Although Stars and Stripes Day has a turf-centric feel with the $1.2 million Belmont Derby Invitational (G1) and $1 million Belmont Oaks Invitational (G1) the most lucrative stakes on the Saturday card, the three dirt stakes have plenty of appeal — from both the historic and current perspective.
The $700,000 Suburban (G2) serves up a clash between last year’s Belmont Stakes (G1) star Tapwrit and Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) winner Diversify. Discreet Lover and Zanotti, the Excelsior (G3) exacta from earlier in the season, and Sorry Erik are likewise probable. Also under consideration are three exiting the Brooklyn (G2), with War Story (second) and Hard Study (third) deemed possible and Carlino (fifth) probable. Triple Crown winner Justify’s half-brother The Lieutenant, fresh off a breakthrough in the All American (G3), and Name Changer round out the list of possibles for the 1 1/4-mile fixture.
Update: Multiple Grade 1 star and $4.6 million-earner Hoppertunity is also Suburban-bound, Daily Racing Form‘s Steve Andersen reported. Bob Baffert’s Brooklyn winner worked six furlongs at Santa Anita Sunday in 1:13.40.
Tapwrit, third in his Belmont allowance comeback, drilled five-eighths Sunday in company with stablemate Patch. Todd Pletcher’s tandem clocked 1:00.71 on Belmont’s fast main track, but Tapwrit left cult favorite Patch well adrift on the gallop-out.
“I thought both went well,” Pletcher said. “Tapwrit seemed to look really good. I’m pleased with the way he did it – the way he galloped out and the way he came back – so we’re looking forward to the Suburban and a distance he should like.
“The thought process after the Travers (G1) last year (when Tapwrit was fourth) was that he needed some time off. 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.”
Diversify fired a best-of-60 bullet on Saturday, speeding a half-mile in :46.85 on the main track and kept motoring for a five-furlong gallop-out time of :58 4/5.
“It was maybe a shade faster than we wanted, but things aren’t always perfect,” trainer Rick Violette Jr. said. “He just showed he’s ready, that’s all. He likes to breeze fast, so he was showing off this morning.”
Most recently a photo-finish winner of the Commentator for New York-breds, Diversify was rebounding from a too-bad-to-be-true last in the Charles Town Classic (G2) in his reappearance.
“The Charles Town race is a throw-out,” Violette said. “He just pulled up after two turns and there was another turn left. He came out of the Commentator great and it’s a nice few weeks between that and the Suburban and there’s not much I’d do differently with him if anything. He’s doing terrific.
“He’ll charge his batteries this week and then we’re taking on all comers. He’s shown he can do it and he’s coming off a really good prep. He is speedy and he touted himself again today. We’re really excited to run.”
The $300,000 Dwyer (G3) would take on far greater proportions if Aidan O’Brien’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) and UAE Derby (G2) conqueror Mendelssohn comes to turn the page on his Kentucky Derby (G1) debacle. Although this one-turn mile has been the plan, NYRA publicity regards the blueblood, and sidekick Seahenge, as “possible.” Perhaps that’s just O’Brien leaving everything on the table in an abundance of caution.
Among the domestic contenders, fellow Derby also-rans Firenze Fire and Noble Indy (subsequently last behind Justify in the Belmont), Easy Goer near-misser Rugbyman, and Seven Trumpets are expected, and Navy Commander possible.
Rugbyman’s trainer, Graham Motion, reports that the inexperienced son of Tapit will add blinkers for the Dwyer. He experimented with the headgear in his Saturday work under Jose Ortiz at Belmont, where he negotiated five panels on the main track in 1:01.70.
“Everything’s gone pretty smoothly; we kept him up there and worked him with blinkers, which is what we plan to do on Saturday,” Motion said.
The $350,000 Belmont Sprint Championship (G2), a “Win and You’re In” for the TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1), is likely to feature a small but solid cast. Two-time Churchill Downs S. (G2) winner Limousine Liberal, Whitmore, True Timber, and Favorable Outcome could square off against possibles Shaft of Light and Lewisfield.
Favorable Outcome, already stationed up at Saratoga for Chad Brown, toured a half-mile in :49.03 Sunday on the Oklahoma training track.
“He worked good, so we’ll give it a shot,” Brown said of the contender initially labeled possible. “It’s shaping up to be a tough, tough race but we’ll give it a shot. He seems to be doing well.”