by NYRA Press Office
Don Schnell, trainer and co-owner of 5-year-old Manitoba-bred Escape Clause, spends every waking moment with the hard-knocking mare, who will make her 32nd career start at her 10th different track on Saturday when she bursts from the gate in the Grade 1, $700,000 Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park.
Assiniboia, Century Downs, Canterbury, Zia Park, Northlands Park, Del Mar, Santa Anita, Sunland, Oaklawn Park - she's been everywhere, and won at most. Last out, she battled Ogden Phipps rival Midnight Bisou the length of the Oaklawn stretch in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom, losing by a nose to the multiple Grade 1 winner.
Escape Clause has come a long way from winning $30,000 Sales Stakes races at Assiniboia Downs in her native Winnipeg. She's captured the City of Edmonton Distaff at Northlands in Edmonton, Alberta; the CTHS Sales Stakes at Century Downs, in Calgary, Alberta; the Grade 3 La Canada at Del Mar in California; and the Harry Henson in New Mexico, to list just a few of her 20 career wins.
Schnell said his big mare thrives on traveling and racing.
"Last fall, I went from Winnipeg to Calgary and we won a couple stakes there. Then, we went and based in Phoenix and shipped over to Del Mar and Santa Anita a couple times," said Schnell. "From there, we went to Sunland Park and won a hundred grander there and then we went the long tour to Oaklawn Park and ran in the Apple Blossom and ran well there. Then we went back to Phoenix and eventually to Canterbury and now we're here. I should get her on a frequent flier program."
Schnell made the 1,400-mile journey from Canterbury to New York with Escape Clause by horse trailer. It's his first time at Belmont Park since 1987 when Alysheba, trained by Jack Van Berg, was denied a Triple Crown, finishing fourth to Bet Twice.
"It was 32 years ago that I was here with Alysheba and Jack Van Berg," recalled Schnell. "I wasn't really with the horse, but Jack and I go way back. I spent winters with Jack in California. At that time, we stayed in a hotel here where it was really, really dangerous. Van Berg picked the hotel, but it was in a bad area."
The memory stuck with Schnell, who has made different living arrangements for his return to the Empire State.
"You won't believe this one, I'm staying in my horse trailer," laughed Schnell. "It's not as bad as it sounds. The living quarters are self-contained, it's actually pretty nice. Did you ever see that movie 50-1?"
The neighborhood has blossomed since Schnell's last visit.
"Belmont is one of the most beautiful tracks there is, nice barn area, lots of grass," said Schnell. "We've been training on the main track to get her accustomed to it. I think she'll like it because it's a bigger track, with a bigger turn and with her big stride I think that's an advantage for her. This morning, we went for a mile and a half gallop and she was very sharp. Yesterday, she went a mile and a quarter. She's adjusted well."
Escape Clause has improved significantly since her maiden score on August 20, 2016 at Assiniboia, which earned a 40 Beyer Speed Figure to the lofty 101 Beyer garnered from her Apple Blossom effort. Schnell said he took his time with the mare before giving her a chance to compete in California in graded races in November.
"We're from Canada and that's where we race," explained Schnell. "I won't ship her to anybody. She's a different horse to handle and like a lot of good horses, she's just a little quirky. She knows me and I know her and we get along real good - if I was to leave her with somebody, that could change."
In 2017, the hearty mare won the R.C. Anderson and Jack Hardy at Assiniboia just four days apart. Last year, Escape Clause won 9 of 13 starts, nearly double the tally of scores recorded by Midnight Bisou.
"She's a throwback to the old generation of horses that are tough and sound and could run every week if you wanted to," said Schnell. "One time, I ran her in two stakes in four days and she won both of them. Last summer, I ran her three times in three weeks and she won all three of them. She's different."
Schnell said that the frequency of her starts boiled down to both the mare's ability to handle the pressure as well as the dollars on offer. On Saturday, the winner's share of the Ogden Phipps purse is $375,000.
"Where we run, we have to run more often because they're small purses. On Saturday, I think we'd get $30,000 to run last. That's more than she got all summer to win some of those races - not that we're going to run last," laughed Schnell.
To win on Saturday, Escape Clause will look to turn the tables on her Apple Blossom rival in a talented five-horse field likely to be led to the turn by the speedy Come Dancing. Schnell said Escape Clause should appreciate pace to chase.
"Her best game is to lay off second or third and have a target in front of her, "said Schnell. "She loves to look at them and size them up."
A Sovereign Award winner in Canada as 2018 Champion Older Mare, Escape Clause has picked up a lot of silverware during her memorable journey with Schnell - not that they've had time to enjoy the spoils.
"I didn't go to the Sovereign Awards. I didn't go home to Winnipeg for all the awards she won there and she was also Mare of the Year and Horse of the Year in Alberta and I didn't get to go there either," said Schnell.
The veteran conditioner will instead be satisfied to sacrifice the silverware for a chance to lead Escape Clause into the winner's circle as a Grade 1 winner on Saturday. And, if it does happen, don't expect the kindly conditioner to say much.
"I was always told - when you win, say little. When you lose, say less," said Schnell.
* * *
Thunder Snow aiming for first stateside score in Runhappy Met Mile
Two-time Dubai World Cup winner Thunder Snow stepped onto the main track at Belmont Park at 9 a.m. "as if he owned it" before embarking on an easy tour around the oval that picked up through the lane, with a solid gallop out, in preparation for Saturday's Grade 1 Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap.
"We're all pleased with how he's done," said Tommy Burns, assistant to Godolphin head trainer Saeed bin Suroor. "He's been here before [second in last fall's Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup], he's very well-traveled, and he settled in straight away."
Thunder Snow, who has earned more than $16 million for Godolphin, will be making his fourth stateside appearance on Saturday. The Irish-bred son of the Australian sire Helmet was pulled up in the early stages of the 2017 Kentucky Derby after acting rank coming out of the gate and finished third in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Classic in November at Churchill Downs.
He launched his 5-year-old campaign finishing second in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 before becoming the first horse to win back-to-back Classics.
"He's a very popular horse," said Burns. "You can get goosebumps [with a horse of this caliber] but you can't be nervous. They can pick up on that. He's professional. Yesterday he went around the paddock and the workmen there didn't bother him at all. He walked on the track, looked around, and carried on."
Regular jockey Christophe Soumillon will be aboard Thunder Snow, listed at 5-1 on the morning line, when he leaves from post 4 on Saturday.
* * *
Bricks and Mortar looking to build on past success
The obstacles have routinely presented themselves to Bricks and Mortar throughout his 10-race career, many of them challenging enough to derail even athletes of exceptional quality. But, the son of Giant's Causeway keeps taking each new challenge and turning into an opportunity to showcase his ability.
Since returning to the races after being sidelined for more than a year due to injury, Bricks and Mortar has become the latest turf marvel to emerge from the powerhouse barn of three-time defending Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown. His three wins from as many starts in 2019 make him the clear one to beat heading into his expected start in Saturday's Grade 1 Manhattan Stakes at Belmont Park.
Before having his career interrupted in October 2017, Bricks and Mortar had the look of a horse with something special, winning his first four starts including the 2017 Grade 2 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes. Whatever high opinion Brown had of his charge has been further elevated since as Bricks and Mortar began his comeback with an allowance win at Gulfstream Park last December 22 and followed by wins in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational Stakes, Grade 2 Muniz Memorial Handicap, and Grade 1 Old Forester Turf Classic this year.
"We couldn't predict for sure what would happen but his record before he went to the sidelines was impressive," Brown said. "You could really argue he should be undefeated. The horse's only two losses [third in both the 2017 Grade 3 Saranac Stakes and Hill Prince Stakes] came when he had a lot of trouble and he wasn't beaten far. So when he went to the sidelines as nearly an undefeated horse, we knew he was top class.
"We knew he had the potential as he became an older horse to really be a leader in the division but he had to overcome a couple serious injuries. By the time we got him ready to run in that allowance race at Gulfstream, we were pretty confident the horse was going to run really well. And, fortunately that started off his current campaign, which has been flawless."
Bricks and Mortar's current win streak has unfolded in a variety of ways. In the Pegasus World Cup Turf, he sat midpack down the backstretch before rallying over yielding ground to prevail by 2 ½ lengths. For the Muniz, he tracked second right up on the tepid pace to get the narrow win over firm going and his Old Forester triumph saw him make his surge from ninth to out finish Qurbaan for the victory.
"He has a really good turn of foot and he can adapt to any pace situation and he's even effective on soft ground, even though he doesn't need it," Brown said of Bricks and Mortar, the No. 1 ranked horse on the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll. "He's a real complete turf horse and he can run at a range of different distances. He's a rare horse and we're certainly very lucky to have him."
Should all go as expected for Bricks and Mortar this Saturday and in the weeks that follow, a start in the Grade 1 Arlington Million this August would be the next main target for the 5-year-old owned by Klaravich Stables and William Lawrence.
"When we set his campaign in motion, we were hoping to hit the races we have so far," Brown said. "We haven't really planned beyond the Arlington Million, but that would be his next goal after the Manhattan if he is still training well."
* * *
Baffert reports 'All System's Go' for McKinzie and Much Better
Although he won't be in attendance for Saturday's stakes-laden Belmont Stakes
Day card due to the graduation of his son Bode from eighth grade in Southern California, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert will be well represented with multiple graded stakes winner McKinzie in the star-studded Grade 1, $1.2 million Runhappy Metropolitan Mile and multiple graded stakes-placed Much Better for the Grade 1, $400,000 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun.
Drawing post 2 for the Met Mile off an impressive 4 ¾-length victory in the Grade 2 Alysheba May 3 at Churchill Downs, 4-year-old McKinzie, for owners Karl Watson, Michael Pegram and Paul Weitman, emerged last year as one of the top colts in the country capped by an impressive victory in the Grade 1 Malibu at Santa Anita Park.
McKinzie launched his 2019 campaign in February with a second-place finish in the Grade 2 San Pasqual and followed up with another second-place finish in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap.
Baffert said the Street Sense colt, who will be piloted by Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith, shipped to New York in good order on Tuesday, and has been flourishing so far according to assistant Jimmy Barnes.
"He's doing really well," said Baffert. "I'm not thrilled with his post, but he's ready and we're confident in Mike."
Baffert is looking forward to seeing how McKinzie will take to the historic track nicknamed Big Sandy.
"McKinzie is a really good horse," said Baffert. "He's proven he travels well and we know it's a tough field, but I'm glad we have Mike in our corner. I haven't spoken to him yet in terms of strategy, but he pretty much has free rein. He knows the horse so well and he always loves traveling back to ride in New York. At this point, it's just keeping him [McKinzie] happy and healthy before the race."
Baffert and Smith will also hook up in the Grade 1 Woody Stephens with Three Chimneys' homebred Much Better.
The 3-year-old Pioneerof the Nile colt won his debut last September at Del Mar and followed with a game second-place finish on the turf in the Zuma Beach at Santa Anita.
After a disappointing 14th-placed finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf at Churchill, he returned to the dirt where he's most notably finished third in the Grade 3 Sham at Santa Anita and second in the Grade 3 Bay Shore at Aqueduct Racetrack. In his last start, sent off as the post-time favorite in the Gold Fever on May 12 at Belmont, he ran fourth over a sloppy track.
"His last race, he looked like he didn't really like the slop," said Baffert. "Since then he's been training well. He arrived to New York from Churchill Downs where we kept him following that last race. He has a lot of speed so we'll try to utilize that here and the weather looks good so we'll hope he can show what he's got on a dry track."
* * *
Casse singing the praises of War of Will's exercise rider Carroll
Before War of Will shipped back to Kentucky following his victory in the Grade 1 Preakness Stakes, trainer Mark Casse joked that one of the main issues to be sorted out in advance of the colt's run in the third leg of the Triple Crown was which member of the Carroll family would have the honor of getting on the son of War Front in the weeks leading up to the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets.
After Kim Carroll successfully guided Gary Barber's colt through his morning activities while in Baltimore, the veteran exercise rider literally handed the reins off to husband and top Casse assistant David Carroll when War of Will vanned back to Keeneland to recharge and prepare for the 12-furlong test waiting for him this Saturday. David Carroll - who knows a thing or two about getting a horse ready for 1 ½-miles, having galloped champion and 1989 Belmont Stakes winner Easy Goer when working for Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey 30 years ago - used his steady ways in the saddle to make sure his wife had a full gas tank to work with when she took back over the duties of guiding War of Will through his morning preparations during his time in New York.
"They don't talk about it hardly - and I kind of like that," Casse said when asked what notes, if any, the husband-wife team compare regarding the horses they handle. "I would rather have a fresh opinion and not one that is influenced. But take nothing away from the Carrolls, [War of Will] is pretty easy to gallop for the most part. Kim did a good job earlier on because he was very eager earlier this week."
With temperatures rising and the air getting increasingly humid, Casse sent War of Will and stablemate Sir Winston to the Belmont track about an hour earlier than normal on Thursday. Sir Winston continued to make a strong impression with the way he skips over the deep surface while War of Will was a perfect gentleman for Kim Carroll in his routine gallop.
"One thing we did today is we made darn sure that nobody was around him," Casse said. "The first day he went to the track, he had a horse gallop next to him the entire way. Today, he was as relaxed as he has been."
* * *
Full steam ahead for Coal Front in G1 Runhappy Metropolitan
It is a tribute to the strength of the field for Saturday's Grade 1, $1.2 million Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap that a horse who hasn't lost since last winter and whose most recent effort toppled an international gathering of standouts is no better than fifth choice on the morning line for the historic eight-furlong test.
Earning accolades the hard way is something the Todd Pletcher-trained Coal Front is well versed in, however. The son of Stay Thirsty has had his career interrupted due to various ailments, but has returned in recent months with his best form yet - something that will be needed in an especially salty edition of the Met Mile featuring six Grade 1 winners in the field of nine.
After winning the Grade 3 Gallant Bob in September of 2017, Coal Front went to the sidelines and didn't resurface until the following November when he was fifth in the Grade 3 Bold Ruler Handicap. He has failed to put a foot wrong since, ending his 2018 season with a victory in the Grade 3 Mr. Prospector last December and then successfully stretching out to 1 1/16-miles in taking the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap in his 2019 seasonal bow on February 18.
That outing earned the 5-year-old ridgling the chance to dive into some ambitious waters overseas in the Grade 2 Godolphin Mile at Meydan Racecourse March 30. With 200 meters to go, he appeared set to settle for runner-up honors behind defending race winner Heavy Metal. When the finish line was ultimately breached, though, it was Coal Front's dark bay frame getting up just in time to give his seven-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer his first-ever win on Dubai World Cup night.
"The win in Dubai was a lot of fun for our whole team. To have our first win in Dubai was great but also rewarding because of the horse," Pletcher said of Coal Front. "He's had some layoffs along the way and he's always come back and been remarkably consistent. It was fun to see him get the credit he deserves."
When he's right, Coal Front's talent has rarely failed to garner him the best kind of attention. Owned by Robert LaPenta and Head of Plains Partners, Coal Front has won 7-of-9 career starts including an allowance victory over future Grade 1 winner Patternrecognition in an allowance race at Belmont Park in June 2017.
"In Coal Front's case, I think one thing that has allowed him to get even better this year is he's learned to relax early on in his races," said Pletcher, who has won the Met Mile twice previously, saddling Quality Road to victory in 2010 and Palace Malice in 2014. "I wish we wouldn't have drawn the 1 hole but hopefully he's seasoned enough to overcome that."
* * *
Romans: 'Everfast is like Curtis Martin'
Pro Football Hall of Famer Curtis Martin is the first name that comes to mind for trainer Dale Romans when comparing Belmont Stakes contender Everfast to a human athlete.
Known for his speed, Martin is the fifth leading rusher in NFL history and Romans is hopeful that Calumet Farms' son of Take Charge Indy can display the same swiftness in the final leg of the Triple Crown.
"[Head coach] Bill Parcells took Martin everywhere with him," Romans said. "He was steady. He was always there. When you needed a couple extra yards, he was always there.
"Everfast is doing fine," Romans continued. "He never has a bad day. He just does his thing. He's just happy and healthy and looks good to me."
Last time out, Everfast was runner-up in the Grade 1 Preakness behind 2-1 Belmont Stakes second-choice War of Will at odds of 29-1. Romans was confident in Everfast going into the Preakness based on the way he trained coming out of the Grade 3 Pat Day Mile on Derby Day when he was fifth.
"He trained different. He was more aggressive," Romans said. "He looked like he was figuring things out, so we put him back in the Preakness. I thought there was a lot of speed so I told [Joel Rosario] to just sit back, get into a gallop and come running. It worked out well."
Romans noted that the strategy going into the Belmont may be a bit different.
"I don't think it will be like that in this race, he'll have to be a little closer," Romans said. "He just has to get into a good rhythm and see how things work out."
Everfast galloped over the Belmont Park main track on Thursday morning with assistant and exercise rider Tammy Fox aboard.
"We just jogged Wednesday and he galloped today. But, I think he's a horse that it doesn't really matter," Romans said. "Nothing bothers him. He just goes about his business. There's really not a lot to talk about him, because you wouldn't even really know he's there. He's quiet, he's sound. He just goes and does his stuff. He never wows you, he never does anything bad. When he runs in a race, he always runs well."
Calumet Farm has had a long, rich history in the American Triple Crown, including owning Triple Crown winners Whirlaway (1941) and Citation (1948). A win in the Belmont could give the prestigious thoroughbred operation their first triumph in the American Classic since Citation, and Romans is thankful to be a part of the experience.
"That's a big deal for me," Romans said. "Every time I pull through the gates at Calumet I pretend I'm [Triple Crown winning Hall of Fame trainer] Ben Jones and I want to feel like Ben Jones walking into the winner's circle. It'd be pretty cool."
Romans also looks to strike gold in the Grade 1, $1.2 million Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap with Promises Fulfilled, who won last year's Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens presented by Runhappy at Saratoga. Owned by Robert Baron, Promises Fulfilled is by 2012 Met Mile winner Shackleford, who also was trained by Romans. The four-time graded stakes-winning millionaire was third last out in the Grade 1 Churchill Downs on Derby day.
"It's a stallion-making race and that's the 'Who's Who' race of the day," Romans said. "Six out of nine horses in the race are Grade 1 winners and where else are you going to see that? We're primed and ready. It'll line him up at the stallion barn."
* * *
Amade one of several to add international flair to Belmont Gold Cup Invitational
Adding a bit more international intrigue to the Belmont Gold Cup Invitational - won last year by Her Majesty, the Queen's Call To Mind - is the Irish-bred Amade, who this year has competed exclusively at two miles, with a pair of victories and a second over the synthetic surfaces at Kempton, Chelmsford and Lingfield in Great Britain.
"He's acclimated very well," said trainer Alessando Botti of the 5-year-old Casmento gelding, who had an easy canter around Belmont Park's main oval on Thursday morning after walking on Wednesday. "The surroundings here are very pleasant, and he seems to be enjoying it."
Owned by OTI Racing, Laurent Dassault and Elsa Berte, Amade will be making his North American debut in the Gold Cup, having raced exclusively in France in in 2017 and 2018, when he compiled a 5-1-1 mark from nine starts, all at distances beyond 1 3/16 miles.
Amade, at 119 pounds, will be getting a significant weight break in the Gold Cup, having carried 131, 132 and 126 pounds in his three starts this year. He will be equipped again with blinkers, with which he was outfitted for his 2019 campaign.
"We are very excited to be here for this year, and quite hopeful he will perform well," said Botti.
Listed at 8-1 on the morning line, Amade will be ridden by Flavien Prat from post 3.
* * *
Tagg trio could be live longshots in BSRF assignments
Though his entrants are all likely to go off at double-digit odds, veteran trainer Barclay Tagg will attempt to upset the apple cart in a trio of graded stakes on Friday and Saturday of the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival, including the star-studded Grade 1, $1.2 million Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap in which he will send out Tale of Silence.
Tagg will also have a presence in the Grade 2, $400,000 Belmont Gold Cup Invitational on Friday with Highland Sky and on Saturday in the Grade 2, $400,000 Woodford Reserve Brooklyn Invitational, which closes out the 13-race Belmont Stakes Day program, with Realm.
"I'm not embarrassed to run any of them, at least not now," the trainer quipped. "They all have a lot of talent and are doing well, so these seemed like good races to take a shot in."
Tale of Silence, listed at 30-1 on the morning line for Saturday's Met Mile, will have his work cut out for him in a field that features two-time Dubai World Cup winner Thunder Snow, multiple Grade 1 winner McKinzie, crack sprinter Mitole, Godolphin Mile winner Coal Front and three others that have earned more than $1 million. Working in his favor, the son of Tale of the Cat does have three wins over the track, tied for the most in the field, including a victory in last year's Grade 3 Westchester.
"There really wasn't anywhere else to go, but he's good as gold right now," said Tagg. "He likes Belmont and if it sets up right, I think he might be able to pull off the upset."
Tabbed at 15-1 on the morning line, Highland Sky appears to be in the softest spot of the three, with the two-mile distance of the Belmont Gold Cup being the great equalizer. The Sky Mesa gelding has shown an affinity for marathon distances on turf, though the Gold Cup will mark his first start beyond 1 ½ miles.
"He's doing real good right now, so good we decided to enter him in this race," said Tagg. "He's healthy, happy and it seems like a good spot for him. Bill Mott's horse [Red Knight] is the morning-line favorite and horse to beat, and our numbers are right in line with his. If he's ridden correctly, I think the distance will be to his benefit; it'll give him more time to close."
Like Highland Sky, Realm will attempt to go farther than he's ever been in his career in the 1 ½-mile Brooklyn on the main track. Two races ago, the son of Haynesfield hinted at a proficiency for marathon distances on dirt when he nearly upset the Skip Away Stakes on March 29 at Gulfstream Park going 1 3/16 miles.
"It seemed like a good opportunity to find out if he can stretch out even further," said Tagg. "There's a lot of opportunities for grass horses to go long, but not many on dirt. Like the others, he's doing good and should give a good account of himself."
* * *
Team O'Neill hopeful for a big weekend
Trainer Doug O'Neill will be staying in California this weekend to attend his daughter Kaylin's eighth-grade graduation, but he will be well represented in three stakes at Belmont Saturday and has top assistant Leandro Mora is on hand to oversee the barn's runners.
Team O'Neill will have Pavel in the Grade 1 Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap, Mopotism in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps and Landeskog in the Grade 1 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun.
Reddam Racing LLC.'s Pavel, who is making his first start since a close fourth in the Dubai World Cup May 30, was installed as the second-highest odds for the Met Mile at 20-1, but Mora thinks he is better than those odds show. Last year, he won the Grade 1 Stephen Foster at Churchill and was second in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic following his first trip to Dubai, where he was also fourth in the World Cup.
"Pavel is himself," Mora said. "He's as good as he's going to be. It surprised me that they put up big odds on him because the horse that beat us in Dubai (Thunder Snow) is 5-1 and we lost by a small margin and had a worse trip than that horse had. I'm very positive about him."
Mopotism, also owned by Reddam Racing, comes into the Ogden Phipps off a fourth-place finish in the Grade 1 La Troienne at Churchill Downs May 3. The 5-year-old Uncle Mo mare is still in search of her first Grade 1 victory, but has been one of the most consistent horses in her division, compiling a record of 3-5-5 in 25 starts and $806,090 in earnings.
"It's a tough field, but what I like is that it's a small field," Mora said. "I know there are a few in there, on numbers, we can beat. We've seen in horse racing, anything is possible and she's doing really well right now."
Landeskog, who races for owners ERJ Racing, John Fuller, Dave Kenney and Madaket Stables LLC., will just be making his third career start in the Woody Stephens after an impressive maiden win March 31 and a second in the Bachelor Stakes April 27, both at Oaklawn Park. He is named for Colorado Avalanche hockey player Gabriel Landeskog.
"He's doing really, really good," Mora said. "He's going up the ladder. I like him a lot for the seven-eighths."
* * *
Preakness runner Alwaysmining looks to rebound in Easy Goer
Instead of another weekend workout at Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Maryland, Alwaysmining is headed to Belmont Park for the $150,000 Easy Goer, one of 10 stakes races on Belmont Stakes Day.
Alwaysmining, who had won six in a row before finishing 11th in the Grade 1 Preakness, was a last-minute entry to the 1 1/16-mile Easy Goer for 3-year-olds.
Trainer Kelly Rubley said last weekend's workout, plus a race not far from home seems to be the right fit for the gelding's return.
"It's one turn, 1 1/16 miles and we were looking to shorten him up,'' said Rubley, who a few days earlier said she was still considering options for her first Preakness starter. "We took a look at the field and he seems to fit in well."
The Grade 3 Matt Winn at Churchill Downs on June 15 also was under consideration, but Rubley chose a race that's about a four-hour van ride away. Alwaysmining, who went off at 6-1 in the Preakness, worked a half-mile in 48.60 seconds on Saturday at Fair Hill.
Also entered in the six-horse Easy Goer are Dream Maker, Still Dreaming, Majid, Outshine and Grumps Little Tots.
Alwaysmining, a son of Stay Thirsty, won the final three races of his 2-year-old season, and won his next three starts in 2019 - the Miracle Wood, the Private Terms and the Federico Tesio - before the Preakness.
* * *
Distance suits Raa Atoll in 2-mile Belmont Gold Cup Invitational
Raa Atoll, a 4-year-old son of Irish sire Sea The Stars, is one of two horses in Friday's Grade 2, $400,000 Belmont Gold Cup Invitational, who, along with the Bill Mott-trained Red Knight, own a victory on the turf at the race's rare two-mile distance. [Gold Cup entrant Amade has won at the distance on synthetic tracks].
Owned and trained by Luke Comer, Raa Atoll won the Group 2 Comer Group International Oleander Rennen at the Gold Cup distance on May 12 at Hoppengarten in Germany in his first start for Comer, who purchased the colt for $40,000 at the Tattersalls Autumn Horses in Training Sale last November.
The victory paid a quick dividend on his purchase price with the winner's purse of $67,410.
"He's a very good horse," said Comer Thursday morning. "He's not Sea The Stars [who won six straight Group 1 races including the Epsom Derby and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe] but he won the Berlin race very well, beating a double Royal Ascot winner. If we have him right, he'll be hard to beat."
Thursday morning, the colt jogged and cantered around the pony track at Belmont Park under exercise rider and amateur jockey Derek Kelly.
"He was out there for 15 minutes, never went faster than 10 miles per hour," said Comer. "He seems as if the journey didn't take anything out of him."
Raa Atoll, who originally was purchased as a foal for $300,000 by the China Horse Club, was 2-1-0 from five starts for former trainer John Gosden last year, with one win coming at 1 ¼ miles and the other at 1 ½ miles.
The colt is listed at 6-1 on the morning line with jockey Josef Bojko in the irons.
* * *
Arnold taking aim at two stakes during BSRF
Trainer Rusty Arnold knows his horses, Borracho and Wild Shot, are likely longshots in their respective races, but believes they are both indicating they deserve a chance with how well they are training.
Preston Madden's Borracho prepared for his start in the Grade 1, $400,000 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun with a bullet half-mile workout in 47.20 at Keeneland June 2. It was his third work since his impressive one-length victory in an allowance race on the Kentucky Derby undercard at Churchill May 4.
"Borracho is doing good," Arnold said. "The Woody Stephens has been our plan since the Churchill race. He seems to be coming around at the right time. He closed well to get second in his race at Gulfstream [March 3] and then he kind of got bounced around on the turn in the race at Keeneland in the slop [April 7], but was still third. He beat a good group at Churchill. The horse that finished fifth that day [Lexitonian] came back to win a stakes [Chick Lang Stakes] at Pimlico on Preakness Day."
Arnold is hoping a change to the turf in the Grade 1 Jaipur Invitational is what it takes to get Calumet Farm's Wild Shot back on track. The now 5-year-old son of Trappe Shot was a top 3-year-old in 2017, winning the Grade 3 Pat Day Mile and finishing third in the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby. However, he has not run to his potential since. He was most recently unplaced in the Grade 1 Churchill Downs Sprint May 3.
"We've been disappointed in how he's run this year," Arnold said. "We decided to make a change. His last two works have been on the turf and they have both been very good. On any given day, he's capable of a quality effort."
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Brad Cox's Kentucky-based contingent looking to make hay all weekend at Belmont
Arklow will look to follow a similar training pattern that resulted in a runner-up effort in last month's Grade 1 Man o' War as he heads into Friday's Grade 2, $400,000 Belmont Gold Cup Invitational.
Listed as the 5-2 morning-line favorite in the nine-horse field, Arklow will be running on Belmont's Widener turf for the first time, but is familiar with the track's grass surfaces, having finished second to Channel Maker by a neck in the 1 3/8-mile Man o' War contested on the inner turf on May 11.
Owned by Donegal Racing, Joseph Bulger and Peter Coneway, Arklow breezed on both the main track and turf at his base at Churchill Downs before shipping to New York for the Man o' War. Cox followed a similar pattern leading into the Belmont Gold Cup, but this time working Arklow twice on the Churchill turf before shipping him to Elmont.
"We took him back to Churchill and trained him; he's had a chance to breeze twice on the turf course there. It's been similar preparations to the Man o' War, and he's responded really well," Cox said.
The sixth running of the Belmont Gold Cup - one of five stakes on the second day of the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival - will mark the first time Arklow has competed at two miles.
"There's a little question mark of two miles, but I think a lot will have to do with the pace," Cox said. "He doesn't get rank or too strong, too early. He should handle the two miles if he's ridden properly and can adjust to the pace."
Arklow drew post 6 and will be ridden by Florent Geroux.
On Saturday, Belmont Stakes Day, Cox will saddle the Irish-bred Beau Recall in the $700,000 Longines Just a Game. One of eight Grade 1 stakes on a loaded 13-race card, the one-mile contest for older fillies and mares on the Widener turf will see Beau Recall looking to win her third consecutive start after victories in the New Orleans Ladies March 23 at Fair Grounds and the Grade 2 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile last out May 4.
Owned by Slam Dunk Racing and Medallion Racing, the 5-year-old Sir Prancealot mare is 4-1 on the morning line, drawing post 3 in a seven-horse field that has the Chad Brown-trained Rushing Fall as the 4-5 favorite.
"She had a great gallop here at Belmont this morning and has been breezing extremely well on the turf course at Churchill," Cox said of Beau Recall, whose only previous start at Belmont in 22 career races came with a sixth-place finish in the 2017 Belmont Oaks Invitational. "It doesn't look like there's a lot of speed in the race. On paper, Rushing Fall will be the horse we'll have to try to run down. Hopefully, she'll have some company up front to keep her honest, but we'll see how it plays out.
"As far as Beau Recall's conditioning, and how she's doing, she couldn't be doing any better," Cox added. "We're really excited."
Cox also entered undefeated Break Even for Sunday's $150,000 Jersey Girl for 3-year-old fillies. Owned by Klein Racing the Country Day filly is coming off a 5 ½-length win in the Grade 2 Eight Belles on May 3 at Churchill.
Break Even is 4-for-4 in her career with earnings of $287,400, with the smallest margin of victory at 4 ¼ lengths.
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Souvenir photos on offer during BSRF
Looking for the perfect Belmont Stakes souvenir? For half a century, the name Coglianese has been synonymous with quality images of high-class racehorses. As the official track photographers for the New York Racing Association, the father-son team of Bob and Adam Coglianese have captured enduring images of the sport's greatest stars. The archive of win photos for every race run in New York goes back 20 years, with images of notable horses extending much further.
Coglianese Photos will display their history-making images at their booth on the first floor of the Grandstand and second floor of the Clubhouse on Friday and Saturday during the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival.
Call 1-518-584-6200 x4424 or visit bobcoglianesephotos.com for more information.