by John Mucciolo
Although the stakes action has slowed considerably at Belmont
Park with much of racing’s focus on the upcoming Breeders’ Cup,
we still had time for a trio of exciting stakes events last week.
A field of eight went postward on Saturday in the $110,100
Lawrence Realization S. (G3) for three-year-olds on the lawn.
Racing over a yielding course and traveling 1 1/2 miles, this
would be a true test of stamina.
Denise and Thomas Walsh’s homebred GUNNING FOR (Dove Hunt)
took advantage of a swift pace by circling his competition four-wide
and drove home to a half-length win for trainer Timothy Walsh and
jockey Joe Bravo. The gelding, who was running for a tag four
races prior, finished up 12 furlongs in 2:29 4/5 in earning his
first stakes tally. Much credit should also go out to Bravo, who
patiently waited and made his move at precisely the right time.
Rousing Victory (Victory Gallop), the 7-5 choice in here, did
not endure the most comfortable of trips yet ran on well in the
stretch to threaten the winner late. Second Performance (Theatrical
[Ire]), who disputed the quick splits early on, did well to
retain show honors.
Sunday’s stakes action was headlined by six juvenile fillies
going 6 1/2 panels in the $108,000 Astarita S. (G3). TOLL TAKER (Bernstein)
was exiting a pair of wins at Monmouth Park, her last by 10
lengths, but was slightly ignored at the windows and was sent off
a healthy 6-1 for conditioner Timothy Hills.
Turning for home, Eibar Coa urged his mount three wide and
from there it was just a matter of how much the bay would win by.
Toll Taker was 3 1/4 lengths clear at the wire and completed her
first graded score in 1:18.
Im a Dixie Girl (Dixie Union), the 8-5 betting choice, put in
a good effort but could muster only the place, while 2-1 second
choice Summer Raven (Summer Squall) got third.
In the race immediately preceeding that one, five colts
traveled the same distance in the $78,988 Cowdin S. FLAMENCO (Dance
Master), third in the Hopeful S. (G1), didn’t disappoint those
who backed him at 1-2 when taking this one for Todd Pletcher and
Always prominent, the winner made his move as they entered the
turn for home and cruised from there, stopping the teletimer in 1:17
1/5 over the fast surface. Recent maiden winner Better Than Bonds
(Sweetsouthernsaint) closed very well from off the pace to earn
his initial graded placing. Upscaled (Sir Cat) had trouble at the
start but finished quite respectably to grab the show spot.
John Velazquez continues to dominate the jockeys’ standings in
New York and his lead has grown considerably as of late. The star
rider has compiled 50 wins, with his nearest rival, Cornelio
Velasquez, having bagged 30. Trailing the top pair are Javier
Castellano (29), the oft-traveling Edgar Prado (26) and Richard
Pletcher has parlayed a pair of good weeks with a healthy dose
of runners to take over sole possession on the trainers’ front.
With 20 winners saddled to date, his lead over Richard Dutrow and
Bruce Levine has grown to six, with each of his nearest
challengers sending out 14 winners. Levine is hitting at a 37
percent win clip, with Dutrow (33 percent) and Pletcher (27
percent) doing well in that department as well. Bobby Frankel
leads all conditioners with $1,559,265 in purses earned.
A total of 37 races were contested over the past four days of
racing, with 16 winners being favored (43 percent). This number
is not unusual, but likely is getting annoying to the longshot
player. Combined with six second-choices crossing the line first,
the top two in the wagering won nearly 60 percent of all races.
The turf appears to be the place find a price in the winner’s
circle, with just two favorites winning nine grassy races (22
percent). In addition to that, the winners returned $2 win
mututels of $38.80, $34, $24.60, $22.20, $19.80, $13.60, $6.60, $5.60
and $3.50 — an average of nearly $19 for each $2 win bet.
TRAINER TO WATCH
Shug McGaughey has been sizzling as of late and should merit
attention each time he sends out a runner. The conditioner has
hit with 35 percent of his starters (9-26), and sports a super 69
percent in-the-money rate. He’s been especially sharp with those
from the mighty Phipps Stable, winning eight of 15 races (53
HORSES TO WATCH
2ND — COAST LINE (Boston Harbor) returned from more than 14
months off to run huge, drawing off by 10 1/2 lengths under the
wire. The gelding stopped the clock in 1:10 (including a final
quarter in :24), a superb final time considering the other pair
of maiden races stopped the timer in 1:11 4/5. The bay three-year-old
was also the only horse on this day to win in wire-to-wire
4TH — SMUGGLER (Unbridled) lived up to her pre-race hype with
a thrilling finish late for McGaughey. The impeccably bred
debuter had just one beat at the half-mile marker, but ran past
them late like they were standing still. The time was nothing to
write home about, but the manner in which it was done was
7TH — CAPE GOOD HOPE (Cape Town) showed speed, dropped back,
came on late and just got outfinished for the win in what was a
brave effort under a mysterious ride. The four-year-old was sharp
at two and may be returning to his juvenile form.
5TH — MALHEUR (Saint Ballado) was under a hand ride virtually
the entire race and is starting to show the reason he’s been odds-on
in two consecutive outings. The juvenile’s time was average but
he could excel at two-turn racing, and is surely one to watch
GOING WILD (Golden Missile) made the lead in here and stayed
on well to garner place honors. The expensive colt shouldn’t be a
maiden much longer.
8TH — Toll Taker has now reeled off three consecutive facile
wins and appears to be getting better and better. I’m not sure
how strong the field was in the Astarita, but Toll Taker’s future
should be bright as the distances increase.
A LOOK AHEAD
The spotlight will be on Empire State-breds this weekend at
Belmont, with a total of nine stakes races on tap. The 1 1/8-mile,
$250,00 Empire Classic headlines the racing.