Final countdown begins for Belmont Stakes

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A trio of would-be upsetters to American Pharoah’s Triple Crown aspirations turned in workouts Saturday and the connections of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner would log his final serious breeze for the Belmont Stakes Monday morning at Churchill Downs.

The workers included Tale of Verve and Mubtaahij at Belmont Park and Frammento at Saratoga Race Course’s Oklahoma Training Track. The New York Racing Association press office staff gives the scoop on the workouts below. Meanwhile at Churchill, American Pharoah galloped strongly as he readies for his run at history.

Here’s the latest from Belmont and Churchill.

American Pharoah set for final Belmont breeze Monday

With only one week until the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes, Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner American Pharoah stepped up his training Saturday morning with a 1 1/2-mile gallop on the Churchill Downs main track.

“It was another good day,” said Jorge Alvarez, American Pharoah’s regular exercise rider. “He was a little more aggressive this morning and wanted to do more, but I just kept doing my thing. I’m feeling more excited than nervous. We just feel that we have the right horse and he’s doing well. We’re all staying positive.”

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s assistant Jimmy Barnes also liked what he saw and maintains a relaxed and positive attitude.

“We’re back to our normal training routine and he looked good again,” Barnes said. “We feel no nerves; we’re just doing our job. We get more anxious the closer to the race, but there’s a difference between anxious and nervous.”

Bob Baffert is scheduled to fly into Louisville Saturday night from his Southern California base to oversee his string of 12 horses stabled at Churchill the following morning.

Baffert confirmed via text Saturday that American Pharoah would gallop Sunday and breeze Monday at Churchill.

 

Tale of Verve sharp in bullet 5-furlong workout for Belmont

Belmont Stakes hopeful Tale of Verve took to the Belmont Park main track early Saturday morning to log his final breeze in advance of the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes. With exercise rider and jockey Kortez Walker up for the work, the son of Tale of Ekati went 5 furlongs in :59.02, the fastest work at the distance.

“He galloped out good and came back blowing, which is good because it means he got something out of it,” said Dallas Stewart, who trains Tale of Verve for Charles Fipke. “He came back great and looked awesome.”

Coming off solitary maiden win April 23 at Keeneland, Tale of Verve was entered as an also-eligible for the Kentucky Derby, but failed to make the race. The bay colt was then sent to Pimlico for the Preakness Stakes, where he finished second – 7 lengths behind American Pharoah – at odds of 28-1. (Susie Raisher/NYRA Photo)

“I hope he has another step forward in him; that’s what we’re here for,” said Stewart, who finished second in a Triple Crown race for the third year in a row.

The Fipke homebred will have a long way to travel if he is to vanquish Triple Crown hopeful American Pharoah, who galloped 1 1/2 miles over the Churchill Downs main track Saturday morning. The 1 1/2 miles of the Belmont is considerably farther than Tale of Verve has ever raced, but Stewart sees that as a positive.

“It’s in his breeding,” said the Kentucky-based horseman. “He’s a big horse and has a great stride, so hopefully it will add up. It’s going to be a matter of stamina, and hopefully the best horse will win.”

In addition to American Pharoah, who will have his final work serious work for the Belmont Monday before shipping to New York Tuesday, Keen Ice took to the Churchill main track on Saturday morning to gallop 2 miles. The Dale Romans trainee is set to have his last work before the Belmont Tuesday at Churchill.

 

Fammento breezes over Saratoga’s Oklahoma track

On a sunny Saturday morning at Saratoga Race Course, Mossarossa’s Grade 3-placed Frammento put in his final timed work for the June 6 Belmont Stakes.

Working in company with maiden 3-year-old Hard Scuffle, Frammento was clocked in :48.15 for a half-mile over the Oklahoma Training Track. Going out at 7:45 a.m. in the first set after the maintenance break, he galloped out 5 furlongs in 1:02.37.

“He looked great,” Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito said. “They got him in :12 [seconds], :24, :48 – you can’t beat that. I even got him a little quicker, but that was OK. I’m happy. It was good.”

Regular exercise rider and Zito assistant trainer Maxine Correa was aboard for the work, Frammento’s third since an 11thplace finish in the May 2 Kentucky Derby, all in Saratoga.

“He felt great. He started off real cool and relaxed and he picked it up at the quarter pole and flew home. He galloped out beautiful and finished up strong,” Correa said. “He started off just behind a horse and stayed a little wide. He was happy to stay behind the horse until the quarter pole and as soon as I asked him to go, he kicked on. It was really good.”

A sophomore son of multiple Grade 1 winner and 2008 champion 2-year-old male Midshipman, Frammento was given a half-mile in :49.30 May 23.

“Last Saturday when he worked, he just kept going. Max does a good job on him. He went pretty darn good last weekend, and this is what we wanted him to do today, just sharpen him up a little bit. He’s over-ready,” Zito said. “Everything is good. He’s developed nice, he’s held his flesh and he’s held himself. He’s doing everything right.”

Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith will ride Frammento in the Belmont for Zito, who won the race with Birdstone in 2004 and Da’ Tara in 2008, both times spoiling a Triple Crown bid.

Prior to the Derby, Frammento was sixth in the Grade 2 Holy Bull and third in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park, and fourth in the Grade 1 Blue Grass April 4 at Keeneland. He will be racing for the first time at Belmont Park.

“In the times I’ve breezed him, sometimes with company and sometimes without, he seems to have matured a lot over the winter and sort of got his head together, realizing what he’s supposed to do,” Correa said. “He’s coming around nicely.”

 

Mubtaahij works over Belmont main track instead of turf

The widely traveled Belmont Stakes entrant Mubtaahij continued his preparations for the Belmont with a 5-furlong work in 1:01.05 on the Belmont main track Saturday, the seventh-fastest time at the distance.

The colt was scheduled to work on the turf, but the move to the main track was made because the turf was too firm, said Trevor Brown, assistant to trainer Mike de Kock. Brown said he was very pleased with the colt’s effort over the main track and is positive the colt has taken more kindly to the surface compared to Churchill Downs, where he finished eighth in the Kentucky Derby in his first start in America. (Susie Raisher/NYRA Photo)

With de Kock’s arrival to New York expected for Monday, Brown said the horse would have an easy week.

“We’ll freshen him up now this week. We’ve been pretty hard on him; that’s our normal routine. Two weeks out we work him hard and the last week freshen him up, but he’s going good and we’re very happy with him.”

Todd Pletcher reported Saturday morning that each of his three Belmont Stakes contenders, Carpe Diem, Madefromlucky, and Materiality, exited their Friday works in good order.

“They all jogged this morning and stood in the starting gate,” Pletcher said.

There were no further updates on the status of riders for the trainer’s trio. The services of John Velazquez and Javier Castellano have been procured, but it has yet to be decided who they will be paired with. Pletcher has yet to name a third rider.

Among this year’s trainers with Belmont starters, Pletcher only takes a backseat to Nick Zito in terms of the number of past runners he has saddled in the third jewel of the Triple Crown. Zito holds the record [34] with fellow Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas.

Pletcher, 47, saddled his first Belmont starter in 2000, and has sent out 17 more in the ensuing years. On multiple occasions, he has saddled two or more horses in a single year. He won his second Belmont – his first victory came with the filly Rags to Riches in 2007 – with Palace Malice in 2013. That year Pletcher sent five horses to the post.

As a Belmont Stakes veteran, Pletcher said his training approach hasn’t changed too much over the years. One of the constants has been resisting the urge of “overdoing it” in his preparation of his horses for the 1 1/2-mile race.

“I think you’re constantly evaluating your results and [seeing] if there is anything you would do differently,” Pletcher said. “But you’re coming back with different horses every year, so each one of them is going to need a little something different.

“But I think you try not to overdo it,” he added. “There is the temptation [because] it’s a mile and a half that you really have to train them harder, which I haven’t found necessarily to be the case. Most of them are coming off a prep race of some sort, whether it’s the Derby or the Peter Pan. So most of their conditioning is going to come from the races they had. We generally have gone with two or three breezes – if say they ran five weeks before the [Belmont]. But I think you try not to overthink it or overtrain them.”

 

NYRA urges fans to secure Belmont Stakes tickets

The New York Racing Association reminds fans to purchase Belmont Stakes Day tickets in advance, in order to guarantee their place for Saturday’s Triple Crown bid by Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner American Pharoah.  No tickets will be sold at Belmont Park Saturday, June 6.

Fans are specifically advised not to travel to Belmont Park on Belmont Stakes Day without tickets purchased in advance. With this year’s implementation of a paid attendance cap of 90,000, and with ticket sales ahead of last year’s pace, NYRA officials project that tickets will be sold out prior to Belmont Stakes Day.

“We anticipate that Belmont Stakes Day tickets will be sold out prior to June 6, but in the event that we are not, fans are reminded that no tickets will be sold at Belmont Park on Belmont Stakes Day. Any available ticket inventory will be available solely through Ticketmaster,” said Christopher Kay, NYRA chief executive officer and president. “With this in mind, we strongly encourage all fans to purchase their tickets in advance, and secure their place at Belmont Park as American Pharoah prepares to meet his date with horse racing immortality on June 6.” 

General admission to the Belmont grandstand is $15, and still available for purchase through Ticketmaster while supplies last. General admission does not include a seat. Please visit ticketmaster.com, or call (800) 745-3000 for more information.    

Tickets are also available on Ticketmaster for Friday, which will be highlighted by five stakes races and a special, Belmont Stakes Eve concert led by platinum-selling recording artists O.A.R. General admission for Friday is available for $15 for non-NYRA Rewards members, and $10 for NYRA Rewards members until 3 p.m. Walk-up admission after 3 p.m. Friday will be $30. NYRA Rewards members must present their rewards card at the time of entry.

Throughout the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival, all Belmont entrances will be for ticketed patrons only and cash will not be accepted at entry points. Patrons are strongly encouraged to purchase their tickets in advance, and to give themselves plenty of extra time to arrive and depart the Belmont property throughout the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival. With new security protocols instituted for this year’s festival, guests can review a full list of prohibited and permitted items by visiting BelmontStakes.com.

All guests are subject to magnetic screening upon entering the grounds. Guests attempting to enter the clubhouse, grandstand or the backyard with prohibited items will be asked to return those items to their vehicles or dispose of them. No storage will be provided for guests arriving with, or attempting to enter with prohibited items.