Weekend stakes warriors could provide loaded Belmont Stakes Racing Festival for Brown | NYRA
May 12, 2022
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Weekend stakes warriors could provide loaded Belmont Stakes Racing Festival for Brown

by NYRA Press Office

  • Weekend stakes warriors could provide loaded Belmont Stakes Racing Festival for Brown
  • Champion Turf Male Yibir blows out over the turf for Saturday's G1 Man o' War
  • Set Sail ship shape for G3 Peter Pan
  • G1-winner Maracuja and stakes-winner Battle Bling back at Belmont for Atras
  • Cooke Creek returns in G3 Peter Pan
  • Multiple graded stakes winner Tax working towards return

Trainer Chad Brown may not have returned to New York from Kentucky Derby weekend with a garland of roses, but he did come back to the Empire State with multiple graded stakes victories in both states. And many of last weekend’s stakes heroes could make their next starts during the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival.

The three-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival, which runs from Thursday, June 9 through Saturday, June 11, will encompass 17 total stakes, including eight Grade 1s on Belmont Stakes Day, capped by the $1.5 million "Test of the Champion" for 3-year-olds in the 1 1/2-mile final leg of the Triple Crown.

In addition to the 154th running of the Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on June 11, that day’s card will include three Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" qualifiers: the one-mile Grade 1, $1 million Hill 'n' Dale Metropolitan Handicap for 3-year-olds and up [Dirt Mile]; the Grade 1, $500,000 Ogden Phipps for older fillies and mares 4-years-old and up going 1 1/16 miles on the main track [Distaff]; and the Grade 1, $400,000 Jaipur for 3-year-olds and up going six furlongs on turf [Turf Sprint].

The blockbuster Belmont Stakes Day card will also feature the Grade 1, $750,000 Resorts World Casino Manhattan for 4-year-olds and up going 1 1/4 miles on turf; the Grade 1, $500,000 Acorn for 3-year-old fillies going one mile; the Grade 1, $500,000 Longines Just a Game for fillies and mares 4-years-old and up at one mile on the turf; the Grade 1, $400,000 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun in a seven-furlong sprint over Big Sandy for 3-year-olds; and the Grade 2, $400,000 Brooklyn Invitational, a 1 1/2-mile test for 4-year-olds and up.

Tickets for the 2022 Belmont Stakes Racing Festival are available at https://www.belmontstakes.com/tickets/.

Brown, who saddled Zandon to a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby, secured six graded stakes victories between Churchill Downs and Belmont Park last weekend. Perhaps the most thrilling of these came when Jack Christopher made a victorious sophomore debut in Saturday’s Grade 2 Pat Day Mile at Churchill Downs.

In his first start since capturing the Grade 1 Champagne in October at Belmont, Jack Christopher shook off seven months’ worth of rust in the one-turn mile when forwardly placed to the outside of pacesetter Pappacap down the backstretch before drawing off in deep stretch a 3 3/4-length winner.

Jack Christopher, who scratched from the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in November, was sent to the sidelines and resumed serious training in late February at Payson Park in Florida.

“It was disappointing missing the Breeders’ Cup with him, we were excited to run him,” Brown said. “Then to have a long winter between resting, rehab and preparation - there was a lot of anticipation all winter just trying to get him to the first start of the year and he couldn’t have run any better.”

The undefeated son of Munnings’ next move is not etched in stone, but Brown said he is leaning towards the Grade 1, $400,000 Woody Stephens at seven furlongs with the $150,000 Pegasus going a two-turn 1 1/16-miles at Monmouth Park on June 18 also under consideration.

“Given what’s in front of us, it’s a difficult decision. It’s hard to pass up with a horse as fast as he is, but I’m leaning toward the Woody Stephens at this time,” Brown said. “[The Pegasus] is under consideration also. I would prefer not to cut him back now that I have him at two victories at a mile, but certainly the Pegasus is under consideration.”

Jack Christopher, owned by Jim Bakke, Gerry Isbister, Coolmore Stud and Peter Brant’s White Birch Farm, is unbeaten in three starts and has banked $621,400.

Peter Brant’s Speak of the Devil, winner of the Grade 2 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile, will likely target the Grade 1, $500,000 Longines Just a Game.

Speak of the Devil, a 5-year-old Wootton Bassett mare, displayed a strong turn of foot when capturing the Distaff Turf Mile on the Kentucky Derby under card, which was her first start for Brown following a career in her native France, where she earned Group 1 black type twice.

Brown will also have Brant’s dual Grade 1-winner Regal Glory target the Just a Game. The millionaire daughter of Animal Kingdom, who captured the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley on April 16 at Keeneland last out, has finished fourth in the last two editions of the Just a Game.

“It appears to be on the schedule for both horses,” Brown said. “We’ll see how they train and go from there. They’ll probably have to run against each other there.”

Brown said Brant color-bearers Bleeker Street and Virginia Joy are both under consideration for the Grade 1, $750,000 New York on June 10.

Bleecker Street, a Quality Road filly, kept an unbeaten record intact when capturing the Grade 3 Modesty on May 6 at Churchill Downs over stablemate Fluffy Socks. She captured Tampa Bay Downs’ Grade 3 Endeavor and Grade 2 Hillsborough earlier this season.

“She’s right there in the top group, she’s 6-for-6 and has done nothing wrong,” Brown said of Bleecker Street. “She has a very strong turn of foot and she’s proven already up to a mile and an eighth. I’m considering testing her at a mile and a quarter in the New York.”

Brown said Virginia Joy, who won Saturday’s Grade 2 Sheepshead Bay at Belmont, could also point to the New York, a race which the German-bred Soldier Hollow mare finished fourth in last year.

L’Imperator, a gate-to-wire winner of the Grade 2 Fort Marcy Saturday at Belmont, showed new frontrunning tactics in the nine-furlong Fort Marcy, earning a career-best 99 Beyer Speed Figure with a commanding 3 1/4-length win over the yielding footing.

“Everything is on the table for that horse, and I haven’t thought past that race,” Brown said. “We were just trying to figure out the direction he would go. So far on form, we were trying to figure out if he had any run left and he does.

“You never know how much the wet track moved him up there,” Brown added. “Certainly, he showed a new dimension getting out of the gate and controlling the race.”

Brown capped off his lucrative weekend when Klaravich Stables’ Search Results captured Sunday’s Grade 2 Ruffian at Belmont Park over stablemate Royal Flag.

Champion Turf Male Yibir blows out over the turf for Saturday's G1 Man o' War

Godolphin homebred Yibir, winner of the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf in November at Del Mar for trainer Charlie Appleby, stretched his legs over the inner turf Thursday in preparation for Saturday’s Grade 1, $700,000 Man o’ War, an 11-furlong inner turf test for older horses, at Belmont Park.

Man o' War Day boasts five graded stakes, including the nine-furlong Grade 3, $200,000 Peter Pan, the local prep for the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets; the Grade 3, $150,000 Beaugay; the Grade 3, $150,000 Vagrancy; and the Grade 3, $150,000 Runhappy. First post on the 11-race card is 1 p.m. Eastern.

Yibir, with Shane Fetherstonhaugh up, schooled in the paddock before heading to the turf at 9 a.m. Eastern for a blowout down the lane.

"He went out to the turf so he could have a light canter and then he just had a little blowout down the straight for a couple of furlongs to open up his lungs and stretch his legs. Shane was very happy with him and the way he was moving and covering the ground," said Appleby's traveling assistant Chris Connett.

The 4-year-old Dubawi chestnut captured the $1 million Jockey Club Derby Invitational in September at Belmont ahead of his rallying half-length score over Broome at the Breeders’ Cup. The multiple group stakes winner arrived in New York early Sunday morning and cleared quarantine to first visit the main track on Tuesday.

“On Tuesday, he had his first canter and a little hack. On Wednesday, it was a regular canter and we'll go back to the main tomorrow for a regular canter,” Connett said. “The longer he's been here the better he's looking. He's matured from three-to-four and he's showing that he's taking it all in stride. We're very pleased with him.”

Last year, Yibir captured the Group 3 Bahrain Trophy in July at Newmarket and the Group 2 Great Voltigeur in August at York before shipping to North America and winning both stateside tests.

Yibir has made two starts this season, finishing a close second in March in the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic ahead of a runner-up effort on April 29 over good going in the Group 2 Jockey Club at Newmarket.

Yibir will exit post 3 Saturday under returning rider William Buick.

Set Sail ship shape for G3 Peter Pan

LNJ Foxwoods homebred Set Sail will make his stakes debut in Saturday's Grade 3, $200,000 Peter Pan, a one-turn mile and an eighth test for sophomores at Belmont Park.

Trained by Hall of Famer Richard Mandella, the Malibu Moon chestnut earned a co-field best 89 Beyer Speed Figure traveling gate-to-wire at second asking under Juan Hernandez in a one-mile maiden special weight on March 27 at Santa Anita Park. The maiden score came on the heels of a good third-place finish sprinting seven furlongs on February 26 at Santa Anita.

The lightly-raced colt, out of the Medaglia d'Oro mare Fleet of Gold, worked seven furlongs Saturday in 1:25.80 at Santa Anita. Mandella, who arrived in New York Tuesday evening, said Set Sail is training well.

"He's a very good mover. We thought he'd win the first time we ran him, but my training came up short so we had to come back a second time," said Mandella, with a laugh. "But he won pretty easy when he came back, otherwise we wouldn't be doing this. He came out of his last race very good and we don't have a 3-year-old stake out there [in California] for a while, so this came up with good timing."

Mandella said Set Sail was worth the wait to get to the starting gate.

"He had a few little things growing up, but I think he's turned into a good horse. He's very smart and I think he can handle moving up like this," Mandella said. "He's not overly big. He's a good-sized horse, well-muscled and well-balanced. He's just a beautiful horse."

Set Sail will exit the inside post under Joel Rosario, who guided Tonalist to victory in the 2014 Peter Pan en route to Belmont Stakes glory.

However, Mandella said Saturday's test won't necessarily be a stepping stone for the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes, the third jewel of the Triple Crown, which is slated for June 11.

"It might be too quick. We'll take this one race at a time and see how it goes," Mandella said.

Set Sail's second dam is Fleet Indian, who earned Eclipse Award honors in 2006 as Champion Older Mare following Grade 1 wins in the Personal Ensign at Saratoga and the Beldame at Belmont for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher.

G1-winner Maracuja and stakes-winner Battle Bling back at Belmont for Atras

Trainer Rob Atras has welcomed fillies Maracuja and Battle Bling back to his Belmont barn following out-of-town stakes efforts.

Beach Haven Thoroughbreds, Medallion Racing, Parkland Thoroughbreds and Barry Fowler’s Grade 1-winner Maracuja, a 4-year-old Honor Code grey, launched her current campaign at Oaklawn Park, winning an optional-claimer on April 1 before an uncharacteristically distant fourth in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom on April 23.

“It was disappointing how she didn't have horse in the middle of the race and kind of came up empty that day. It's a bit of a head scratcher,” said Atras. “It's easy to say it was too quick, but she had trained so good after the first race that maybe it just wasn't her day. Hopefully, we can cross a line through it and get her back on track next start.”

The Kentucky-bred enjoyed a memorable sophomore season, providing Atras with a first Grade 1 score when besting Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks-winner Malathaat in the CCA Oaks in July at Saratoga Race Course.

Many of the top fillies and mares in the country, including Letruska and Malathaat, are pointing to the Grade 1, $500,000 Ogden Phipps, a 1 1/16-mile test on June 11 on the Belmont Stakes undercard.

Atras said he would prefer to find an easier spot next up for Maracuja.

“We'll get her back working and nominate her all around and when she's ready we'll find a spot where we think she can be a strong contender,” Atras said. “You hate to go against that caliber again after a subpar race, and not to say she can't run against those kind but we'd probably like to find a spot that's a little bit softer.”

Michael Dubb and Gandharvi Racing Stables’ stakes-winner Battle Bling was claimed for $62,500 out of a runner-up effort traveling a one-turn mile on December 19 at the Big A.

The 4-year-old daughter of Vancouver won the nine-furlong Ladies in January at Aqueduct at first asking for Atras and followed with a close second in March in the one-mile Heavenly Prize Invitational, defeated a neck by Bank Sting.

Battle Bling continued her run of good form at Aqueduct with a close second in the nine-furlong Top Flight Invitational on April 10, missing by three-quarters of a length to Exotic West. Last out, she traveled to Churchill Downs and was a game fourth in the Grade 1 La Troienne on May 6 on the Kentucky Oaks undercard.

With Irad Ortiz, Jr. up, Battle Bling rallied from seventh to finish fourth, missing third by a length to Ava’s Grace, who rounded out the trifecta behind the victorious Pauline’s Pearl and runner-up Shedaresthedevil.

“She ran a good race. There wasn't a lot of pace and she closed really well,” Atras said. “We could have used a little more ground to get up for third but Irad got off her and said she ran really good. She just kept coming at the end and finished really strong.

“She’s back here now and her next race is up in the air, too,” Atras added. “She's solid and shows up every time but it’s not out of the question that she could hit the board in one of those big graded-stakes this year.”

Cooke Creek returns in G3 Peter Pan

Cheyenne Stable's Cooke Creek will add blinkers as he returns from a three-month layoff in Saturday's Grade 3, $200,000 Peter Pan, a nine-furlong test for sophomores at Belmont Park.

Trained by Jeremiah O'Dwyer, the Uncle Mo colt was last seen finishing a distant eighth in the nine-furlong Grade 3 Withers on February 5 over a muddy Aqueduct main track.

O’Dwyer said Cooke Creek had a testicle removed following the Withers and has trained well since with the addition of blinkers at Palm Meadows training center in Florida.

“He came out of the Withers a little sore,” O’Dwyer said. “He had one testicle that wasn't fully descended and it was pinching him, so we took that one out and he seems to have come out of that good.”

The dark bay breezed six times at Palm Meadows, including a half-mile effort in 49.10 over the dirt on May 6.

“He's doing very well. He's after strengthening up and maturing and we're hopeful of him putting up a big show,” O’Dwyer said. “I still think he fits among these good 3-year-olds. He's been working well. He's not an overly impressive work horse but his gallop outs are always super and he does exactly what you ask him to do.”

Cooke Creek made a prosperous start to his career at Delaware Park, winning at first asking in a 5 1/2-furlong sprint in September ahead of a half-length score in the one-mile Rocky Run in October.

He shipped to Belmont for the Grade 3 Nashua in November at Belmont Park and finished a game second to Rockefeller with a four-wide move under Manny Franco. He followed with an even third in the one-turn mile Jerome on New Year's Day at the Big A, chasing home the victorious Courvoisier and runner-up Smarten Up over the sloppy and sealed main track.

O’Dwyer said he added blinkers to Cooke Creek to help the horse relax rather than to sharpen his speed.

“I thought about adding them before his last race to help him keep focused and keep his mind on the job,” O’Dwyer said. “He has a quieter demeanor when he has the blinkers on and horses are galloping around him. He's not as reactive. It gives him a sense of calmness. We've breezed him in them and trained him in them and it's just his standard equipment now. He's trained forwardly in them, so we've decided to leave them on him for this start.

“Ideally, I'd like to be sitting third or fourth and in contention and not too far off the leaders,” he continued. “I'm confident in his staying ability, his level of fitness and his attitude and will to win.”

O’Dwyer said he is happy to have Franco back aboard from post 7.

“Manny has done nothing wrong on the horse. The horse has been adaptable for him,” O’Dwyer said. “He's come from behind with Manny [in the Nashua] and that time in the slop in the Jerome he had to ride him a bit closer because speed was holding that day and we had to take the horse out of his comfort zone.

“He's a different horse now and more comfortable,” O’Dwyer added. “I don't think we've seen the best of him yet or got to the bottom of him. Hopefully, he can keep us in the headlines throughout the year.”

Multiple graded stakes winner Tax working towards return

R.A. Hill Stable, Reeves Thoroughbred Racing and Hugh Lynch’s Tax has been working steadily towards a return in allowance company for trainer Danny Gargan, posting his first work over Saratoga Race Course’s Oklahoma training track on May 6. The son of Arch went an easy half-mile in 50.32 seconds.

“He’s doing really good,” said Gargan “I let him work a few times decent at Palm Meadows [this winter], but the first time over this track he just went nice and relaxed. He’ll probably be in company in his next work and go 48 and change. He has to have a target. He knows what he’s doing.”

Tax has been away from the races since a 10th-place effort in the 2021 Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park where he tracked in fourth before weakening and staying on his left lead down the stretch.

Gargan said the long respite was due to a small sesamoid chip last year.

“We took him to Oaklawn and he got hurt,” Gargan said. “He had a sesamoid chip on a hind ankle. So we took it out and I started him back about seven or eight months ago. I didn’t like how he was moving, so I turned him back out for three or four more months and he’s moving great now.”

Tax, who was claimed for $50,000 out of his winning maiden effort in 2018, could return in allowance company within the next month if Gargan can find the right spot.

“I didn’t want to rush him. He’s pretty special to us,” said Gargan. “We’re taking our time with him and he’s maybe three or four works away from running. He could run on the grass or some other sort of allowance. If not, we’ll see if we can run him in a small stakes somewhere just to get a race into him.”

“We’d really like to run him at Saratoga,” added Gargan. “The fans really like him and he’s real popular up there. It would be fun to win a race there with him again.”

The 6-year-old dark bay won the Grade 2 Jim Dandy at Saratoga in 2018, defeating a field that included Grade 1 Preakness winner War of Will and subsequent Grade 1 winner Global Campaign. His other graded wins came in the 2019 Grade 3 Withers at Aqueduct and the 2020 Grade 3 Harlan’s Holiday at Gulfstream.

The veteran gelding also earned graded placings at the Big A with a third-place effort in the Grade 3 Remsen and runner-up finishes in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial and Grade 3 Discovery. Tax is a Kentucky Derby alumnus, finishing a troubled 14th in the 2019 edition won by Country House via disqualification.

Gargan, who co-owns Tax, said training the dark bay has been a memorable experience.

“He’s a special horse to be around,” said Gargan. “I own a piece of him, so I plan on having him forever.” 

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