09/08/2011 3:20PM

Belmont: Bowling Green good stepping-stone for Sanagas

Tod Marks
Sanagas will try to use Saturday's Bowling Green Handicap as a springboard to the Joe Hirsch Invitational.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Moments after Sanagas won the John’s Call Stakes on Aug. 5 despite drifting toward the outside rail of Saratoga’s Mellon turf course, trainer Graham Motion said he would consider running the 5-year-old gelding back in the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont Park.

After some more consideration – and realizing Sanagas is not Breeders’ Cup nominated – Motion came up with a revised schedule that begins with Saturday’s Grade 2, $150,000 Bowling Green Handicap, the opening-day feature at Belmont.

The Bowling Green, scheduled for 1 3/8 miles on the inner turf, is the first of 31 stakes – 21 graded – to be contested over the 37 cards at Belmont through Oct. 30. While the Bowling Green could serve as a stepping-stone to the Hirsch, Motion wanted to take an intermediate step.

“I think we decided to be a little more conservative rather than jumping in the deep end,’’ Motion said by phone Thursday from his base at the Fair Hill Training Center. “Ultimately, in the heat of the moment after the win, [the Hirsch] seemed logical. This seemed like a better progression.’’

Despite drying conditions on Thursday, Belmont’s turf course absorbed plenty of rain this week and more was possible Friday. Sanagas finished second on yielding ground in one of just two losses he has suffered in his career. Motion doesn’t think course condition will be an issue.

“I’d be surprised if he didn’t handle it just because of the way he’s bred,’’ Motion said.

In his first start for Motion, Sanagas lugged in while finishing seventh in the Grade 3 Arlington Handicap. For the John’s Call, Motion equipped Sanagas with an extension blinker over his right eye, but the horse wound up lugging out in the stretch under Rajiv Maragh.

Saturday, Motion said Sanagas will wear a regular set of blinkers.

“It’s hard to read him, he doesn’t do those odd things in the morning, he certainly goes fine in them,’’ Motion said. “I was completely surprised when he lugged in at Arlington, equally surprised when he lugged out at Saratoga. I just thought giving him the benefit of practice in the blinkers was the way to go.’’

Trainer Christophe Clement sends out the uncoupled entry of Grassy and Sal the Barber. Grassy has run well on soft ground – he won the Grade 3 Red Smith and was a close third in last year’s Joe Hirsch. Clement said Grassy wasn’t completely fit when fourth in the Sky Classic at Woodbine last month.

“Bottom line is he did not run for two months and I think he might have needed the race a little bit,’’ Clement said. “He’s done well, he looks good; he’s slightly undertrained yet again this week because of the weather.’’

The Bowling Green will be Sal the Barber’s first race beyond 1 1/4 miles.

Kindgergarden Kid, who is 2 for 3 at Belmont, could play out as the primary speed under Alan Garcia. Center Divider and Bold Hawk, second and third, respectively, behind Sanagas in the John’s Call and Colonialism, a second-level allowance winner at Saratoga on Aug. 10 complete the competitive field.