Horse racing: Pletcher still weighing options for Belmont
After not having a horse entered in the Preakness, trainer Todd Pletcher could be back to the five-horse juggling act he performed for the Kentucky Derby.
In the case of next Saturday’s 145th Belmont Stakes, he said a big part of the equation will be whether the pedigree of his horses suggest an ability to win at a mile and a half.
Among his Belmont prospects is the filly Unlimited Budget, a three-time graded-stakes winner whose undefeated record was stopped by a third to Princess of Sylmar in the Kentucky Oaks.
Her presence as a Belmont contender harkens back to Pletcher’s victory in the race with Rags to Riches in 2007, when she beat Curlin by a head to become the first female Belmont winner in 102 years.
Pletcher’s other Belmont hopefuls are Revolutionary, Overanalyze, Palace Malice and Midnight Taboo.
“We’ve got a lot of pedigree on our side in all cases, and strong credentials, but you’re always concerned about how they’ll handle the trip,” Pletcher said during a national teleconference on Thursday.
The field will take better shape after the weekend workouts, but as of Friday, the rest who are aiming for the race are Kentucky Derby winner Orb, Preakness winner Oxbow, Freedom Child, Golden Soul, Vyjack, Will Take Charge, the New York-bred Giant Finish, Incognito and Always in a Tiz.
One reason Pletcher likes Unlimited Budget, who would be ridden by Rosie Napravnik, is that, like Rags to Riches, she’s a physically imposing filly who should be able to withstand the more aggressive behavior of colts in a race.
“Both are big, strong fillies, which is important against the colts,” he said. “You want them to physically stack up against them when you see them in the paddock. Unlimited Budget will not stand out as a smaller horse, she’ll fit right in.
“You need enough talent to do it. Based on her races and the speed figures, she matches up competitively. In the Belmont, the key is to get a mile and a half. She’s been successful at a mile and a sixteenth twice this year and a mile and an eighth as a 2-year-old. That’s encouraging. But it takes a very talented filly.”
The decision to run Rags to Riches in the Belmont boiled down to the fact that she had all kinds of Belmont breeding just one generation away.
Her sire, A.P. Indy, won the Belmont in 1992, and her dam, Better Than Honour, produced the 2006 Belmont winner, Jazil.
Unlimited Budget, who is scheduled to breeze on Sunday, is by Derby winner Street Sense.
“We’re a little concerned with the bottom half of her pedigree,” Pletcher said. “It’s maybe not quite as deep as Rags to Riches’ was, and we’ll certainly look at that closely and see how the week goes.”
Javier Castellano will replace Calvin Borel on Revolutionary, and Mike Smith will be back on Palace Malice.
In Palace Malice’s case, Pletcher said he likes the fact that he’s by Curlin, and Midnight Taboo also appears to have good Belmont breeding, since he’s out of Hot Red, a daughter of 1995 Belmont winner Thunder Gulch.
“Palace Malice is a horse who’s always impressed us a great deal,” Pletcher said. “You see hints of it in races, although he hasn’t been capable of following through with it in the big races. He did come close in the Blue Grass.
“He’s a son of Curlin, who stayed a distance and came up short a head in the Belmont, so the pedigree is meant for this race. Certainly, his pedigree suggests that this is within his range.”
Palace Malice, who will not be in blinkers after setting a very fast early pace in the Preakness, also has a little bit of buzz behind him because of a 1:00.24 five-furlong breeze at Belmont Park on Monday that wasn’t particularly noteworthy based on time, but wowed observers on the gallop-out, including Pletcher.
“I haven’t had too many gallop out like he did in that work,” he said. “The track was a little lively. What I was impressed with was the three furlongs after that. He went 1:38. We monitor the gallop-outs closely, and that’s about as good as I’ve seen in forever.”
Revolutionary merits consideration for the Belmont, Pletcher said, because he liked how he galloped out in the Derby after his third-place finish.
He also has five weeks of rest from having skipped the Preakness.
“The Withers and the Louisiana Derby showed that he fits in with this crop,” Pletcher said.
Irad Ortiz Jr. has been named to ride Darley Stable’s Incognito, the fifth-place finisher in the Peter Pan.
Stablemates Oxbow and Will Take Charges, trained by D. Wayne Lukas, are scheduled to ship to New York from Churchill Downs on Monday.
“They’re both doing great, or else I wouldn’t be putting them on the van,” Lukas said. “After they arrive at Belmont, they’ll gallop up to the race. All of their major work is done.”
Derby runner-up Golden Soul will fly to New York from Churchill on Tuesday, following a strong breeze on Thursday, according to trainer Dallas Stewart.
“He wasn’t tired and ate great,” Stewart said on Friday. “I totally think we’re in it to win it now.”
Trainer Rudy Rodriguez said that Gotham winner Vyjack, who was 18th in the Derby, will breeze on Monday or Tuesday, then they’ll decide on the Belmont.
If Orb opts out of the Belmont, Joel Rosario would get on Vyjack. Otherwise, they have Jose Lezcano or Cornelio Velasquez lined up.
CONSECUTIVE DEAD HEATS
There were back-to-back dead heats in the third and fourth races at Belmont on Friday, and jockey Luis Saez was involved in both on his way to a five-victory day.
The 20-year-old Panamanian
began the day by riding Copper Forest to a dead-heat with Anaphylaxis in race 3, and came right back to guide late-running Smash to hit the wire in tandem with Leave of Absence in race 4.
“I’m so exited,” said Saez, who moved his tack from Florida to New York in April. “Today, the horses ran good for me. It’s a little hard here in New York, but, thank God, we’re doing great here. Trainers have given me opportunities, so I have to ride hard.”
Saez won the Peter Pan on Freedom Child and is set to ride again if he’s in the Belmont field.
NEW YORK SHOWCASE
Today’s card at Belmont features the annual Big Apple Showcase Day for New York-breds.
There are seven stakes on tap, including an interesting matchup in the 6 1⁄2-furlong Affirmed Success between Saginaw and Willy Beamin.
Saginaw won 10 of 14 races last year, including the Affirmed Success, and is the 8-5 morning-line favorite.
Willy Beamin also won on Showcase Day last year, in the Mike Lee. He followed that up by winning the Albany and the Grade I King’s Bishop four days apart at Saratoga. He’ll be making his first start since November.
Penn National has put together a terrific stakes card that includes the inaugural Penn Mile for 3-year-olds on the turf.
The field includes Noble Tune, trained by Mechanicville native Chad Brown, runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.
He’s 2-1 against the likes of Rydilluc, Jack Milton and Charming Kitten.
Also on the card, Rattlesnake Bridge, Pants On Fire, Macho Macho and Norman Asbjornson are in the field for the nine-furlong Mountainview, and Chamberlain Bridge, Bridgetown and Ben’s Cat are among the 11 entered in the Pennsylvania Governor’s Cup at five furlongs on the turf.
The British Horseracing Authority said Frankie Dettori has been cleared to return to action by France Galop after serving a cocaine ban.
Dettori was banned for six months after testing positive at Longchamp last September, and was expected to make his comeback last week.
But the BHA said a new France Galop test produced an “irregularity.”
A meeting with France Galop’s medical committee to discuss what the BHA described as a “private matter” has now cleared the way for his return.
Dettori’s French agent Herve Naggar said the recent test was negative, and “he is back in business.”
Now that Dettori is cleared, he’s scheduled to ride First Cornerstone for Team Valor International in the Prix du Jockey Club, also known as the French Derby, at Chantilly on Sunday.
PHELPS’ HORSE FAVORED
Cerro, a 3-year-old colt partly owned by 18-time Olympic champion swimmer Michael Phelps through Team Valor, is the 6-5 favorite for the $100,000 Canonero II Stakes at Pimlico.
Phelps and his former coach, Bob Bowman, share an ownership interest in the Irish-bred colt trained by Rick Mettee, who took over from Graham Motion.
Cerro was sixth behind Orb in the Fountain of Youth and fourth in the Lexington Stakes.
Jockey Diane King won the eighth race at Thistledown on Wednesday aboard Ledgehill.
She’s 63 years old.
Not only that, but she also owns Ledgehill, who is trained by her husband, Bobby.
“I couldn’t do any of this if it wasn’t for my husband,” King told the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s D’Arcy Egan. “He’s been a top-notch trainer for 50 years, and is a great blacksmith. I just ride, and Bobby does the rest. It’s a family thing.”
AROOUND THE TRACKS
Teen Pauline, who broke a Saratoga Race Course track record in her career debut last summer, but has not started since finishing third in the Spinaway, gets back to the track in the eighth race at Belmont on Wednesday. . . .
Temecula Creek, a 9-year-old son of Gulch owned by Christopher Dunn and Brad Sloan and trained by David Jacobson, is scheduled to make his fourth start in 29 days today.
He’s entered in the eighth at Suffolk Downs having won his last two starts, last Friday and on May 18, at Belmont Park. He was fourth in a race at Belmont on Derby Day, May 4.
Temecula Creek broke his maiden in his career debut at Saratoga in 2006 and has banked $583,283 in purses off a record of 16-7-10 from 53 starts.