The leading East Coast prep for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Santa Anita on October 25, the Vosburgh (race 8, 4:46 p.m.) is part of a five-race Grade 1 extravaganza at Belmont, the centerpiece of which is the Grade 1, $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational, in which Curlin will attempt to become the first American horse to break the $10 million barrier. Also on Saturday are the $600,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational, the $600,000 Flower Bowl for fillies and mares on the turf and the $600,000 Beldame, also for fillies and mares.
The connections of J Be K feel he’s up to the challenge.
“He’s a nice horse with a good disposition and he’s one of the best 3-year-old sprinters in the country right now,” said assistant trainer Scott Blasi, who has been overseeing J Be K’s training. “Looking back, when he finished eighth in the Louisiana Derby, a mile and a sixteenth was longer than he wanted to go. He’s most effective at three-quarters of a mile to a mile, and he’s proven that.”
Brilliantly fast, the son of Silver Deputy flaunted his speed in his very first start for his former trainer, Bob Baffert, when he set the track record for 5 ½ furlongs at Saratoga Race Course last August.
Transferred to Steve Asmussen’s barn over the winter, J Be K returned to New York in the spring, running off to a five-length victory in the Grade 3 Bay Shore Stakes, and then was a solid second to Harlem Rocker in the Grade 3 Withers. Six weeks later, he added a 5 ½-length victory in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens, covering the seven furlongs in 1:21.85, and followed that up with a four-length score in the Grade 3 Jersey Shore Stakes at Monmouth Park, earning Beyer speed figures in excess of 106 for each.
It was only logical J Be K would be favored in the Grade 1 King’s Bishop at Saratoga, but, after being caught three-wide through a half in 44.73, he couldn’t hold off a late charge led by Visionaire, finishing sixth. As perplexing as the performance was, the way he came out of the race was anything but a puzzlement.
“He had been training fine going into the King’s Bishop, but not as well as he’s been training since then,” said Blasi. “He bounced out of the race in great shape. There has been more snap and more energy in his works, which have been really, really good.”
Over the Oklahoma training track at Saratoga, J Be K covered a half in :50 2/5 on September 1, five furlongs in 1:03 1/5 the following Monday, and the same distance in 2:01 3/5, handily, on September 15 in preparation for the Vosburgh. Monday, in his final move for the Vosburgh, J Be K went a half in 49.88.
Also being pointed toward the race are Shadwell Stables’ 4-year-old Lucky Island (ARG), who like J Be K suffered a disappointment at the Spa when he finished sixth as the favorite in the Grade 1 Forego Handicap; last year’s Vosburgh winner, Fabulous Strike, now a 5-year-old making only his second start of the year; Black Seventeen and Rockerfeller, both 4-year-olds, and 3-year-old Kodiak Kowboy, who was fifth in the King’s Bishop.
“The Forego was a disappointment,” said Artie Magnusson, assistant trainer to Kiaran McLaughlin, of Lucky Island. “He lost all chance at the start. He was caught flat-footed, which was okay, but then a few steps out there was checking. First Defence ran a great race, and I thought we might have a chance to get second, but it didn’t happen. He’s been training very well since then and we expect a good performance.”
The field for Saturday’s 69th running of the Grade 1 Vosburgh:
PP. HORSE TRAINER JOCKEY WGT.
1. Fabulous Strike Todd Beattie Ramon Dominguez 124
2. J Be K Steve Asmussen Robby Albarado 122
3. Lucky Island (ARG) Kiaran McLaughlin Alan Garcia 124
4. First Defence Bobby Frankel Channing Hill 124
5. Kodiak Kowboy Todd Pletcher Gabe Saez 122
6. Rockerfeller Martin Wolfson Eddie Castro 124
7. Black Seventeen Brian Koriner Calvin Potts 124