After quartet of Belmont thirds, Romans hoping J Boys Echo is ‘right one’
American Anthem continues to work forwardly for G2 Woody Stephens
Casse: Classic Empire’s winter woes might be blessing now
Senior Investment ready to ‘fire away,’ set to breeze Tuesday
Belmont-bound Multiplier taking it easy ahead of flight
Florida Fabulous, Cajun Delta Dawn settle in for weekend stakes engagements
Benner Island arrives in Big Apple tomorrow ahead of G1 Acorn
Hollywood Handsome pretties up Belmont field
Albaugh Family Stables’ J Boys Echo will be the ninth Belmont Stakes runner trained by Dale Romans, who has an unusual statistic in the Triple Crown finale. Four of his prior eight starters finished third, his best finish to date. Romans’ first two Belmont horses were third: the maiden Nolan’s Cat in 2005 and First Dude in 2010, followed by Medal Count in 2014 and Keen Ice, who later handed 2015 Triple Crown American Pharoah his only defeat that year in Saratoga’s Travers Stakes.
Romans has had some awfully good horses finish off the board in the Belmont, including 2011 Preakness winner Shackleford and multiple Grade 1 winners Dullahan (2012) and Brody’s Cause (2016).
“It’s not Woody Stephens’ record, but it’s an odd record,” Romans said, in reference to his lifelong idol, the late Hall of Fame trainer, who won five Belmonts in a row from 1982-86. “I sure would love to move up a notch or two. I think you just have to have a little more horse, and hopefully we’re taking the right one up there.”
J Boys Echo jogged a mile Monday morning at Churchill Downs after a day off following Saturday’s five-furlong workout in a minute. He will fly to New York early Tuesday.
“It’s going to be a big field of horses, a lot of good horses,” Romans said of the Belmont. “You might not have the two marquee names out there right now [Derby winner Always Dreaming and Preakness victor Cloud Computing], but you might have some horses who will be marquee names by the fall. I think a lot of people would like to say they were there when that horse had its breakthrough race, so people should show up. A star could be born. Maybe it’s J Boy.
“It’s a hard race to predict,” he added. “Unless there’s a stone-cold standout, it’s such an outlier for what horses have done or will do again. It’s definitely a great race, and hard to win. Hard to have the right kind of horse.”
China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners and SF Racing’s Grade 3 winner American Anthem had another sharp work Monday morning at Santa Anita in preparation for Saturday’s Grade 2, $500,000 Woody Stephens at Belmont.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert watched the 3-year-old son of Bodemeister go a half-mile over the main track in 47 seconds, handily, ranking third of 53 horses at the distance. It was his third work following a 1 ¾-length triumph in the Grade 3 Laz Barrera May 13.
The Laz Barrera, run at the Woody Stephens’ seven-furlong distance, was the first start for American Anthem since being taken off the Triple Crown trail following an off the board finish in the Grade 2 Rebel and Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby. He was second by a head in the one-mile, Grade 2 Sham January 7 to open the year.
“He worked good today and he’s doing really well. That was a huge effort last time coming off of those other races. If he can run that race back he’s going to be very competitive,” Baffert said by telephone. “Eventually I want to stretch him out. I thought about the Easy Goer because of the mile and a sixteenth, but the Woody Stephens is a big race so we’ll take a shot there.”
Also working Monday at Santa Anita for Baffert was West Coast, who went a half-mile in a bullet 46.20 seconds, handily, for Saturday’s $150,000 Easy Goer. The bay Flatter colt has run first or second in each of his four starts, getting beat a head by Senior Investment in the Grade 3 Lexington April 15 but returning to defeat older horses in a 1 1/16-mile second-level allowance May 20.
Senior Investment went on to run third in the Preakness and is returning in Saturday’s Belmont, a race Baffert said he was initially considering for West Coast.
“He got a little unlucky in the Lexington. The track was really deep that day and he came up and made that early run and he was just lost out there by himself, and he got caught,” he said. “The other day I ran him in an allowance against older horses. I was going to run him in the Belmont if he ran really well, but that day he just didn’t really ‘wow’ me. He was in a bad spot the whole way around there and we had to use him and he didn’t finish like we wanted him to. But, he came back and he’s worked well and I think he should be real competitive.”
Baffert’s horses, including Grade 1 winners Mor Spirit for the Grade 1, $1.2 million Mohegan Sun Metropolitan and Abel Tasman for the Grade 1, $700,000 Acorn, are scheduled to arrive in New York Wednesday. Baffert said he would be at Belmont for training Friday.
Classic Empire, the expected favorite for the 149th Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets, had another aggressive 1 1/2-mile gallop at pre-dawn Monday under exercise rider Martin Rivera at Churchill Downs.
“He looked really good, so we leave first thing in the morning,” said Norman Casse, who runs the Churchill operation for his dad, trainer Mark Casse. “It’s basically what you want to see a horse doing when they come into a race like this. You don’t want them to be lethargic. You want them to show energy, show you’re holding them together, trying to slow them down. And that’s the way he looked.”
Mark Casse said the well-documented issues that last year’s 2-year-old champion had over the winter – foot bruise, back soreness, not wanting to work – now could play in their favor. The setbacks that followed in the wake of a third-place finish in Gulfstream Park’s Grade 2 Holy Bull forced Classic Empire’s camp to back off, skip Gulfstream’s Grade 2 Fountain of Youth and wait until the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby on April 15, which he won.
Now, in spite of an eventful Triple Crown that saw him finish fourth in the Kentucky Derby after a brutal trip and then lose the Preakness by a head, Classic Empire is a relatively fresh horse heading into the 1 1/2-mile Belmont.
“If he had run more early winter, maybe he wouldn’t be as good as he is right now,” Casse said. “Sometimes the road to where you want to go is not always the easiest road. But if you end up liking where you’re at … and that’s where we are right now.”
Trainer Kenny McPeek was on hand Monday morning at Belmont Park as Fern Circle Stable’s Grade 3 Lexington winner Senior Investment got back to the track following a routine walk day on Sunday.
Senior Investment, who hit the board with a third-place finish at 31-1 in the Preakness, is scheduled to turn in his final breeze for the Belmont Stakes Tuesday morning, said McPeek, who saddled Sarava to a 70-1 upset of the 2002 Belmont Stakes.
“He looks good, he had a nice gallop this morning,” he said. “I’m probably going to work him just an easy half tomorrow. It’s a similar routine that worked for us with Sarava.”
Senior Investment, a chestnut colt by Discreetly Mine, will be McPeek’s sixth Belmont starter, and the first for Fern Circle Stable and jockey Channing Hill.
“Anytime you can position yourself to where you’ve got a chance in one of these big races, it’s exciting,” McPeek said. “It’s not easy, but he’s a good horse and he’s improving. I think he’ll handle the distance really, really well. We’re going to fire away.
“On the gallop-out in the Preakness, he made up even more [ground on the leaders] and that’s kind of his style,” he added. “The hard part in this race will be how the pace unfolds and whether it works for him or against him, but he’s a horse that will keep going and going, and hopefully he can outgallop them.”
Grade 3 Illinois Derby winner Multiplier had an easy morning Monday, jogging once around the main track at Churchill Downs ahead of his next engagement in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes.
Multiplier has been at Churchill since Sunday after putting in a half-mile breeze in 48.60 seconds Saturday at Keeneland for trainer Brendan Walsh. The gray or roan son of The Factor is scheduled to be on a flight early Tuesday morning headed for New York.
“I sent him to Churchill because they’re going out of Louisville tomorrow and I didn’t want to add another two-hour trip on a van to the flight and everything as it was,” Walsh said. “It was just easier to have him at Churchill, and he’s so adaptable anyway.”
Joining Multiplier on the Tex Sutton flight from Louisville to Long Island’s MacArthur Airport in Islip will be fellow Belmont contenders Classic Empire, the expected favorite, and J Boys Echo. Assistant trainer Tom Molloy will look after Multiplier at Belmont until Walsh arrives for training Friday.
“He should be there around lunchtime tomorrow,” Walsh said. “He’ll just gallop away there for the first few mornings. We’ll probably bring him out there Wednesday morning and back him up to the mile pole and just gallop him around nearly a full circle.”
Multiplier was purchased privately by the partnership of Gary Barber, Adam Wachtel and George Kerr prior to the May 20 Preakness, where he gained ground late to be sixth, beaten less than six lengths. Joel Rosario, aboard in the Preakness, gets a return call in the Belmont.
“He’s doing great. I’m delighted with him,” Walsh said. “He worked great on Saturday and he’s in really good shape, as good a shape as he can be in, so we’re really looking forward to it.”
Five Racing Thoroughbreds’ Florida Fabulous and her David Fawkes-trained stablemate, Curtis Mikkelsen’s multiple stakes winner Cajun Delta Dawn, arrived at Belmont Park shortly before 10 Monday morning following a van ride from South Florida to finalize preparations for weekend stakes.
Florida Fabulous, a 3-year-old High Cotton filly, will make her next start in the Grade 1 Acorn at one mile on the undercard of Saturday’s 149th Belmont Stakes. Cajun Delta Dawn will run the following day in the $150,000 Jersey Girl for sophomore fillies at seven furlongs.
Fawkes, who normally vans his horses to their out-of-town engagements, sent the fillies ahead of his arrival on Thursday. They will be under the watchful eye of assistant trainer Natalie Fawkes, his daughter, in the barn of trainer Robert Falcone.
“They’re going to stay and I didn’t want to drive with an empty load on the way back, so I sent them up,” Gulfstream Park-based Fawkes said. “They both had good works going into it, and everything is in good order.”
Florida Fabulous and Cajun Delta Dawn are both exiting off-the-board finishes in the Grade 2 Eight Belles May 5 at Churchill Downs, where they ran 10th and eighth, respectively. The seven-furlong Eight Belles marked the stakes debut for Florida Fabulous, an impressive winner of her first two starts at Gulfstream by 14 ½ combined lengths.
“She came back and had a great work, she’s training super, getting to the bottom of her feed tub and doing everything right,” Fawkes said. “[In the Eight Belles] she just got pinched back in the beginning and a bunch of mud in her face, and a lot of horses weren’t handling that track. Even Paco said warming up that she wasn’t handling it. It wasn’t her at all.”
“It’s a huge step forward but I think she’s worth the challenge,” added Fawkes, who said jockey Paco Lopez will retain the mount in the Acorn.
For Cajun Delta Dawn, a three-time stakes winner at 2 including two legs of the Florida Sire Series, the Eight Belles was her first start since a second in the Grade 3 Delta Downs Princess in mid-November. In the Jersey Girl, Luis Saez will replace Juan Leyva in the irons.
“She had a really nice work before she left, 47 and change, galloped out great and came out of it great, so I expect her to run good,” Fawkes said. “She probably just needed the race. She got a little wide and Juan didn’t want to abuse her. He didn’t have a ton of horse there first race back. He just took care of her.”
Benner Island will ship to New York on Tuesday ahead of the Grade 1 Acorn for 3-year-old fillies on Belmont Stakes Day, trainer Brad Cox said by phone Monday morning.
Benner Island, owned by Shortleaf Stable, has been training at Churchill Downs, where she breezed four furlongs in 48.60 seconds on Saturday. The graded-stakes winner is 3-2-0 in eight career starts and will be entering an expected field of talented fillies, including Abel Tasman, Sweet Loretta and Salty.
“She breezed really well on Saturday morning at Churchill and came out of it in good order,” Cox said. “She will be on the plane to New York tomorrow and we’re excited for the race.”
Benner Island won the Grade 2 Eight Belles by a head over Acorn possibility Union Strike last out on May 5. Under jockey Javier Castellano, Benner Island recorded a personal best 89 Beyer Speed Figure. Castellano is slated to ride Sweet Loretta in the Acorn, so Cox said Jose Ortiz will have the call.
Sassy Little Lila, the runner-up in the Grade 1 American Oaks on December 31 at Santa Anita, is entered in the Grade 2, $500,000 New York on Friday and will also be entered in the Grade 1, $700,000 Longines Just a Game tomorrow, Cox said.
“We’ll do our homework on the races and see what we think is best,” Cox said.
Owned by Sheep Pond Partners and Michael Ryan, Sassy Little Lila ended her 3-year-old campaign finishing just a nose behind Decked Out in the American Oaks. She won her 4-year-old debut on May 20 at Churchill with a 2 ½-length score against allowance company.
“We had her set to run back in April and had a very mild setback,” Cox said. “She made a good showing off the layoff and it didn’t take too much out of her. She’s trained well since. It’ll obviously be a big step up but we think she’s a quality filly and she’s ready.”
Green Mask is also expected to arrive tomorrow ahead of the Grade 3, $300,000 Jaipur on Belmont Stakes Day. The 6-year-old bay gelding won the Grade 3 Twin Spires Turf Sprint on May 5, following a second-place finish in the Grade 2 Shakertown the previous month at Keeneland.
Green Mask was seventh in the 2016 Jaipur but has won twice on the Belmont turf.
“He put in a great breeze and is coming into the race really well,” said Cox. “He had a good run in the Japiur last year and got boxed in and shut off on the inside and didn’t have a place to go. I don’t know if it would have been the difference between winning and losing but he probably would have had a better placing that day at Belmont. But he likes the Belmont turf course. He likes it up there and if he gets a good trip, we think he’s set up for a big effort.”
Castellano will be in the irons, Cox added.
Michael Hernon shows up frequently at racetracks to watch horses bred, sold or sired by stallions of Lexington’s Gainesway Farm, where he is director of sales. But Monday morning at Churchill Downs, Hernon was on hand to watch a horse produced from his own very small broodmare band: Hollywood Handsome. The relatively late addition to the Belmont Stakes also is from the first crop of the Gainesway stallion Tapizar, winner of the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
“Hopefully this colt will relish the distance,” said Hernon, who owns four mares. “None of them have run a mile and a half, so we don’t know yet. Certainly [trainer] Dallas Stewart thinks his strong suit is going long. It’s a big step up in class for him, but this horse has a great disposition and demeanor about him. He’s very calm, cool. I think he’s improving. He looks well. His weight is good, he’s relaxed. Who knows? You’ve got to take a shot. They all have to get the mile and a half. It is a big purse, very significant race on the calendar. If you’re not in you can’t win.”
Hollywood Handsome comes in off an allowance victory, which followed a fifth in the Grade 3 Illinois Derby April 22 and a very encouraging fourth in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby April 1.
Hernon was looking for mares in foal to Tapizar (a son of Gainesway’s mega-star stallion Tapit and out of an extraordinary female family) when he bought Lady Flickerflacker for $65,000 while she was carrying Hollywood Handsome. He sold the resulting colt as a yearling for $200,000 at Fasig-Tipton Kentucky’s October sale to Lexington businessman Mark Stanley.
“It would be huge to get a classic winner in the first crop of any stallion,” Hernon said. “But this horse is going to go off at 40-1. We just hope he gets a clean trip and a good chance in the race, and we’ll find out what he’s got.”
Gainesway has another connection to the Belmont field this year, with Tapwrit being a son of Tapit, already the sire of Belmont winners Tonalist in 2014 and Creator last year.
Stewart also has Tom’s Ready for the Grade 1 Met Mile on the Belmont undercard.
“I think they are right on,” he said. “Their energy is good. We want to keep them eating well, keep them hydrated and get them over there to run. Nothing special.”
Hollywood Handsome and Tom’s Ready are to fly to New York Tuesday.