06/06/2013 12:44PM

Belmont: Let Em Shine tries to outrun other speedsters in Woody Stephens


ELMONT, N.Y. – Though Saturday’s Grade 2, $400,000 Woody Stephens appears loaded with early speed, there doesn’t appear to be anyone quicker than Let Em Shine, who has traveled cross-country for his graded stakes debut.

The question is whether Let Em Shine can carry that speed seven furlongs on a new – and possibly wet – track while facing the toughest competition he will meet to date.

Let Em Shine, a son of Songandaprayer, is 3 for 3 this year after losing his debut at Betfair Hollywood Park on Dec. 15. He handled seven furlongs in winning the Came Home Stakes at Hollywood on May 11, flashing early speed, relaxing when jockey Edwin Maldonado took him in hand a quarter-mile into the race and still finished strong. His 109 Beyer Speed Figure is the fastest recorded by a 3-year-old male this year.

“This is a big step up from the last race,” said trainer Adam Kitchingman, who is making his Belmont Park debut. “That last race was pretty much a non-winners-of-one allowance race. The track was dead that day and he ran some huge fractions for that racetrack. He relaxed nicely for him – the first time he’s relaxed in a race. He answered a lot of questions.”

With Let Em Shine drawn outside in the 11-horse field, Maldonado could have options in tactics, but, barring a bad break, it would be hard from him not to be on the lead.

“No one is going to be faster than him,” Kitchingman said. “I think everyone is going to try and ride their own race. If they go out there and try to sabotage my horse, it’s only going to hurt them.”

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Zee Bros brought his California speed to the East Coast and recorded a front-running victory in the Chick Lang Stakes on Preakness Day, making a slow Pimlico surface look quick. He is one of many who could try to run with Let Em Shine early.

“I’m not going to change his style,” said Bob Baffert, trainer of Zee Bros. “I’m not going to worry about it. Anytime there’s $400,000 in a sprint race you’re going to get a lot of speed.”

Salutos Amigos, another California shipper, Retreive, and Merit Man, are others who figure to be forwardly placed.

If Let Em Shine can’t go the distance against these fast sprinters or a speed duel develops, there are several closers in the field looking to pounce, including Clearly Now, Declan’s Warrior, Capo Bastone, and Forty Tales.

Clearly Now won the Grade 3 Swale at Gulfstream and was beaten a head by Declan’s Warrior in the Grade 3 Bay Shore at Aqueduct, both at seven furlongs.

Clearly Now, a son of Horse Greeley, has been at Belmont long enough to get a work in over the track and has his connections are very optimistic.

“It’s going to depend on if that speed is stopping or if [Let Em Shine] is good enough to hold on,” said Erin Cotterill, who will saddle Clearly Now in the absence of suspended trainer Brian Lynch. “Right now, our horse is doing so good he’s going to be right there.”

When Declan’s Warrior beat Clearly Now in the Bay Shore, he was in receipt of seven pounds from that rival. Saturday, they carry equal eights and Declan’s Warrior is drawn on the rail while having to run back 17 days after running a very fast seven furlongs when winning the Gygistar Stakes on May 22.

Forty Tales and Capo Bastone finished a neck apart when they ran 1-2 in the Grade 3 Derby Trial at a mile at Churchill on April 27.

“I thought they both ran terrifically,” said Todd Pletcher, who trains both horses. “It looked like that night that speed was not really where you wanted to be and we got the trips we were wanting from both horses. The faster they go the better.”

Tenango will have a puncher’s chance based on his last two races, both at Belmont. He won a starter allowance by 12 3/4 lengths in the mud on May 9 and came back to run within a neck of Declan’s Warrior in the Gygistar.

Honorable Dillon, a recent allowance winner at Belmont, completes the field.

– additional reporting by Mike Welsch