by NYRA Press Office
Champion European trainer Aidan O’Brien’s four-horse Stars & Stripes contingent cleared quarantine late Thursday morning and jogged over Belmont Park’s main track shortly before the close of training.
The quartet, led by last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner Mendelssohn in town for his third straight dirt assignment in Saturday’s Grade 3, $300,000 Dwyer, visited the paddock before walking to the mile chute and lightly jogging 1 ¼ miles.
O’Brien, who won the 2016 Grade 1, $1.2 Belmont Derby Invitational with Deauville, will be represented in this year’s renewal by Hunting Horn. The Irish-bred Athena, who will be making a six-day turnaround following a third-place finish in the Group 1 Pretty Polly on July 1 at the Curragh, will carry the barn’s banner in the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Oaks Invitational.
Mendelssohn will be joined in the one-mile Dwyer by Group 2 winner Seahenge, who most recently finished a late-running seventh in the Grade 3 Pat Day Mile on Kentucky Derby Day.
“All four of them traveled well,” said T.J. Comerford, O’Brien’s traveling head lad. “They’re all in good shape. They actually look really well. They were all out at the track this morning looking like a million dollars.”
Mendelssohn, a $3 million yearling purchase by Scat Daddy, won the Group 2 UAE Derby in March by an eye-catching 18 ½ lengths, but had a disastrous experience last time out in the Kentucky Derby on May 5 at Churchill Downs, being bumped severely leaving the gate over the sloppy and sealed track. He was ultimately eased under jockey Ryan Moore to finish a distant 20th, crossing the wire 73 ¼ lengths behind the winner, Justify.
Installed as the 8-5 morning-line favorite, Mendelssohn drew post 6 in his first race shorter than 1 3/16 miles since winning the 32red Patton on March 9 at Dundalk in Ireland. Moore has the return call.
“I think this track will suit him better, him and Seahenge,” Comerford said. “Seahenge ran really good at Churchill and Mendelssohn got in a bit of a bugger at the start. I suppose those things happen, but the way he did it in Dubai, if he could come with something like that, it’s close.
“He’s had a good year up to the Kentucky Derby, but the Kentucky Derby is the Kentucky Derby,” he added. “Those are the things you meet along the way. He’s in good shape. He’s eating up every night so we’re happy with them.”
At 15-1 on the morning line, Seahenge, third to Mendelssohn in the Patton and fifth to his stablemate in the UAE Derby, will be ridden from the rail by Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano.
“I was impressed by the way Seahenge ran at Churchill,” said Comerford. “They were coming to the end of the race, he was only getting going. Him running on the dirt, he kind of fluffed the start at Dubai. He reared up at the gate and got left so he didn’t get into it. But the whole way around, he’s gaining ground. Every race, he seems to improve a bit more. If you can just get the start right with him, I’m sure he won’t be far away.”
Hunting Horn, an Irish-bred colt by Camelot, posted a 4 ½-length victory last time out in the 1 ¼-mile Group 3 Hampton Court on June 21 at Royal Ascot. Prior to that, he finished a close sixth in the Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club on June 3 at Chantilly in France. Moore will be aboard Hunting Horn, the co-second choice at 7-2. The pair will leave from post 4.
“Hunting Horn is in great shape,” Comerford said. “He’s very fresh and well. He had a good win at Ascot, he won really nicely. Also I suppose his form is very good now because when he broke his maiden, the horse that finished second to him, Latrobe, won the Irish Derby. So, the form is there. He’s a decent horse, Hunting Horn, and he seems to be progressing.”
Athena, by Camelot, will be making the eighth start of her sophomore season on Saturday. She broke her maiden at 1 ¼ miles on May 31 at Fairyhouse Racecourse in Ireland and followed up with a fourth-place finish in the Group 2 Ribblesdale before earning Group 1 placing in the Pretty Polly. Moore will ride the 9-2 third-choice from post 6.
“We’re used to [shipping],” said Comerford. “She went to Royal Ascot and then she went to the Curragh. She ran in the Ribblesdale [at Ascot] over a mile and a half, probably a little bit far for her, but a mile and a quarter looks ideal for her. She finished third in that Group 1 at the Curragh over the weekend. It’s good form. Anytime you finish third in a Group 1 and come here, it’s good. She’s got a good chance. It is a bit soon, but she’s come out of it. She shows no signs of it.”
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Sentimental favorite My Boy Jack primed for ‘A’ game in G1 Belmont Derby
Grade 1 Belmont Derby contender My Boy Jack has settled in well at Belmont Park following his Tuesday arrival from California, said Julie Clark, assistant to trainer Keith Desormeaux.
The Belmont Derby will be the first start for the Creative Cause colt since finishing a late-running fifth in the Kentucky Derby and his first start on turf since finishing seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf in November. As a 2-year-old, My Boy Jack raced almost exclusively on turf, finishing first or second in four out of five starts, including a maiden-breaking win in the Zuma Beach at Santa Anita Park and a second in the Del Mar Juvenile Fillies Turf.
“It seemed like a great spot to make a return,” said Desormeaux by phone. “I think it’s easier in my own mind to ship cross country and run on the turf instead of the dirt. He’s more familiar with that than the sandy surface at Belmont. So, I just thought it was a good spot. I know he’s going to love the mile and a quarter and the purse is not too bad.
“You would think with his style, he could be more effective on turf,” he added. “I have confidence in him. That horse is easy to have confidence in because he brings an ‘A’ race every time. He’s just a very nice horse. We’re not saying that we’re exclusive to the turf now. This is just a great race to set us up for whatever we’ve got after.”
The $20,000 yearling purchase switched to the main track for his sophomore campaign and registered a 4 ¼-length score in the Grade 3 Southwest in February at Oaklawn Park and a head victory in the Grade 3 Lexington to secure his spot in the Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs.
He became a fan favorite in the Derby, taking early money to see his 30-1 morning-line odds go down to 6.70-1 by post time. In the Derby, My Boy Jack settled next to last through the early going and negotiated a wide trip in the stretch under Hall of Famer Kent Desormeaux to finish seven lengths behind eventual Triple Crown winner Justify.
“I think people kind of relate to him too because he kind of an overachiever,” Keith Desormeaux said. “He’s a $20,000 yearling. He’s a fun horse to hitch your wagon to, but with all that being said, going from 30 to one to second choice in the Derby is pretty amazing. It’s hard not to like those kinds of horses. We try so hard to coax a horse into an ‘A’ race every time and it’s hard to do, but Jack does it every time and those horses, everybody loves them.
“It was a no brainer to give him a break [after the Derby],” he added. “He had three tough races in six weeks. He accomplished a huge goal in getting our group to the Derby and he ran a great race. Instead of continuing on the Triple Crown, we decided to freshen him and obviously concentrate on the second half of the season.”
My Boy Jack enters Saturday’s Belmont Derby with $705,145 in earnings amassed from three wins, three seconds and two third from 11 lifetime starts. Kent Desormeaux has the assignment aboard My Boy Jack at 6-1 on the morning line. The pair will break from post 9.
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2017 Belmont winner Tapwrit set to return to stakes action in G2 Suburban
Tapwrit, the 2017 Grade 1 Belmont Stakes winner, will be returning to stakes company for the first time since August when he breaks from post 4 in the Grade 2, $700,000 Suburban on Stars & Stripes Day on Saturday at Belmont Park.
The 4-year-old Tapit colt finished third off a 10-month layoff in an allowance optional claimer on May 3 at Belmont. That effort was the first race for the Todd Pletcher trainee since his fourth-place finish in the Grade 1 Travers on August 26 at Saratoga Race Course.
The ownership group of Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Robert LaPenta, Bridlewood Farm, Gainsway Stable and Whisper Hill Farm rested Tapwrit, giving him time off to heal from a foot issue, and he responded by recovering from a bob at the start to finish just a nose behind Hoffenheim for second and Timeline by 1 ¼ lengths in his return at 1 1/16 miles on a fast main track.
“We felt like it was a good comeback effort,” Pletcher said. “It’s always hard to come back off an extended layoff going a mile and a sixteenth. He was involved the whole way. That was the good conditioner we had in mind to move us forward for the Suburban.”
Tapwrit continued to breeze at Belmont leading up to the Suburban, going five furlongs in 1:01.71 in his last workout on July 1 on Big Sandy as he stretches out to 1 ¼ miles.
“His last couple breezes were quite good, [his] second [race] off the layoff should be better,” Pletcher said. “It’s coming together like we hoped and we’re looking for a productive summer. He had a strong gallop out [in his last work] and seemed to do it effortlessly. A mile and a quarter suits him well. We’re hoping for a good effort. He's not a horse that minds being involved early. Fortunately, he drew towards the inside. I always worry about being hung out in mile-and-a-quarter races there.”
Tapwrit is 7-2 on the morning line and will have the services of jockey Jose Ortiz, who was aboard for his victory in the “Test of the Champion” last year.
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Sunny Ridge looks to gorge win total in Friday’s State Dinner
Dennis Drazin’s Sunny Ridge, a four-time stakes winner, will be looking to add to that total as part of a field of five in Friday’s $100,000 State Dinner for 4-year-olds and up at Belmont Park.
Carded as Race 3 with an approximate post time of 4:10 p.m., the third running of the State Dinner will be contested at 1 1/16 miles on Belmont’s main track.
Sunny Ridge is coming off a third-place effort in the Grade 3 Salvator Mile on May 26 at Monmouth. The Jason Servis trainee made the first stakes appearance of his 5-year-old campaign after ending a 10-month layoff with a runner-up finish in an allowance optional claimer on April 20 at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Last year, Sunny Ridge won back-to-back stakes on the Big A’s now-defunct inner track, capturing the Jazil in January 2017 and the Stymie two months later. The Holy Bull gelding then ran sixth in the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic on April 22 of that year before running second to War Story in the Grade 2 Brooklyn on June 10.
Servis gave Sunny Ridge the rest of the year off and the New Jersey homebred spent six months at Mahoney Eden Manor in Saratoga before eventually returning to action this spring.
At 8-5 on the morning line, Sunny Ridge will have the services of meet-leading rider Irad Ortiz, Jr. from post 1.
Woodford Racing’s Timeline, who ran third behind Sunny Ridge and the winner Pioneer Spirit on April 20, will run for the second straight time on Big Sandy after winning by 1 ¼ lengths against optional claimers on June 3.
Timeline earned a 97 Beyer Speed Figure for that effort, coming from off the pace and outkicking the runner-up Hoffenheim and 2017 Belmont Stakes winner Tapwrit on a fast track.
Trained by Chad Brown, Timeline has five wins in eight career starts, including consecutive graded stakes victories in his 3-year-old campaign last year in the Grade 3 Peter Pan and the Grade 3 Pegasus before ending his year with a fifth-place finish in the Grade 1 Haskell and seventh in the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby on September 23.
The even-money favorite drew post 3 with Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano aboard.
Bortolazzo Stable’s You’re To Blame will take a step up in class after his fourth-place finish against optional claimers on June 3 at Belmont. The Distorted Humor colt started his 4-year-old season with a win against optional claimers on February 11 at Gulfstream Park and a third-place performance in the Challenger on March 10 at Tampa Bay Downs.
You’re To Blame, trained by Todd Pletcher, is the 7-2 choice from post 4 and will have Hall of Famer John Velazquez in the irons from post 4.
A pair of Nick Zito entries, Frammento and Giuseppe the Great, round out the five-horse field. Giuseppe the Great registered multiple competitive efforts in 2017, running second to American Anthem in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens at Belmont and second to Good Samaritan in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy on July 29 at Saratoga Race Course.
Giuseppe the Great also finished on the board in the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby on September 23 at Parx Racing, posting a third-place effort. After making four straight graded stakes starts, the Lookin At Lucky colt will gain some class relief in drawing post 5 at 8-1 odds. Joel Rosario rides.
Frammento, the 15-1 choice, will be making his first stakes appearance in five starts. He will break from post 2 with Angel Arroyo.
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Fifth annual Stars & Stripes Racing Festival, at a glance
Date: Saturday, July 7, 2018
First Post Time: 1:30 p.m. ET
Gates Open: 11:00 a.m.
General Admission: $5
Television Coverage - National TV coverage of Saturday's Stars & Stripes Racing Festival can be found on NBC from 4:30-6 p.m. ET, followed by a special edition of Belmont Park Live from 6-7 p.m on FS2. The 2 ½-hour national broadcast window will include five graded stakes, including the Grade 1, $1.2 million Belmont Derby Invitational and the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Oaks Invitational.
Family Fun Day – Stars & Stripes Day at Belmont Park will feature Family Fun Day. The backyard and picnic area will come alive with a variety of fun and exciting activities and games that the entire family can enjoy including a petting zoo, rock wall climbing, and much more.
Stars & Stripes Challenge: With a $500 Entry Fee, of which $250 goes to the prize pool and the remaining $250 each player’s bankroll, horseplayers will have the chance to compete and test the handicapping skills for the chance to win live cash win one seat to the 2019 Belmont Stakes Challenge and 2 seats to the 2019 National Horseplayers Championship. Guaranteed minimum first place prize of $5,000.
Craft Vendors – Stars & Stripes Saturday, July 7 will also feature a craft vendors market located on the 1st floor Grandstand including Taste NY vendors who will be selling food, goods and local fare from the New York region to attendees on track.