(Fierceness / Photos by Holly M. Smith)

From the NYRA Media Team:

Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher holds a strong hand for the Grade 1, $2 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets with as many as four possible contenders topped by Fierceness and Antiquarian as well as the undefeated Mindframe, who were all on the work tab Friday morning.

Pletcher, who could also be represented in the Belmont Stakes by the talented maiden Protective, has previously won the ‘Test of the Champion’ with Rags to Riches [2007], Palace Malice [2013], Tapwrit [2017] and Mo Donegal [2022].

Repole Stable’s Kentucky homebred Fierceness returned to the work tab for the first time since an off-the-board finish in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby on May 4, covering a half-mile in company with Mindframe Friday over Saratoga Race Course’s Oklahoma dirt training track.

Champion 2-Year-Old Colt Fierceness is targeting a start in the Belmont Stakes on June 8 at Saratoga, while Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable’s Mindframe is possible for either the Belmont or a start at Monmouth Park in the 1 1/16-mile Listed $150,000 Pegasus on June 15, the local prep for the Grade 1, $1 million NYRA Bets Haskell traveling nine furlongs on July 20.

“We haven’t decided yet. The Belmont is in play, the Pegasus is in play,” Pletcher said regarding Mindframe. “We’ll just survey how the race is shaping up and talk to the ownership and see what they want to do.”

The pair were the first of Pletcher’s set to go out after the first renovation break at 7:30, and jogged up to mid-stretch before turning back to assume position for their work. The two remained together throughout with Fierceness on the outside as NYRA clockers caught them in splits of 13 2/5 seconds, 25 3/5 and 50 flat for the half-mile before galloping out in 1:02 2/5, 1:14 3/5 and 1:28 2/5 over the fast footing.

Pletcher said he liked what he saw from both Fierceness and Mindframe, the latter of which is undefeated through two starts.

“I thought it was a very good work from both horses. They seemed to be doing it well in hand coming to the wire,” said Pletcher. “We kind of let Mindframe do a little more in the gallop out than Fierceness – he had a work last week, and he’s more lightly raced. I was very pleased with both horses. It seemed like Fierceness was moving really well and did it easily.”

Fierceness, who notched Grade 1 wins in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Florida Derby, was the post-time favorite for the Kentucky Derby after his 13 1/2-length romp in the latter, but hopped at the start under Hall of Famer John Velazquez and failed to threaten when three-wide into the stretch, finishing well behind the victorious Mystik Dan.

“I think if you look at it, the one thing he did – which he has done in the three races he’s lost – is he kind of hopped a little bit at the start and didn’t get away as cleanly,” said Pletcher. “Johnny thought maybe the horse overreacted to him asking him to get into the race, and at that point he thought he got a little keen with him.”

Pletcher said he opted to give the City of Light bay an extra week of rest after the Derby considering he does not need to condition for additional ground in this year’s 10-furlong Belmont Stakes.

“I thought after the Derby, we shipped back here, and he was a little quiet for a few days,” said Pletcher. “It took him a little while to get back in the feed tub, and I started looking at it and said, ‘You know what, I think two works is good enough.’ He looks super fit and is coming off a mile and a quarter race. Maybe if it was at Belmont and a mile and a half, I might have breezed him last week, but I thought I could give him the extra week and not worry about it.”

Pletcher added he is pleased with Fierceness’ energy level as of late.

“His gallops have been good and a couple mornings ago, he put in a big buck in the middle of the turn,” said Pletcher. “He’s such a quiet horse, sometimes you’re not 100 percent sure where you are with him because he’s so laid back and cool all the time. He’s such an easy horse to train.”

Centennial Farms’ Antiquarian completed his first timed work since a stalk-and-pounce score to capture the Grade 3 Peter Pan by three-quarters of a length on May 11 at Belmont at the Big A. Piloted by Irad Ortiz, Jr. for the breeze, he worked in company with Candied, who had exercise rider Hector Ramos aboard as she prepares for the Grade 1, $500,000 DK Horse Acorn on June 7 at Saratoga Race Course.

NYRA clockers had the pair completing a half-mile in 48.65 seconds over the Belmont Park dirt training track.

“It was pretty even the whole way. I got them in 12 and 1, 24 and 3, 48 and 3, galloped out 1:01,” said Pletcher’s New York-based assistant Amelia Green. “It was a strong gallop out, 1:13 and 1. An eased down 1:26 and 4. Honestly, he did it very impressively on this track.

“I’d say the track is a little faster today than it has been all week, but the way he did it was the main thing, which was well within himself,” Green added.

Antiquarian, who is by the Centennial Farms-campaigned Preservationist, entered the Peter Pan from a sixth in the 1 3/16-mile Grade 2 Louisiana Derby after breaking through the gate on March 23 at Fair Grounds. Prior to that effort, the chestnut graduated at second asking going 1 1/16 miles there over next-out winner Cornishman.

“Obviously, he is a colt, and she is a filly,” said Green regarding the work partners. “So, it is hard to judge them against each other, but she did it nicely, too.”

Pletcher said he was pleased with the good report from Green.

“Amelia said he worked really well, strong gallop out,” said Pletcher. “She said Irad was raving about how well he went. I’m happy with that. The plan is to ship here tomorrow.”

Centennial Farms looks to add another Belmont Stakes to its historic resume that features Colonial Affair capturing the ‘Test of the Champion’ in 1993.

Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners’ Candied was on target for the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks on May 3, but did not draw in after being listed as an also-eligible. The daughter of Candy Ride, who has recovered from a bruised quarter, now set her sights on the Grade 1, $500,000 DK Horse Acorn.

“Candied has been doing well and that was a good work from her also,” said Pletcher. “We were disappointed we didn’t draw into the Oaks, but we’ll regroup and try this.”

Candied graduated on debut in August at Saratoga and followed with a score in the Grade 1 Darley Alcibiades in October at Keeneland before completing her juvenile campaign with a rallying third-place finish in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies in November at Santa Anita.

She made her seasonal debut last out on April 5 at Keeneland with a fourth-place finish in the 1 1/16-mile Grade 1 Ashland after exiting the inside post in a field of eight.

“It was a little bit of a layoff and the inside post – I thought she ran well considering everything,” Pletcher said. “I think she should appreciate the added distance.”

Repole Stable’s maiden Protective has made his last two starts in graded events traveling nine furlongs at the Big A, finishing third in both the Grade 2 Wood Memorial presented by Resorts World Casino on April 6 and the Grade 3 Peter Pan on May 11.

The Medaglia d’Oro colt, a $250,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase, endured a troubled trip in the Wood Memorial when bumped at the break and taken up. He was full of run down the lane when Deposition fell to his outside while trying to split rivals to the inside of Uncle Heavy. Despite the troubled trip, Protective finished strong to earn show honors 3 3/4-lengths back of the victorious Resilience.

Last out, a more prominent Protective tracked from fourth position and stayed on strong to complete the trifecta two lengths back of his victorious stablemate Antiquarian, who was a three-quarter length winner over The Wine Steward.

NYRA will waive the entry and starting fees to the Belmont Stakes, excluding the supplemental fee, for the first three finishers of the Peter Pan.

Protective, out of the Grade 1-winning Empire Maker mare Grace Hall, had his first work back Wednesday, covering a half-mile in 48.68 over the Belmont dirt training track.

“He breezed very well and he’s doing well,” Pletcher said. “We’re not committed to the Belmont, but we’re not ruling it out either. We will assess how he’s doing and how the field is shaping up and make a decision on entry day.”

Pletcher will have a number of possible starters at the four-day 2024 Belmont Stakes Racing Festival, which will be held at Saratoga Race Course from Thursday, June 6 through Sunday, June 9.

Highlighted by the 156th edition of the Grade 1, $2 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on Saturday, June 8, the four-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival will include 24 stakes races with purses totaling $10.25 million, the highest purse levels and number of stakes offered since the launch of the multi-day Festival in 2014.

Whisper Hill Farm’s Kentucky homebred Charge It, a 5-year-old Tapit horse, will be nominated to a pair of races on Belmont Stakes Day, including the 10-furlong Grade 2, $350,000 Suburban and the Grade 1, $ 1 million Hill ‘N’ Dale Metropolitan Handicap, which offers a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” berth to the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in November at Del Mar.

“We’ll see how things shape up, but we’re probably leaning towards the Suburban with Charge It,” Pletcher said.

Last year, Charge It ran fourth in the Grade 1 Met Mile one month ahead of a prominent 4 3/4-length score in the Grade 2 Suburban on July 8 when both races were held at Belmont Park.

Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable’s Crupi is also pointing to the Suburban. He won a pair of Listed nine-furlong stakes this winter at Aqueduct, taking the Discovery in November and Queens County against elders on New Year’s Eve. He was a closing third in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational in January and was last seen finishing 10th in the Group 1 Dubai World Cup on March 30 at Meydan Racecourse.

Joseph Allen and CHC Inc.’s multiple graded stakes-placed Talk of the Nation will point to the Grade 3, $350,000 Poker, a one-mile turf test for older horses on Belmont Stakes Day June 8.

The 4-year-old Quality Road colt made his first eight starts for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, winning the Columbia at Tampa Bay Downs and Gun Runner at Kentucky Downs last year along with runner-up efforts in the Grade 3 Manila at Belmont and the Grade 3 Bryan Station at Keeneland.

He made his seasonal debut last out for Pletcher, setting the pace in the one-mile Listed Opening Verse on May 2 at Churchill Downs where he was nailed at the wire by Carl Spackler, who prevailed by a head.

“I thought he ran great at Churchill. It was a tough beat, but he ran really well,” Pletcher said. “Hopefully, second time off the layoff he makes a move forward.”

Among other possible Belmont Stakes Racing Festival starters for Pletcher are Repole Stable’s graded stakes-winner Surprisingly, who will target the Grade 1, $750,000 New York presented by Rivers Casino, a 1 3/16-mile turf test for older fillies and mares on June 7; and KimDon Racing’s graded stakes-placed Tizzy in the Sky, last-out winner of the Big A’s Listed Top Flight Invitational, who will try the Grade 1, $500,000 Ogden Phipps presented by Ford, a nine-furlong test for older fillies and mares offering a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” berth to the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

Pletcher said Spendthrift Farm’s dual graded stakes-winner Kingsbarns, runner-up in last weekend’s Grade 3 Pimlico Special, will point to the Grade 1, $1 million Stephen Foster on June 29 at Churchill, which offers a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” berth to the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic in November at Del Mar.

Kingsbarns could be joined in the Stephen Foster by Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable’s Grade 1-placed Dreamlike, who is pointing to the Grade 3, $275,000 Blame, a nine-furlong test for older horses on June 1 at Churchill.

“Dreamlike is scheduled to go to the Blame at Churchill which will hopefully be a prep for the Stephen Foster,” Pletcher said. “Kingsbarns will probably wait for the Stephen Foster.”

Pletcher also noted that Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable’s Bright Future, last year’s Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup-winner, could target the Grade 3 Salvator Mile on June 15 at Monmouth Park for his seasonal debut.

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G3 Chick Lang-winner Frost Free set for G1 Woody Stephens

Keene Thoroughbreds’ Frost Free, winner of last Friday’s Grade 3 Chick Lang at Pimlico Race Course, is slated to make his next start in the Grade 1, $500,0000 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun on Belmont Stakes Day June 8 at Saratoga Race Course.

The Chick Lang marked the graded stakes debut for both Frost Free and trainer Brett Creighton, who launched his career in 1989.

“At the time, I didn’t really think about it but it’s an accomplishment,” Creighton said. “I’m proud of it. I really am.”

Frost Free made every pole a winning one in the six-furlong Chick Lang, exiting post 6-of-8 under jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. and powering home a 1 1/2-length winner over the muddy and sealed going.

“That’s kind of his running style and I’m not going to try and change that,” Creighton said. “He’s improved every race. He’s more mature and grew up. This race did a whole lot for him, and I’m really pleased. He came back healthy and he’s sitting on go.”

The $100,000 Texas Thoroughbred Association 2-Year-Old in Training Sale purchase made his first start last June for trainer Danny Pish at Lone Star Park, pouncing to a 1 1/4-length win in a five-furlong maiden special weight over sloppy going. He was transferred to Creighton and was off-the-board in the Advent and Renaissance in December at Oaklawn Park to complete his 2-year-old campaign.

Frost Free has a perfect in-the-money record this year of 5-2-1-2, including an optional-claiming win going six-furlongs on March 1 along with a third-place finish in the one-mile Hot Springs three weeks later ahead of a runner-up effort to Valentine Candy on April 27 in the six-furlong Bachelor.

Creighton said the Hot Springs effort gives him confidence the talented grey can stretch his sprint skills out to seven-eighths.

“I took the blinkers off him and ran him a mile there at Oaklawn and he didn’t run a bad race first time around two turns,” Creighton said. “I think he’ll handle the seven furlongs.”

Frost Free is out of the winning Union Rags mare D J’s Favorite, who is out of the stakes-winning Indian Charlie mare I’m Mom’s Favorite.

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Dornoch breezes for G1 Belmont Stakes

West Paces Racing, R. A. Hill Stable, Belmar Racing and Breeding, Two Eight Racing and Pine Racing Stables’ dual graded stakes-winner Dornoch had his first work back since the Kentucky Derby on May 4, covering a half-mile in 48.48 seconds Friday over Saratoga Race Course’s Oklahoma training track. The son of Good Magic is targeting the Grade 1, $2 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on June 8 at the Spa.

Trained by Danny Gargan, Dornoch went in company with multiple stakes-winning New York-bred Ramblin’ Wreck, keeping on even terms with his workmate through to mid-stretch before drawing off easily and reaching the wire well in front. He continued to distance himself even further in the gallop out.

“It was good. I told them to go 49 and they went 48 and change,” said Gargan. “Three weeks after the Derby, I only want to work him twice. He did it pretty handily.”

Dornoch won the Grade 2 Remsen at Aqueduct Racetrack and Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park en route to a fourth-place effort in the Grade 1 Blue Grass at Keeneland and 10th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby where he drew the rail and was shuffled back at the half-mile call. He checked again at the quarter pole before running evenly down the lane to finish well back of the victorious Mystik Dan.

“He ran good in the Derby for the trip he had and he still fought,” said Gargan. “He wanted to run, he just couldn’t.”

Dornoch was a $325,000 purchase at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale and is out of the graded stakes-placed Big Brown mare Puca, making him a full-brother to 2023 Kentucky Derby-winner Mage.

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Star Fortress en route for G1 New York

John D. Gunther and Eurowest Bloodstock Services’ graded stakes-winner Star Fortress is pointing to a start in the Grade 1, $750,000 New York presented by Rivers Casino, a 1 3/16-mile turf test for older fillies and mares on June 7 at Saratoga Race Course.

Trained by Cherie DeVaux, the 5-year-old Sea The Stars mare made her first seven starts in Europe for conditioner Ralph Beckett before making a memorable stateside debut for current connections when a 10-length winner of the nine-furlong Grade 3 Cardinal in November over good going at Churchill Downs.

Star Fortress has made four starts this year, beginning with a troubled off-the board effort in the Grade 2 Pegasus World Cup Filly and Mare Turf Invitational in January at Gulfstream Park. She was most recently a close second in the 11-furlong Grade 3 Sheepshead Bay here, rallying from last-of-5 to miss by a head to the pacesetting winner Royalty Interest.

DeVaux said the moderate splits of 52.08 and 1:18.20 didn’t help her mare.

“It wasn’t ideal, but she came with a really nice kick to just miss,” DeVaux said. “She seems to relish the distance. Even though this is a step back, the farther the better for her.”

Twisted Chaps Racing Stables’ stakes-winner Medalla Match could make her next start in the Grade 2, $200,000 Intercontinental presented by MTV Solutions, a 5 1/2-furlong turf sprint for older fillies and mares on June 7 at Saratoga.

The 6-year-old Summer Front mare spent her first 21 career starts with trainer Michael Biehler, taking the Ricks Memorial in September at Remington Park. She debuted last out on May 3 for DeVaux in the Grade 3 Unbridled Sydney traveling 5 1/2-furlongs over yielding Churchill turf to finish a good fourth, one length back of the victorious Ova Charged.

“She came with a nice run. It would be more ideal if this race was six furlongs, but we have to run in the races that are there,” DeVaux said.

DeVaux said she will wait to see how the mare breezes this week before her status is confirmed.

DeVaux said that West Point Thoroughbred Racing and David Ingordo’s stakes-winner Northern Invader will point to the 1 1/16-mile Grade 3, $275,000 Arlington after his impressive pacesetting allowance win on April 19 at Keeneland.

The now 4-year-old Ontario-bred son of Collected won the Gio Ponti in October here ahead of runner-up efforts to Gigante in the off-the-turf Commonwealth Turf in November at Churchill and the Woodchopper in December at Fair Grounds.

“He ran well,” DeVaux said of the Keeneland effort. “It was his second time facing older and we just wanted to make sure before we put him back in stakes company that he was going to be able to handle that.”