Busy day for Belmont Stakes contenders

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Several serious contenders who will take on Triple Crown hopeful American Pharoah in next week’s 147th running of the Belmont Stakes turned in their final serious workouts Friday morning at Belmont Park.

The group of Belmont workers were Todd Pletcher’s three Belmont hopefuls and Wood Memorial winner and Kentucky Derby fourth-place finisher Frosted. The press office staff from the New York Racing Association were on the scene for the works, along with another from last year’s Belmont winner and Met Mile hopeful Tonalist.

Meanwhile, American Pharoah galloped at Churchill Downs and Ken McPeek did his best impression of the recently retired David Letterman with his list of reasons for running The Truth or Else in the final jewel of the Triple Crown. Here’s your daily dose of Belmont news from the teams at NYRA and Churchill.

Pletcher trio work toward Belmont Stakes

Following the workouts Friday morning from a trio of Todd Pletcher-trained horses for the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes, it appears the two-time Belmont Stakes winning trainer will be represented by all three in the final leg of the Triple Crown June 6.

“I need to talk to all the connections, but I’m sure everyone is on board with all three of them [running],” Pletcher said. “We intend to run all three at this moment.”

Rider assignments for Carpe Diem, Madefromlucky, and Materiality are still to be determined. Pletcher said John Velazquez and Javier Castellano have both been retained by him for the 1 1/2-mile Belmont, but it has yet to be decided whom will ride which horse. Pletcher said he would wait “a day or two” before any further jockey commitments would be made because he wants to evaluate how the horses come out of their works.

Carpe Diem and Madefromlucky were the first to breeze for Pletcher, shortly after 6 a.m.

With Velazquez aboard Carpe Diem and exercise rider Patti Krotenko on Madefromlucky, the pair worked 4 furlongs over the main track, which was labeled fast. 

Carpe Diem worked to the outside of his stablemate and finished about a couple lengths in front of Madefromlucky. Carpe Diem’s final time was :47.66, and Madefromlucky, who was under urging from Krotenko, completed the distance in :47.84, according to NYRA clockers. Carpe Diem’s gallop-out time for 5 furlongs was 1:00.59, while Madefromlucky was clocked in 1:01.10.

“I thought both horses worked well enough today to continue considering the Belmont,” Pletcher said. “I didn’t see anything that would deter me from it. I’ll see how they come out of it, and talk with everybody, but we worked with the intention of running in the Belmont, and I thought they both worked well.”

Pletcher remarked that Madefromlucky’s work on Friday wasn’t as impressive as last Friday’s move when he worked in company with Carpe Diem. That day they both worked a bullet :59 for 5 furlongs, the fastest of 20 works at the distance.

“I don’t think this work was as impressive from [Madefromlucky] as last week,” Pletcher said. “Like a lot of horses, they will tend to work better when they are on the outside [rather] than the inside.”

After the renovation break on the main track, Materiality, with Velazquez up, worked in company with Stanford, who is under consideration for the Grade 2 Woody Stephens Stakes on the Belmont undercard. 

Materiality worked to the inside of Stanford. The final time was :47.78 for both horses. They galloped out 5 furlongs in 1:00.32.

“I thought [Materiality] worked very well,” Pletcher said. “You know, he’s the kind of horse who kind of does what his workmate does. It was a very good, progressive breeze, picking it up as they went along, with a very strong gallop out. [Materiality] came back and he wasn’t even blowing. He just took it all very well.”

Wood winner Frosted ‘all set’ for Belmont Stakes

Godolphin Racing’s Frosted wrapped up his major preparations for the Belmont Stakes with a half-mile drill in company with Met Mile contender Tamarkuz Friday morning.

The Kiaran McLaughlin trainees took to the Belmont main track shortly after the renovation break, minutes after fellow Belmont Stakes hopeful Materiality turned in his final work for Todd Pletcher. Frosted, piloted by exercise rider Lorenzo Morales, broke from the half-mile pole a length ahead of his older workmate, ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr. Frosted led throughout the move and hit the wire a half-length in front.

The pair earned an official time of :47.84 while never under asking and galloped out five furlongs together.

“They went great,” McLaughlin remarked after the breeze. “[Frosted] worked so well last week with Tamarkuz we decided to do the same thing today. They went :47 and four and [out in 5 furlongs] in a minute and three fifths. It couldn’t have gone better. We’re all set.”

Group 2 Godolphin Mile winner Tamarkuz is slated to make his North American debut in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap along with fellow McLaughlin charge Bay of Plenty.

Bay of Plenty, runner-up in the Grade 3 Discovery Handicap last fall at Aqueduct, made his seasonal debut with a 2-length allowance-optional victory last month over the local course.

“He had some time off and he came back and won his last race impressively,” McLaughlin said. “It’s a tough race but we’ve got to give him a chance.”


Derby, Preakness winner gallops at Churchill Downs

Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner American Pharoah, preparing for a sweep of the Triple Crown in the 147th running of the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes June 6, had a schooling session in the Churchill Downs starting gate and resumed galloping Friday morning.

Zayat Stables’ homebred son of Pioneerof the Nile went to the fast main track under regular exercise rider Jorge Alvarez at 8:30 a.m. during Churchill’s special 15-minute training session exclusive to Belmont Stakes contenders after the renovation break. American Pharoah spent a brief period standing in the auxiliary starting gate at the top of the stretch and then galloped 1 1/8 miles, according to Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s assistant Jimmy Barnes.

 “Everything was great this morning – no problem,” Alvarez said. “He looked real professional. This is good what they’re doing by closing the track for us and letting us train. That makes my job a lot easier.”

Barnes said that American Pharoah would likely gallop 1 1/4 miles at 8:30 a.m. Saturday.

“You see everything that you expect to see,” Barnes said. “Nothing alarming; everything is super positive. This is absolutely normal going into any race the way that we’re doing. We have really nothing to deal with other than keeping him happy. Everything is going smooth.”

Baffert is scheduled to return to Louisville from his Southern California base Saturday night, and American Pharoah could breeze Sunday or Monday with the former the more likely of the two, according to Barnes.


In other Belmont news, Donegal Racing’s Keen Ice jogged 2 miles at 8:30 a.m. with regular exercise rider Faustino Aguilar in the irons for trainer Dale Romans.


McPeek gives 11 reasons why he’s running The Truth or Else

Trainer Kenny McPeek and jockey Edgar Prado are no strangers to spoiling Triple Crown bids. It was 13 years ago that they teamed to ruin trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Victor Espinoza’s Triple Crown chance with War Emblem when Sarava scored a 70-1 shocker in the 2002 Belmont Stakes. Prado did it again two years later when he rode Birdstone to victory over Smarty Jones.

Harold Lerner’s The Truth Or Else, who won a first-level allowance over 1 1/16 miles May 22 at Belmont Park, entered this year’s Belmont fray Thursday and hopes to deliver a crushing blow to American Pharoah.

The Yes It’s True colt has a 2-1-3 record in 12 starts and 294,137 in earnings, but has two wins and a second in three starts at Belmont.

McPeek sent a text message Friday to the Churchill publicity staff with 11 reasons as to why he’s running The Truth Or Else in the Belmont Stakes. It read as follows:

  1. My horse loves the Belmont track. [He has] two starts and two wins over a dry Belmont.
  2. [He is out of a] Colonial Affair mare and should get the distance
  3. He is a very sturdy horse. He eats well and is completely sound. He’s a throwback type of horse.
  4. We’ve got nothing to lose, they pay down to eighth place
  5. Edgar Prado has been there before and he knows the track and distance
  6. The Truth Or Else is bigger and stronger than Sarava and Atigun (third in 2012 Belmont)
  7. Confidence builder last race in a good time and excellent speed figure. His last two races set him up for this.
  8. Harold and Helen Lerner are from the New York area. This would be special for them.
  9. The Truth Or Else has been based at Belmont most of his career, we don’t have to ship him.
  10. Weird things happen in the Belmont. Never duck one horse. American Pharoah could possibly not handle the surface.
  11. I’m completely crazy, but I have no fear of failure. We only live once. Let’s do this!


Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist breezes for Met Mile

Tonalist, who upset California Chrome” Triple Crown bid in last year’s Belmont Stakes, took to the Belmont main track Friday morning for his final serious work before the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap.

The bay son of Tapit, trained by Christophe Clement for Robert Evans, breezed five furlongs in 1:01.23 with his regular exercise rider Lee Vickers aboard, and galloped out six furlongs in 1:14, according to Clement.

“It was a nice maintenance work; he looked well,” said Clement. “I have enough time to give him a little blowout next Wednesday or Thursday – a sharp three-eighths. We’re excited for the race.”

Tonalist is undefeated at Belmont, with wins in the Belmont, the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup, and the Grade 2 Peter Pan. In his 2015 debut, the 4-year-old colt won the Grade 3 Westchester at Belmont by a widening 3 3/4 lengths as a prep for the Met Mile on Belmont Stakes Day.

“I’ve always loved the [Met Mile] because the sprinters stretch out and the 1 1/4-mile horses cut back. It’s a fun race; you get all the best older horses,” Clement said.

If Tonalist is to keep his perfect record at Belmont, he’ll have to go through a star-studded field that is likely to include last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Bayern; multiple Grade 1 winner Private Zone; last year’s Grade 1 Twinspires.com Wood Memorial winner Wicked Strong; 2013 Met Mile winner Sahara Sky; Group 2 Godolphin Mile winner Tamarkuz; multiple graded stakes winners Pants On Fire, Kobe’s Back, and Honor Code; and Bay of Plenty.