ELMONT, N.Y. – Trappe Shot and Calibrachoa put their winning streaks on the line when they square off in the Grade 2 $250,000 True North Handicap Presented by Emirates Airline on Saturday at Belmont Park.
The six-furlong True North for 3-year-olds and up is one of two graded sprint stakes on the Belmont Stakes undercard, joined by the Grade 2 $250,000 Woody Stephens Presented by VisitNassauCounty.com for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs. Both will be contested on Belmont’s main track.
His other local win came on last year’s Belmont undercard, beating older horses in a seven-furlong allowance by four lengths.
“He likes the track, and he even likes Belmont Day,” McLaughlin said. “We were pointing for this spot before his last race. We try to look ahead a little bit, and this was perfect timing.”
Trappe Shot’s most recent start was the first for the chestnut Tapit colt since finishing ninth of 11 as the favorite in the 1 ¼-mile Travers at Saratoga Race Course last August 28.
Prior to that, he won the Long Branch and was second in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational, both at Monmouth Park.
“We just stopped on him, to try to do the right thing by him,” McLaughlin said. “He didn’t have any surgery or anything. We were just trying to give him a chance. He ran plenty of times and ran hard, so we just stopped. It probably took a little bit longer to get him back than we wanted to, but it’s just the way it goes. He’s fine. He just needed some time to freshen up.”
The rest did him good, as Trappe Shot overcame a bobbled start to reel in front-running D’Funnybone and win by a half-length in the Waldoboro, his first time under jockey John Velazquez.
“We were hoping for a little easier place to get started. It wasn’t that easy a race, but he ran great,” McLaughlin said. “He’s always been kind of unlucky at the gate. He kind of stumbles and does break real clean, so we’re trying to work on that a little bit and hoping we can help that for Saturday. And Johnny knows him now, so hopefully that’ll help, too. He’s doing great. He’s ready to go. We’re looking forward to the race.”
Owned by Mike Repole and trained by Todd Pletcher, Calibrachoa has put together a four-race win streak since last fall, each victory coming at six furlongs. He captured the Grade 3 Tom Fool by 4 ½ lengths in a career-best effort over Aqueduct’s inner track on March 5, his most recent race.
Since then, he was entered for the Grade 1 Carter Handicap on April 9, but sore feet caused him to miss the race. A 4-year-old son of Southern Image, Calibrachoa also won the Grade 3 Toboggan in his only other start this year on January 22.
“We just had some foot issues that took us a little while to get straightened out,” Pletcher said, “Since then, he recovered and recovered well, and we’re pleased with the way he’s training coming up to it. It’s a tough race, but we’re optimistic that he’s going to show up and run well like he always does. He’s been a pretty reliable horse.”
Multiple graded stakes winner D’Funnybone looks to reverse the Waldoboro result, where he made a bid between horses at the quarter pole to take the lead, but was out finished down the lane. He is one of two True North horses owned by Paul Pompa, along with This Ones for Phil, winner of the 2010 Sunshine Millions Sprint who returned from 14-month layoff to take the $75,000 Decathlon at Monmouth Park last month.
Completing the field are Frazil, winner of three straight and four of six this year; Irrefutable, making his stakes debut; Rule by Night, third in the Waldoboro; stakes winner Wildcat Brief, second to This Ones for Phil in the Decathlon; and Khan of Khans, third in the $75,000 Changing Terms last time out.
Also on Saturday is the Woody Stephens, named for the late Hall of Fame trainer who won a record five consecutive Belmont Stakes from 1982-86 with Conquistador Cielo, Caveat, Swale, Crème Fraiche and Danzig Connection.
E. Paul Robsham Stables’ Travelin Man enters the race off an uncharacteristic sixth-place finish in the Grade 3 Derby Trial at Churchill Downs on April 30, the only time he has been off the board in four lifetime starts.
The one-mile Trial was the first time Travelin Man had raced beyond seven furlongs, but Pletcher didn’t feel as if distance played a major part in the result.
“I think it was the surface,” he said. “He just didn’t seem to like the surface there. He kind of spun his wheels, according to [rider] John Velazquez, and I don’t think it had anything to do with the mile distance. It probably didn’t matter what distance he was going that day; he didn’t seem to fire.”
A son of Trippi, Travelin Man didn’t make his race debut until January 11, breaking his maiden at first asking. A solid second in the Grade 2 Hutcheson, he won the Grade 2 Swale at Gulfstream Park on April 3, both at seven-eighths.
“We never got him until November of last year, so I don’t really know what was going on with him,” Pletcher said. “He’s been a very straightforward, sound horse for us. He’s always been very easy to train, and very professional. Seven furlongs is the perfect distance for him. We look forward for him to bounce back with a good race.”
Also coming out of the Derby Trial is third-place finisher J J’s Lucky Train, who has won both career starts at seven furlongs, including the Grade 3 Bay Shore at Aqueduct on April 9, where he beat fellow Woody Stephens contender Justin Philip.
Also entered are Arch Traveler, second in a seven-furlong allowance at Belmont on May 12; multiple stakes winner Little Drama; recent Churchill allowance winner Derivative; and lightly raced Bold Warrior, making just his third lifetime start.