December 15, 2018

Stars & Stripes winners/runners exit races in good order

Keen Ice after winning the Suburban Stakes (G2) at Belmont Park on Saturday, July 8, 2017, under jockey Jose Ortiz (c) Jessie Holmes/EquiSport Photos

Keen Ice exited his first win since upsetting Triple Crown hero American Pharoah in the 2015 Travers Stakes (G1) in good order, trainer Todd Pletcher reported Sunday.

Keen Ice recorded a three-length victory in Saturday’s Suburban Stakes (G2), which was part of Belmont Park’s Stars & Stripes Racing Festival.

“He ran well and seemed to come out of it great,” Pletcher said. “Even though the fractions were slow, I liked the fact that (jockey) Jose (Ortiz) didn’t have to urge him on. He was putting himself into a striking position. He looked like he was traveling well throughout.

“He broke well and right away he was into it a little more. It’s a little counter intuitive that you’d think a closer would benefit from a slow pace, but it helped him and he was able to secure a good spot. For the mile and a quarter here at Belmont, I think drawing inside is always an edge.”

Keen Ice broke from the rail, stalked the early pace set by 3-1 second choice Matt King Coal, then ran down 1-2 favorite Shaman Ghost in the lane before pulling off to earn his first victory since the 2015 Travers at Saratoga. The win was also one of five on the day for Ortiz.

Keen Ice earned a career-best 112 BRIS Speed rating for his Suburban score. The five-year-old son of Curlin is expected to return to the Spa for the $1.2 million Whitney Stakes (G1) on August 5 and also has the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) penciled on his schedule back at Belmont on October 7.

“I haven’t spoken to (the owners) yet but the Whitney would be the logical next target and we’d love to come back for the Jockey Club since he obviously likes the mile and a quarter. That would be Plan A,” Pletcher said.

Mind Your Biscuits and Joel Rosario win the Belmont Sprint Championship (G2) at Belmont Park on Saturday, July 8, 2017 (c) Jessie Holmes/EquiSport Photos

Another headed to Saratoga off a win Saturday is Mind Your Biscuits, who came out of his effortless 3 1/2-length Belmont Sprint Championship Stakes (G2) score in fine fettle.

“He ate everything up last night, and walked the shed row good this morning,” trainer Chad Summers said. “We couldn’t be happier.”

Summers indicated the four-year-old son of Posse is now targeting the Forego Stakes (G1) on August 26 at the Spa. Mind Your Biscuits actually began his career at Saratoga, running second in a pair of maidens as a juvenile and returning last year to capture the Amsterdam Stakes (G2) prior to finishing fifth in the King’s Bishop Stakes (G1).

“He loves Saratoga,” Summers remarked. “It’s open, he loves the crowds, he loves having his picture taken and that’s what Saratoga is all about. Saratoga is the place you want to be and to be going up there with the barn of horses we have and to be able to compete with him as our flagbearer, we’re super excited.”

Mind Your Biscuits entered the Belmont Sprint Championship off a 3 1/2-month break, having last been seen capturing the Dubai Golden Shaheen (UAE-G1) by three lengths at Meydan on March 25.

“I think he’s kind of a throwback horse,” Summers noted. “Normally, you need this or you need that, or you run a big one and then you don’t. He just continues to get better and I think that we sent a little bit of a message yesterday, that’s he’s just not a New York-bred, he’s a legitimate top horse and deserves to be in that category when you’re talking about the top horses of 2017.”

Oscar Performance after winning the Belmont Derby Invitational (G1) under jockey Jose Ortiz at Belmont Park on Saturday, July 8, 2017 (c) Jessie Holmes/EquiSport Photos

Oscar Performance “seemed perky” walking the shedrow one day after his two-length triumph in the Belmont Derby Invitational (G1), according to trainer Brian Lynch.

“He looked good and came out of the race in good order and didn’t leave an oat and seemed perky enough walking around the shed row today,” Lynch said. “He broke a tad behind and had to ease on up there. When the half came up in :49-and-change, I felt comfortable.”

Oscar Performance led nearly every step of the way in the Belmont Derby to earn his second straight graded victory at Belmont Park. The Kitten’s Joy sophomore hit the side of the gate at the start and found himself chasing Big Score through the opening quarter, but quickly took command and proceeded to set the pace the rest of the way home under Ortiz.

The Kentucky homebred just returned to the winner’s circle in the Pennine Ridge Stakes (G3) at Belmont on June 3, his first score since taking the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) last November at Santa Anita Park.

“He worked so good coming into the race and I thought the Pennine Ridge was a real good prep for him,” Lynch said. “I was confident he could get the mile and a quarter if he was able to dictate the terms, so in my mind it played out the way I visualized.”

The horseman is eyeing either the $400,000 Secretariat Stakes (G1) at Arlington Park on August 12 or the $250,000 Del Mar Derby (G2) on September 3 for his stable star.

New Money Honey and jockey Javier Castellano after winning the Belmont Oaks Invitational (G1) at Belmont Park on Saturday, July 8, 2017 (c) Jessie Holmes/EquiSport Photos

Two races before the Belmont Derby, trainer Chad Brown saddled the trifecta in the Belmont Oaks Invitational (G1) when last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) heroine New Money Honey led home stablemates and U.S. debuters Sistercharlie and Uni.

Only a neck separated New Money Honey from Sistercharlie on the wire, while it was another 1 3/4 lengths behind to Uni, who rallied from the rear of the field.

“That was a rare feat,” Brown said. “We’re really happy. All three horses ran well. It’s unfortunate that any of them really had to lose, they all ran winning races. I was proud of their efforts, and so far, everyone seems to be in good shape.”

The conditioner added that all three runners exited their efforts in good order but didn’t outline plans for the filly trio other than to say targets for New Money Honey and Uni would be determined in the near future. Sistercharlie may skip a summer campaign and point toward the fall races.

“I’ve only had her a week but I’ve been impressed,” Brown said of Sistercharlie. “She was sent to me in good condition. She ran her heart out yesterday from a difficult post, on short rest, and without a ton of pace to run into. She had missed a little bit of training because of quarantine and she nearly got it done.

“She won’t be running this summer, I don’t believe, but she’s a really exciting horse for the future.”

Practical Joke after winning the Dwyer Stakes (G2) under Joel Rosario at Belmont Park on Saturday, July 8, 2017 (c) Jessie Holmes/EquiSport Photos

Brown also reported that Practical Joke came out of his Dwyer Stakes (G3) victory earlier on the Stars & Stripes program in good shape.

The Into Mischief sophomore, who hadn’t visited the winner’s circle since taking the Champagne Stakes (G1) last October at Belmont, rallied four and five wide down the lane to grab command and pull off for the two-length score.

Brown indicated the $1 million Haskell Invitational (G1) on July 30 at Monmouth Park is next for Practical Joke.

“He had been training as good as ever, so we were cautiously optimistic that he was going to run an ‘A’ race, and he did,” the trainer said. “I’m proud of this horse. He gave a lot of weight to the other starters and still ran a key race. We’re strongly considering bringing him back in three weeks for the Haskell. That’s what we have penciled in, as long as he comes back healthy.”

Pletcher’s Battalion Runner, who set the pace in the Dwyer and just missed second by a neck, exited the one-mile contest well.

“He seems fine; I think in retrospect I might have left him a little short with only four breezes and you could also argue the track wasn’t playing well with speed yesterday,” he said. “He didn’t get beat too badly and seemed to come back well.”