Belmont Stakes Notes - June 12
By New York Racing Association
ELMONT, N.Y. – It was back to business Sunday morning for New Jersey-based trainer Kelly Breen, who shocked the Belmont Stakes with 24-1 long shot Ruler On Ice on Saturday, his first career Grade 1 victory.
Breen, 42, had four horses entered on Sunday’s Monmouth Park card, and was also dealing with an injury to one of his exercise riders during training hours.
“So much of it is racing, and so much of it is back to reality,” said Breen, who shipped into Belmont Park shortly before 9 a.m. Saturday morning and left around 8 p.m., less than 90 minutes after Ruler On Ice sailed through the slop to win the 143rd Belmont Stakes by three-quarters of a length for owners George and Lori Hall.
“I had a horse flip on one of our riders this morning, and she might have broken her hip,” Breen said. “We’ve got four horses in today at Monmouth. It’s back to reality. No time to waste; just jump right back in.”
Wearing blinkers for the first time, Ruler On Ice stayed close to the pace set by Preakness winner Shackleford in the Belmont before jockey Jose Valdivia, Jr. began to launch his bid entering the stretch. They passed the eighth pole in front and dug in determinedly to hold off Stay Thirsty, running 1 ½ miles in 2:30.88 on a sloppy, sealed track.
“Everything is great. The horse is acting great,” Breen said. “I’m shocked to say this morning that he looks as if he didn’t even run. I’d have to think that’s a pretty good sign.”
It was the third win in seven lifetime starts for Ruler On Ice, who pushed his career bankroll to $766,500. Two of those victories have come on sloppy tracks, including a maiden triumph at Delaware Park last October.
“I don’t think anybody could put into words or make any calculations for what helped him or what hurt anybody else,” Breen said. “That’s racing, and that’s why they run the races. I’ve been saying that since I’ve been in the business. If it wasn’t, every 4-to-5 shot would just win. You’ve got to be in it to win it, and I was more than happy to be in it.”
Breen said the victory was made more satisfying because it came for the Halls, who hired him as their private trainer in 2007, and that Ruler On Ice had to overcome his own immaturity and a minor illness after running second in the Federico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on May 7.
“I was talking to Jose Valdivia’s agent, and I said to him, ‘What a day for him to make a turnaround,’” Breen said. “It was perfect timing.”
Breen was uncertain where or when Ruler On Ice would run next. The horse has raced over seven different tracks in as many starts, and became only the second gelding to win the Belmont Stakes, the last and longest leg of the Triple Crown, following Crème Fraiche in 1985.
“I really don’t know,” Breen said. “The people over there in New York were so gracious and everything. Right away, George [Hall] said he’d love to see this horse running in the Travers [Grade 1, $1 million, Saratoga Race Course, August 27]. We’ll take it one day at a time and see how he is and how he’s acting and how everything comes about. When he’s ready, that’s when we’ll run him again.”
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Trainer H. Graham Motion expressed disappointment Sunday morning that his Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom lost the chance to be competitive in the Belmont Stakes after experiencing trouble shortly after the start.
“It’s just disappointing, because you would have liked him to have a fair shot to run his race,” said Motion of his horse, who finished sixth in the Belmont, beaten 9 ¼ lengths. “When you come this far, you know how much goes into it and the worst thing to me is that he had a pretty tough race yesterday and it was all sort of for nothing. These horses only have so many races in them and to waste a race like that was very disappointing.”
Animal Kingdom, the 5-2 favorite in the Belmont, fell back to last early in the race after being bumped and clipping heels. John Velazquez lost his left stirrup in the incident and didn’t regain it for a sixteenth of a mile.
“[Johnny] said the horse broke better yesterday than he had in the previous two races, but they came over so quickly from the outside he said he had no shot. He was surprised the horse didn’t go down,” said Motion. “I think that what really hurt us was that it took him so long to get his foot back into the iron. He said he went to get his iron and he couldn’t find it because it had flipped behind him. It took him until almost to the turn to find his iron. In that time he couldn’t do anything, so he had to let the horse drop back, and at that point he couldn’t see anything because his goggles were completely covered. So it was a combination of everything.
“With the way things were, Johnny may have well pulled him up,” added Motion of Animal Kingdom, who shipped back to the Fair Hill, Md. training center at 8 a.m. Sunday. “There was no chance, realistically, he was going to be able to do anything after that situation. Obviously in a Triple Crown race it wouldn’t have been a fair thing to do. I thought the horse ran incredibly well to make the move that he did, but it was just asking way too much at that point.”
Barry Irwin, founder and CEO of Team Valor International, who said before the Belmont he wanted to bring Animal Kingdom back on the grass over the summer, said Sunday that future plans may now include an appearance at Saratoga Race Course this summer.
“I don’t know now,” he said. “We want to make this horse the champion. I really thought we were going to win the Belmont or at least run second. He’s probably the leader of the 3-year-old class right now, but he’s no cinch to be the champion, so I think we’re going to have to put him where he can solidify that. We’re going to have to take a look at the Travers [Grade 1, August 27].”
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Animal Kingdom’s jockey, John Velazquez, echoed Motion’s thoughts about the start of the race, during which his left foot came out of the stirrup and his goggles became covered in mud.
“A few jumps after the start somebody came over and clipped heels with us and I lost my balance and I tried to put my feet back into the irons and it took me about a sixteenth of a mile to get my balance together,” said Velazquez. “I put my foot back into the iron and by then we were really far back and you saw what the outcome of the race was.”
Velazquez considered just galloping the Derby winner around the track after his troubled start.
“For a sixteenth of a mile trying to get my foot back in the iron. I was like, ‘you know what, the race is over already, maybe I kick my other leg out of the iron and just gallop the horse around,’” said Velazquez. “But after I did get my iron back in I wanted to give him a chance and hopefully get him a piece of it. Going into the race I thought he was going to be really tough to get beat, so I wanted to give him the opportunity to finish somewhere. And he did run great. It was just a little too much to overcome.”
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Todd Pletcher expressed both satisfaction and disappointment Sunday morning, one day after Stay Thirsty nearly gave the trainer his second career victory in the Belmont Stakes.
Stay Thirsty, victorious in the Grade 3 Gotham prior to his seventh in the Grade 1 Florida Derby and 12th in the Kentucky Derby, was a game second in the Belmont Stakes, in which he finished three-quarters of a length behind Ruler On Ice.
“I think it validated his [second] in the Hopeful last year and his win in the Gotham,” said Pletcher, who trains the colt for Mike Repole. “It justified our placement of him this spring, but at the same time anytime you get that close you’re a little disappointed if you don’t actually win. At the end of the day, we’re proud of his effort.”
Pletcher said Stay Thirsty will now be pointed toward Saratoga Race Course’s Grade 2 Jim Dandy on July 30 and Grade 1 Travers on August 27.
The trainer was also content with Calibrachoa’s third-place finish in yesterday’s Grade 2 True North Handicap Presented by Emirates Airline, his first start following his victory in the Grade 3 Tom Fool at Aqueduct Racetrack in March. Like Stay Thirsty, Calibrachoa races for Repole Stable.
“We kind of had a tough schedule recently trying to get him ready for this,” said Pletcher. “It’s the kind of race that could move him forward down the road. I’d say a race like the Vanderbilt [Grade 1, Saratoga, August 14] is a possibility.”
Pletcher also reported that Bobby Flay’s Her Smile and WinStar Farm’s Savvy Supreme emerged from their respective third- and seventh-place finishes in the Grade 1 TVG Acorn in good shape.
“Both came out of the race very well,” said Pletcher. “I’m disappointed Savvy Supreme didn’t seem to handle the [muddy] surface. I’m really pleased with Her Smile’s effort, getting a Grade 1 placing.”
There will be no rest for Pletcher, who will depart for England Monday night to saddle Melnyk Racing Stables’ Bridgetown in Tuesday’s Group 1 King’s Stand and Bobby Flay’s More Than Real in Friday’s Group 1 Coronation at Royal Ascot. Pletcher, who attended Royal Ascot in 2000 as a spectator, said he is looking forward to the return visit.
“I’m going to try to see Ballydoyle [training yard in Ireland] between races on Tuesday and Friday,” said Pletcher. “There will be some great racing at Royal Ascot. On Tuesday, you have Goldikova, Canford Cliffs, and Frankel. As a horse racing fan, it should be fun to see.”
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Brilliant Speed emerged from his third-place finish in the Belmont in good order, trainer Tom Albertrani said, and will be freshened for a campaign that will likely include the Grade 2 Jim Dandy on July 30 and the Grade 1 Travers on August 27, both at Saratoga Race Course.
“We’re going to stick to the dirt,” said Albertrani of Brilliant Speed, who won the Grade 1 Blue Grass over the artificial surface at Keeneland and finished second and third in a pair of grass stakes at Gulfstream Park. “Overall, I think he fits well with the competition that we’ve been running with, Animal Kingdom and Shackleford. He fits right in there with them and it’s just a matter of changing positions one of these days. He will get his turn.”
In Saturday’s race, the Dynaformer colt was about seven lengths behind Shackleford while running well off the rail through the opening half-mile, then moved up into contention on the turn and finished gamely, crossing the wire 2 ½ lengths behind Ruler On Ice.
“He ran well and looked like he had every chance turning for home,” Albertrani said. “He was a little further back again than I wanted to be and we lost some ground again, but other than that he ran terrific. I was just a little surprised he hung on me the last sixteenth of a mile. It looked like he was going to go by. Maybe he was just getting a little tired from the distance. The horse ran well and we were just a little short.”
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Trainer Steve Asmussen headed back to Kentucky early Sunday morning, but not before checking in on Nehro, who ended a streak of three consecutive runner-up finishes by finishing fourth in the Belmont Stakes.
The Belmont was the seventh career start for Nehro and fourth straight in a graded stakes, after running second in the Louisiana Derby, Arkansas Derby and Kentucky Derby, his most recent effort, on May 7.
“He looks in pretty good order, no worse for the wear and tear,” said Asmussen’s New York-based assistant, Toby Sheets. “He ate a lot of dirt, but he came back and ate up and came out of it in good order, so everything looks good.”
Nehro broke from post 6 in the Belmont and was quickly guided to the rail by jockey Corey Nakatani heading into the first turn. They were able to save ground on the sloppy, sealed main track before angling out past the quarter pole and making a late run, beaten 7 ½ lengths by long shot winner Ruler On Ice.
“I don’t know if it was the surface or eating all the muck,” Sheets said. “All the winners yesterday were on the front end or close to it, or ate no mud, and he ate a ton of mud. The horse that ran second [Stay Thirsty] was on the fence not eating any mud, and the horse that won was on the outside.
“The note of the day, basically, is that most of the horses that won, their bridles were all clean when they came back.”
Nehro’s next start is uncertain, but Sheets said the horse will stay with Asmussen’s Belmont string before heading to Saratoga Race Course next month.
Meanwhile, the barn was able to celebrate the performance of Justin Phillip, who earned his first graded stakes victory in Saturday’s Grade 2 $250,000 Woody Stephens, presented by VisitNassauCounty.com.
Ridden by Ramon Dominguez, Justin Phillip set fractions of 22.23 and 44.45 and opened a five-length lead at the top of the stretch before hitting the wire 3 ¼ lengths ahead of J J’s Lucky Train in 1:23.56 for seven furlongs.
It was the second win in as many tries at Belmont Park for Justin Phillip, who broke his maiden at six furlongs last September. No decision has been made on where he will run next.
“It was a nice win. It definitely helps the morale,” Sheets said. “He looks excellent. It was a breakthrough race for him. He’s been training super and he’s run super here, so we’re very pleased.”
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Preakness winner Shackleford exited his fifth-place effort in the Belmont Stakes in good form, according to Scott Everett, assistant trainer to Dale Romans.
“He came out of the race fine,” said Everett. “He ate up fine, his legs are sound, he’s good. The 1 ½ miles might just have been too long for him, but there aren’t many horses bred to go that distance anymore. We are very proud of what he has done.”
According to Everett, the 3-year-old Forestry colt will ship back to Kentucky on Monday and spend a few weeks on the farm before Romans makes a decision on his next start.
Everett also indicated that Grade 1 Foxwoods Just a Game winner C. S. Silk came out of her effort very well and will remain at Romans’ barn in New York while they determine her next start.
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Stabled three stalls away from Belmont Stakes winner Ruler On Ice in the barn of trainer Frank Alexander, Santiva munched on some grass and walked the shedrow Sunday morning following his eighth-place effort in the 1 ½-mile “Test of the Champion.”
Brendan Walsh, assistant to trainer Eddie Kenneally, said it was relatively quiet at the barn following the race. Ruler On Ice shipped to Belmont on Saturday morning and returned to New Jersey shortly after his upset victory.
“Some guys were just there with him,” Walsh said. “There was no drama; they were just hanging out. He’s a nice-looking horse.”
Santiva had run once on an off track before the Belmont, finishing third in his career debut at Saratoga Race Course last July for original trainer Ken McPeek.
“He seems fine this morning, which we’re glad about,” Walsh said. “[Jockey Shaun Bridgmohan] said he just didn’t handle the track at all, and was beat a long way out. I’m disappointed because we really had him going good and he was doing so well, and you know how hard it is to get them as right as we had him. I guess the weather is something you can’t control.
“Not taking anything away from the winner, but the race was kind of a funny result. It’s just that some horses go in it, and some don’t. [Bridgmohan] said [Santiva] was spinning his wheels. He was in a perfect spot, in the second flight just off the lead, going down the back … but once they started to go, he wasn’t finding anything.”
Santiva is scheduled to return to Churchill Downs early Monday morning, and will likely be part of the group Kenneally brings to Saratoga Race Course this summer.
“We’ll get him back and make sure he’s OK,” Walsh said. “I would think there’s probably something at Saratoga for him now. We’ll bring him up there and see what happens. Obviously, he’s a horse that’s worthy of going up there. We’ll see how he comes out of it, and hopefully he’s fine. He looks good this morning. He’s in a good mind and he ate up last night, which is a good sign. Thank God for Shaun; when he was beat, he didn’t beat him up.”
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Saturday was a banner day for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who sent out It’s Tricky to upset the Grade 1 TVG Acorn and less than an hour later saddled Trappe Shot to an 8 ½-length victory in the Grade 2 True North, presented by Emirates Airline. Sunday morning was all afterglow.
“Everything is lovely,” McLaughlin said. “Everyone is well.”
It’s Tricky, who went 3-for-3 at Aqueduct to start her career, including an eight-length victory in the Busher Stakes on February 20, was then shipped to Florida where she finished a well-beaten fourth in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks on April 2. In the TVG Acorn, she was sent off at odds of 10-1, the second-longest price in a field headed by dual Grade 1 winner Turbulent Descent, who shipped in from California for the race.
“The thought process in the McLaughlin Stable was that she’s won three races and she has to run an ‘A’ race to be competitive in any race, so why not take a shot in a Grade 1?” McLaughlin reasoned. “Now, could we win? We thought probably not, but the rain sometimes becomes an equalizer, and whether the favorite doesn’t like it or we love it, at least it was in our favor yesterday.
“So, we were not overconfident, but the thought process was that it would be great to get a Grade 1 placing – and not only a placing but a Grade 1 winner!”
McLaughlin said that the 3-year-old Darley Stable trainee didn’t handle the heat in Florida and that he was happy to get her back to New York.
“Things just didn’t go great for her in Florida, so we brought her right back here where [my assistant] Artie and our team had done such a good job with her,” McLaughlin said. “We were hoping that she rebounded maybe for the Kentucky Oaks because we thought that much of her, but it just was a little too quick to do that.”
Looking ahead, McLaughlin is eyeing a pair of Grade 1 races at Saratoga for the daughter of Mineshaft – the 1 1/8-mile TVG Coaching Club American Oaks on July 23, perhaps followed by the 1 ¼-mile TVG Alabama on August 20.
“Distance, no problem,” McLaughlin said. “Mineshaft, the further the better, that’s what I think. Those are two possibilities, we always have to point for something, but we’ll see where she goes and what she does from here. She could go to Godolphin, but she is tricky, so we’ll see what the plan is. We’re happy to have her and to have won a Grade 1.”
McLaughlin was equally impressed by Trappe Shot’s dominant performance as the favorite in the True North.
“Trappe Shot was a ‘wow’ race,” McLaughlin said. “We had two ‘wows’ within an hour and those races were two of the best races of the year for us.
“He’s come back great and he’s now 2-for-2 sprinting. We decided to cut back in distance because of his form. We had big discussions last year about the King’s Bishop versus the Travers prior to the Travers. We decided as a team with the owners and Steve Young, the racing manager, that we would go to the Travers. We were all agreed, and obviously many people in the crowd agreed, because we went off the favorite. We probably could be tough going longer also, but it’s just worked out well this way.”
McLaughlin, who trains Trappe Shot for Mill House, said he hoped to use the Grade 1 Forego, seven furlongs at Saratoga Race Course on September 3, as a springboard to either the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile or Sprint on November 5 at Churchill Downs.
“Hopefully the Forego on September 3 to the Breeders’ Cup,” McLaughlin said. “The six-furlong race and the Breeders’ Cup Mile are on the same day and we might decide to go to the mile, but probably we’ll stay short. I just don’t know between now and September what we do. We have to look at it and we will talk with Steve and the owners and figure it out, but he is a top sprinter, for sure, top horse.”
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Owner and trainer Naipaul Chatterpaul was still celebrating his first Grade 1 victory this morning after his 7-year-old horse, 21-1 shot Mission Approved, led from start to finish in the Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap.
“It’s a great feeling. It’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever had. My crew and I are happy,” Chatterpaul said. “I wasn’t surprised that Mission Approved got the lead. I was surprised that the other horse [Straight Story] didn’t go with him. Mission Approved is good. He’s an awesome racehorse. We are so lucky to have him.”
One year ago, Chatterpaul claimed Mission Approved from Gary Contessa for $35,000. A month later, he sent the With Approval horse out to finish a game second to Gio Ponti at odds of 53-1 in the Grade 1 Man o’ War, after which he was sidelined for a year with a quarter-crack suffered in the race.
The 1 3/8-mile Man o’War will again be on Mission Approved’s schedule, said Chatterpaul.
“My plan is making sure he stays happy and he’s all right,” Chatterpaul said. “We’re looking to bring him back for the [July 9] Man o’ War. That’s where we started last year off the claim. The time helped him a lot. There is always concern in claiming horses. But that’s part of the game. You have to take your chances, and he’s one of the chances that I took and he’s come out to be a great claim.”
Wishful Tomcat, who was scratched from the Manhattan, will run here Thursday for a $75,000 claiming tag.
“Basically, he was supposed to be my ‘rabbit’ in the race,” Chatterpaul said. “When I looked at the entries, I realized I had two speed horses in the race. To me, it made no sense to use both. It would be like I was fueling my own fire. I knew at that point I was going to take out Wishful Tomcat because I knew Mission Approved could do it.”