Sunday, September 23, 2012


BELMONT PARK NOTES: September 23, 2012


ELMONT, N.Y. – Grade 1 Whitney Invitational Handicap winner Fort Larned turned in his final serious work this morning for Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million TVG Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational, covering five furlongs in 1:01.04 shortly after 6:30 a.m. over the main track.

Exercise rider Kate Merritt was aboard for the move, the fourth-fastest of 11 at the distance.


“He did exactly what we wanted him to do, and went very well,” said Peggy Dunleavy, assistant to trainer Ian Wilkes. “He was very professional, and did it the right way.”

The 4-year-old Fort Larned heads into the 1 ¼-mile TVG Jockey Club Gold Cup having put together impressive back-to-back victories in the August 4 Whitney, for which he earned a career-best 110 Beyer Speed Figure, and the Grade 3 Cornhusker on June 30, when he ran a 108 Beyer.

Maintaining that form, said Dunleavy, has been a primary focus.

“Keeping him happy is the key,” she said. “It’s an easy ship from Saratoga to here, and we’re keeping the same basic routine. He likes this track, to be quite honest. He’s a pretty easy horse to be around.”

Wilkes, who was at Belmont Saturday to saddle Island Bound in the Grade 2 Gallant Bloom Handicap, departed for Kentucky Sunday morning and will return on Thursday, said Dunleavy.

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Trainer Dale Romans, who has already has established a personal record for single-season North American earnings in 2012, will have multiple chances to take down additional lucrative prizes over the next two weeks at Belmont Park as he has Shackleford set for the Grade 2, $400,000 Kelso Handicap and Little Mike and Finnegans Wake confirmed for the Grade 1, $600,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational on September 29 and Dullahan primed for the Grade 1, $400,000 Jamaica Handicap on October 6.

Shackleford will be returning to the scene of his victory in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap, which was contested over the Kelso’s one-mile distance in May.

The 4-year-old breezed five furlongs in 1:00 4/5 on Sunday at Churchill Downs as he gears up for what will be his first race since an eighth-place finish in the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap on August 5 at Saratoga Race Course. He originally was pointed toward Saratoga’s Grade 1 Forego on September 1 but bypassed the race after developing a cough.

“It was as good of a work as he’s ever had, and we did the right thing by skipping the Forego,” said Romans, who trains the chestnut for Michael Lauffer, W.D. Cubbedge, and the Phillips Racing Partnership. “We’re looking for a big effort from him.”

The Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational will be the first start at 1 ½ miles for both 5-year-old Little Mike and 3-year-old Finnegans Wake, with the latter also set to take on older horses for the first time.

Owned by Priscilla Vaccarezza, Little Mike will attempt to carry his speed an additional quarter mile after leading the Grade 1, 1 ¼-mile Arlington Million from gate to wire on August 18. The gelding posted a 1:03 2/5 five-furlong breeze on Saturday at Churchill.

“[The distance is] a question mark,” said Romans. “It always is whenever you try something for the first time, but he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. Pace is the race. That’s the key with him.”

Both Finnegans Wake, second in the Grade 1 Secretariat on August 18 at Arlington Park, and Dullahan, winner of the Grade 1 Pacific Classic over older horses on August 26 at Del Mar, race for Donegal Racing and turned in Saturday breezes at Churchill Downs. Finnegans Wake went six furlongs in 1:15 4/5, with Dullahan going five furlongs in 1:02 1/5.

Romans considered running Dullahan in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic before opting to send Finnegans Wake to the race. Instead, Dullahan will compete in the Jamaica, a 1 1/8-mile turf race for 3-year-olds, one week later.

“It was less about timing [to the Breeders’ Cup in November] for Dullahan than it was about giving Finnegans Wake the chance to try a mile and a half,” said Romans of the decision. “I think [Finnegans Wake is] going to relish the distance.”

Dullahan, a three-time Grade 1 winner on synthetic surfaces, will be making his first start on grass in the Jamaica since finishing second in the Grade 3 Palm Beach in March.

“By sending Dullahan to the Jamaica, he still gets to try the turf while getting to stay against straight 3-year-olds,” said Romans

* * *

Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey expressed his pleasure with the way his Super Saturday-bound Point of Entry and Hymn Book worked this morning.

Point of Entry, winner of four straight, covered a half-mile in 50.03 on the inner turf in preparation for the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational, while Hymn Book, who opened his 6-year-old campaign with a victory in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap, zipped a half-mile in 46.91, fastest of 18 at the distance over the main track, for the TVG Jockey Club Gold Cup.

“I wanted to do something more with Hymn Book because he hasn’t raced in two months,” said McGaughey of the Stuart S. Janney color-bearer, most recently fourth in the Grade 1 Whitney on August 4 at Saratoga.

Point of Entry, who enters the 1 ½-mile Joe Hirsch off back-to-back Grade 1 wins in the Man o’ War and Sword Dancer Invitational, turned in a visually impressive breeze over a “good” turf course around the dogs, said McGaughey.

“I was especially happy with the way he finished up,” said McGaughey of the Dynaformer colt. “I’m very pleased with both of them.”

* * *

The Steve Asmussen barn, which sent out Dust and Diamonds to score in Saturday’s Grade 2 Gallant Bloom Handicap, will attempt to land another Belmont graded sprint stakes next week with Zayat Stables’ Justin Phillip in the Grade 1, $400,000 Vosburgh Invitational on September 29.

On Sunday, Justin Phillip breezed four furlongs at Belmont in 49.96 as he prepares for his first start since finishing second by a neck in the Grade 1 Vanderbilt on August 5. In addition, he was third, beaten 1 ¾ lengths, in the Mr. Prospector in July at Monmouth Park and runner-up by three-quarters of a length in the Grade 2 True North Handicap in June at Belmont.

“He’s been performing right there and has been getting beat right on the jump, not quite getting there,” said Toby Sheets, Asmussen’s Belmont-based assistant. “We just need luck to go our way a little bit. [Saturday] would be an awesome day for that.”

Sheets said there are no immediate plans for Padua Stables homebred Dust and Diamonds following her 1 ¼-length victory in the Gallant Bloom.

* * *

The Lumber Guy is set for the Vosburgh, which will be his first start in 4 ½ months and first foray against his elders.

After winning the Grade 2 Jerome in April at Aqueduct Racetrack, The Lumber Guy faded to sixth in Belmont’s Grade 2 Peter Pan in May, prompting trainer Michael Hushion and owner Barry Schwartz to freshen the 3-year-old.

The Lumber Guy, who worked five furlongs in 58.40, handily, on Thursday, will be cutting back from 1 1/8 miles to six furlongs in the Vosburgh.

“My opinion is that he fits [in the Vosburgh],” said Hushion. “I don’t know how it will set up, but I think he’ll be close to the pace. I don’t know if he’ll be the pace or not. He’s very sharp right now. We’ll see how fast and how far he can run. They’re nice horses, but I don’t know if the Breeders’ Cup winner is in [the Vosburgh].”

Hall of Famer John Velazquez will ride The Lumber Guy, Hushion added.

* * *

Racing fans can connect with NYRA on Facebook for the chance to win a fully signed 2012 Saratoga Jockey Autograph book! Four lucky winners will receive the handsome volume personally signed by 18 jockeys including Ramon Dominguez, Javier Castellano, John Velazquez, Julien Leparoux, and others, as well as former New York champion jockey Richard Migliore and Sam the Bugler. Another 10 fans will win a set of three Saratoga giveaways – a picnic mat, pilsner glass and fleece blanket. Fans can enter for free until midnight on Monday, September 24, at facebook.com/thenyra.


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