One likes to come from off the pace and the other likes to race closer to the front, and both entries for trainer Bob Baffert in Saturday’s $700,000 Suburban (G2) at Belmont Park figure to give the Hall of Famer a strong chance of capturing the historic 1 1/4-mile fixture for the first time.
The rallying contender is Hoppertunity, who looks to make it three-for-three over “Big Sandy” following previous scores in the 2016 Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) and in the 1 1/2-mile Brooklyn (G2) on June 9.
“He loves Belmont and he likes a mile and a quarter. He keeps going at a mile and a quarter,” Baffert said. “It’s coming back a little bit quick for him, but he’s doing well so he’s shipping back again. It’s a big race. He gives you everything he has. He runs every time. He’s just a solid racehorse.”
Likely helping set the early fractions is stablemate Dr. Dorr, the Californian (G2) winner and runner-up in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1) last time.
“As soon as we stretched him out, he’s gotten to be a better horse,” Baffert said. “A mile and a quarter might be a little far with him, but it depends on the pace.
“They’re both training well, they shipped well — all is well. If we can just run 1-2, it’d be perfect.”
Dr. Dorr’s ability to shake loose will be tested by Diversify, the New York-bred winner of the 2017 Jockey Club Gold Cup, who has won five times and placed second twice in seven career starts at Belmont.
After an ugly, season-opening try in the Charles Town Classic (G2), Diversify gamely held off Pat On the Back by a nose in the $200,000 Commentator for state-breds on Memorial Day.
Tapwrit, last year’s Belmont S. (G1) winner, figures to improve on his 2018 bow in a June 3 allowance over 1 1/16-miles, in which he finished third. It was the Todd Pletcher trainee’s first race since a fourth-place effort in the Travers (G1) last August.
“The thought process after the Travers last year was that he needed some time off,” Pletcher said. “He shed a frog in that race and it took a while for him to get healed up, so we purposely gave him a little extra time with the idea that we wanted to have a fresh horse for the summer and hopefully the fall. So far, it’s coming together.”
War Story, first and second in the last two editions of the Brooklyn, narrowly missed in the Charles Town Classic two back after running a close third in the same race last season. The Lieutenant, an older half-brother to Triple Crown winner Justify, returns to dirt after winning his first graded stakes in the All American (G3) at Golden Gate Fields on Tapeta.
Take Your Guns was beaten three lengths by Hoppertunity in the Brooklyn and is the most lightly raced of the 11 Suburban entries. He’s a homebred racing for John Gunther, who’s enjoyed a tremendous season as the breeder of Justify and the owner-breeder of Without Parole, a Group 1 winner at Royal Ascot last month.
After an ignominious return to the U.S. in May for the Kentucky Derby (G1), in which he trailed the field of 20 after a rough passage, Mendelssohn begins preparations for a tilt in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) later this year in Saturday’s $300,000 Dwyer (G3).
Last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) winner, kin to four-time champion filly Beholder and noted sire Into Mischief, entered the Derby well-supported after romping in the UAE Derby (G2) by more than 18 lengths, but the Scat Daddy colt never recovered from a troubled start and was not persevered with by Ryan Moore, who has the return call in the one-mile Dwyer.
Trainer Aidan O’Brien, who also sends out Group 2 winner and Pat Day Mile (G3) sixth-place finisher Seahenge, has also mentioned the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) in September as another possible Breeders’ Cup prep for Mendelssohn.
Two other Kentucky Derby starters are among the seven-horse lineup. Firenze Fire, who captured the Champagne (G1) and Sanford (G3) last season, won the Jerome in January, but found two-turn races stretching his capabilities, though he outran most expectations beating nine rivals in the Derby. One was Louisiana Derby (G2) winner Noble Indy, who ran 17th at Churchill Downs and last of 10 to Justify in the Belmont.
Also of note are Rugbyman, second in a three-way Easy Goer photo on the Belmont undercard, and recent allowance winner Seven Trumpets, a close second to Firenze Fire in the aforementioned Jerome.
The $350,000 Belmont Sprint Championship (G3), also a “Win & You’re In” Breeders’ Cup Challenge race, drew six entrants. Multiple graded stakes winners Whitmore and Limousine Liberal both competed on Belmont weekend, Whitmore falling a neck short in the True North (G2) and Limousine Liberal finishing third in the Metropolitan H. (G1) in his first try locally.
“He came back very happy out of the True North and has been working well here at Churchill,” trainer Ron Moquett said of Whitmore.
Grade 2 winner Favorable Outcome did not fare well in two stakes attempts following a third-pace effort in the Malibu (G1) last December, but looked better when second in a May 17 allowance in the slop. Shaft of Light shortens up following a narrow loss in the Salvator Mile (G3), while Eye Luv Lulu and Lewisfield are relative outsiders.