance, we think he'll be competitive," said Sacco. "He has tactical speed, so we believe he'll be forwardly placed. He doesn't necessarily have to be on the lead."
Sacco, who picked up his first Grade 1 win last year when Red Oak Stable and Madaket Stables' Mind Control captured the Hopeful at Saratoga in his third career start, said he is looking forward to having his first crack at a Triple Crown race.
"It's a privilege to run in the Belmont with Joevia. It's my first Classic and the owners are very excited about being part of the Belmont day. We look forward to the experience and hopefully running well in the Belmont," said Sacco.
Mind Control, with four wins from seven starts and purse earnings in excess of $500,000, will be well backed in the Grade 1, $400,000 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun. Listed as the 5-2 morning-line favorite in a contentious field of 11, Mind Control enters the seven-furlong sprint from a convincing score in the Bay Shore at the Big A.
"We were excited for him to win a Grade 1 last year in the Hopeful as a 2-year-old and we'd love for him to win a Grade 1 as a 3-year-old too," said Sacco.
Both Sacco trainees will be making their Belmont debut, but Sacco noted that both have trained previously on the famous strip.
"We had the opportunity to train Mind Control there after the Breeders' Cup," said Sacco. "In the spring, we galloped over the main track ahead of coming to Monmouth and he handled the track well. Both Joevia and Mind Control trained very well on it."
The Woody Stephens is slated as Race 8 on Saturday's 13-race card with a post time of 4:04 p.m., while the featured Belmont Stakes will go as Race 11 at approximately 6:37 p.m.
* * *
Pletcher flying under the radar with Intrepid Heart and Spinoff
Trainer Todd Pletcher will have two chances at a fourth Belmont Stakes victory when he sends out Robert and Lawana Low's Intrepid Heart and Wertheimer and Frere's Spinoff in Saturday's race. Both horses galloped 1 ¼ miles over the main track Wednesday and stood in the gate.
Pletcher, who won the Belmont with Rags to Riches (2007), Palace Malice (2013) and Tapwrit (2017), says there can be a home track advantage in the Belmont, but it's more important to bring the right horse.
"I think you can make that argument from the standpoint of training on a mile and a half track," Pletcher said. "Getting accustomed to that can be helpful, but I think the surface is probably such that more horses are going to handle it than Churchill.
"Churchill, I think, can be the quirkiest of the three. It seems like our horses have trained well here, but at the same time, you have to bring the right kind of horse with the right kind of pedigree and right kind of disposition. I also think having five weeks and being based here is an edge."
The lightly raced Intrepid Heart, who will only be making his fourth career start, makes up for experience with one of the strongest pedigrees in the race and has been impressing his trainer with his training as has his stablemate.
"I think Intrepid Heart is clearly bred for this race," Pletcher said. "He's by Tapit, who's had a lot of success in the race. He's out of a Touch Gold mare. Touch Gold won the Belmont. He's a half to Commissioner (second in the 2014 Belmont). If you look at his pedigree, it's AP Indy and Seattle Slew. There's a lot of Belmont history supporting his pedigree. And, out of the three Triple Crown races, I think pedigree plays the biggest role in this one.
"In addition to that, Intrepid Heart and Spinoff have both trained similar to our other Belmont horses that were successful here. Intrepid Heart's last breeze, I had him galloping out a mile in 1:38 3/5 and in Spinoff's penultimate breeze, I had him galloping out in 1:37 3/5, which historically is what horses like Palace Malice and Rags to Riches did. Even Commissioner and Destin, who didn't win, but ran well, had similar breezes."
Spinoff will be making his first start finishing 18th in the Kentucky Derby over a sloppy track May 4, but Pletcher said he can toss that race out.
"I have to," Pletcher said. "He ran well in the Louisiana Derby. And, if you look back on that race, with Country House and War of Will being in there, it was a legitimate prep race. The horse has trained really well. We always thought there was potential there. We could see the Thursday before the Derby when it was sloppy with the way he galloped over the track, he didn't love it. (Jockey) Manny Franco said he didn't handle it. So, you draw a line through it and hope he runs to the way he's been training. He's still a lightly raced horse so there's plenty of room for improvement."
Neither Intrepid Heart nor Spinoff figure to be among the betting favorites, but that's just fine with their trainer.
"I think there are some advantages to it," Pletcher said. "Like I was saying yesterday, if you're coming in with Justify or American Pharoah or California Chrome, it's a lot different when there's a Triple Crown at stake. For this, it's a big race and everyone wants to win it, but there's not that same kind of pressure as when there's a chance for a Triple Crown."
* * *
Nitrous seeks Grade 1 glory in Woody Stephens
Winchell Thoroughbreds and Stonestreet Stables' two-time stakes winner Nitrous will seek his first graded stakes victory when he takes on 10 other sophomores in the Grade 1, $400,000 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun.
The well-bred son of Tapit was a last-out winner of the Bachelor on April 27 at Oaklawn Park, where he came from well off the pace to win by 1 ¾ lengths and recorded a career best 98 Beyer Speed Figure. Two starts back, Nitrous won the Riley Allison Derby at Sunland Park, where he came from 10 lengths off the pace to win by a head as the heavy favorite.
Nitrous raced once against Grade 1 caliber in last summer's Hopeful at Saratoga, where he was third beaten three lengths behind fellow Woody Stephens aspirant Mind Control.
Following his win at Oaklawn Park, Nitrous shipped to Belmont Park, to join the rest of Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen's New York horses. He recorded a trio of worked over the main track, most recently a half-mile move in 50.47 seconds on June 3.
Nitrous showed some speed in his first few career starts, including a wire-to-wire maiden win at Saratoga in his second career start, but has displayed an efficient late kick in his two stakes victories this year.
"We think he's a sprinter and he seems to have the most success being a late closing sprinter," said Winchell Thoroughbreds Bloodstock and Racing Manager David Fiske. "He got up to New York pretty early. Steve wanted to give him as much time on site as possible to get over his last race and put on as much weight as he needs. He can get a little wound up, so he's been schooling in the paddock every Thursday."
Bred in Kentucky by Winchell Thoroughbreds, Nitrous is the first offspring out of three-time stakes winner Speedinthruthecity. Regular rider Ricardo Santana, Jr. will guide Nitrous, who will break from post 6 at 10-1 morning line odds.
* * *
Delacour hopeful Chalon can break through at graded level in G3 Bed o' Roses
Lael Stables' Chalon will look to snap an unfortunate string of runner-up finishes in graded stakes on Friday at Belmont when she contests the Grade 3, $250,000 Bed o' Roses Invitational at seven furlongs on the main track.
The 5-year-old mare has endured a string of five seconds in graded events that dates to the 2017 running of the Grade 2 TCA at Keeneland. Her most recent heartbreak came on November 3 at Churchill Downs in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, in which she opened up a decisive lead in the stretch but was run down late by Shamrock Rose, ultimately falling short by a head.
Following an impressive victory in the Skipat Stakes in her 2019 debut on May 17 at Pimlico, trainer Arnaud Delacour is hopeful that the daughter of Dialed In is ready to finally shed the role of bridesmaid in graded stakes.
"She came out of her last race well and is doing great," said Delacour. "She had a nice breeze since and she's ready to go. We wanted to find an easy spot for her, something not too salty to get her going, and she did it in style. She's run so consistently well in graded stakes, it seems to be only a matter of time before she gets one."
Despite her shortcomings at the graded level, Chalon has had no such trouble sealing the deal in listed stakes, having accumulated four such victories to date. Since Delacour took over her training in 2018, the bay mare has yet to finish outside of the exacta. This consistency has prompted the French-born trainer to compare Chalon to another former star of his, A. P. Indian, who earned more than $1.4 million in his illustrious career and gave the horseman his first Grade 1 win in the 2016 edition of the Alfred G. Vandberbilt at Saratoga Race Course.
"I told my jockey the other day that she's the female A. P. Indian," said Delacour. "The way that she runs, the way she looks, but also the way she behaves in the barn. I think that's a fitting analogy."
While a chance at redemption in the Filly & Mare Sprint remains a possible year-end target, the primary focus is on getting the hard-knocking mare a graded victory, with a possible pit stop at Saratoga in between, according to Delacour.
"The goal is to get her a graded win," said the trainer. "To be honest, I think going out west and running on their home ground is a bit disadvantageous, so I'm not so sure about [the Breeders' Cup] yet. We'll definitely consider the two races at Saratoga [Grade 2, $200,000 Honorable Miss Handicap on July 24 and Grade 1, $500,000 Ketel One Ballerina on August 24] too. She definitely deserves a graded stakes win, she's been so consistent for us."
O'Dwyer hoping to make good showing with juveniles
Last October, trainer Jerry O'Dwyer went to the Fasig-Tipton Sale in search of young horses that could potentially be early runners, and that's exactly what he got. O'Dwyer sends out runners in both 2-year-old stakes events that are a part of the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival with Punk Rock Princess and Rookie Salsa.
Owned by O'Dwyer in partnership with Dan Slattery and Trevor Johnson, Punk Rock Princess is entered in the $100,000 Astoria on Thursday afternoon. She graduated at second asking at Laurel Park on May 2 defeating three other juveniles by a half-length. She was purchased by O'Dwyer for $25,000 from the Fasig-Tipton Mid Atlantic Sale last October.
"Both are very balanced and mature looking," O'Dwyer said. "Punk Rock Princess was a Maryland-bred and Virginia certified and she's a gorgeous filly. She's very good looking but not a big robust looking filly. She's very easy to train and very relaxed and she has her own personality. She's never flashy in the mornings but does everything right."
Bred in Maryland by Thomas Teal, Punk Rock Princess is by freshman sire Bourbon Courage out of the Old Trieste broodmare My Little Monkey.
Already a stakes winner, Designated Hitters Racing's Rookie Salsa seeks to add another triumph in Friday afternoon's $100,000 Tremont. Rookie Salsa was a 27-1 upset winner of the Kentucky Juvenile at Churchill Downs the day prior to Punk Rock Princess' maiden win. He broke his maiden by three-quarters of a length at Laurel Park.
"He just does everything and is push button," O'Dwyer said. "You get a better read on him in the mornings by the way he acts. He's a little mouthy and colt like but it's just because he's confident. He comes from off the pace a bit and seems to know where the finish line is."
Rookie Salsa, who was purchased for $15,000, was bred in Florida by Mikhail Yanakov's Olympia Star and is out of the stakes winning Pico Central broodmare Kalambaka Queen.
Both horses will be piloted by Angel Suarez.
O'Dwyer gave a brief update on Needs Supervision, who gave the trainer his first stakes victory when she took the Silverbulletday at Fair Grounds. She last raced in the Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra, where she was fifth. The daughter of Paynter is currently at WinStar Farm in Versailles, Kentucky.
"She's still at WinStar. She had a little bacteria in her airway and I want her to be 100 percent when we bring her back. She looks fabulous. I'd love to have her back right now but we want to do what's best for the horse," O'Dwyer said.
* * *
NYRA to offer Belmont Stakes Racing Festival Two-Day Pick 6 with mandatory payout
NYRA Bets is offering a special Belmont Stakes Racing Festival Two-Day Pick 6 wager with a mandatory payout. With a 20-cent base minimum and a 15 percent takeout, the Pick 6 will include six graded stakes during the last two days of the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival, for Friday and Saturday, culminating with the 151st running of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on June 8.
The Two-Day Pick 6 will kick off with the Grade 2, $250,000 True North for 4-year-olds and up at 6 ½ furlongs, carded as Race 8 on Friday with an approximate post time of 4:42 p.m. Eastern. The second leg will come two races later in the Grade 2, $400,000 Belmont Gold Cup.
Action then switches to Saturday with four consecutive Grade 1s, starting with the seven-furlong Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun for 3-year-olds in Race 8 at 4:04 p.m. The fourth leg will come in Race 9 with the $1.2 million Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap for 3-year-olds and up going one mile.
Rounding out the Pick 6 will be the Grade 1, $1 million Manhattan at 1 ¼ miles on the inner turf and ending with the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes, the final leg of the Triple Crown, in Race 11.