07/03/2013 3:25PM

Belmont Park: Alpha looks better than ever for Suburban Handicap


ELMONT, N.Y. – When trainer Kiaran McLaughlin first saw Alpha shortly after he arrived back in the United States following the winter in Dubai, he was taken aback.

“Wow! He looks great,” McLaughlin texted Simon Crisford, the racing manager for Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin Racing.

Three months later, McLaughlin is still raving about how well Alpha looks, and he hopes that translates into success in Saturday’s Grade 2, $350,000 Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park.

“He’s never looked better,” said McLaughlin, who seeks his first graded stakes win of the year and first since Dance Card won the Grade 1 Gazelle last November. “Horses from 3 to 4, they’re still maturing and filling out, and he really just filled out.”

The Suburban, which shares billing on Saturday’s 11-race card, drew only a field of five, led by Flat Out, the 2011 Suburban winner, and Last Gunfighter, winner of six straight, including the Pimlico Special.

Last summer, Alpha was the up-and-coming 3-year-old after he won the Jim Dandy and dead-heated for win in the Travers with Golden Ticket. But Alpha’s season ended with a sixth-place finish in the Pennsylvania Derby and a last-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Alpha shipped to Dubai for the winter and after finishing last in the Maktoum Challenge, he ran a respectable fifth, beaten only four lengths, in the Grade 2 Godolphin Mile.

“I thought his last race was very good,” McLaughlin said.

Though Alpha raced in the Godolphin Mile with blinkers on for the first time in his 13-race career, McLaughlin said he will remove them for this race “just because that’s what we’re used to.”

Irad Ortiz Jr. will ride Alpha from the rail.

Alpha returned to the United States in early April and was immediately shipped to Saratoga and the Greentree Training Center, which Godolphin now operates. Alpha has trained both on the synthetic surface at Greentree as well as the dirt surface at the Oklahoma training track.

“He’s training very well. Fitness is not an issue,” McLaughlin said. “It’s a tough race. We have a lot of respect for Flat Out.”

Flat Out, who suffered his first loss at Belmont Park when third in the Grade 1 Metropolitan on May 27, drew post 4 and will be ridden by Junior Alvarado as the 119-pound highweight.

Percussion, the potential primary speed of the Suburban, drew post 2 with Last Gunfighter in post 3 and Fast Falcon in post 5.

McLaughlin calls audible in Dwyer

McLaughlin will be represented in Saturday’s Grade 2, $200,000 Dwyer Stakes for 3-year-olds by Make Your Move, a three-time winner in the claiming and starter ranks.

Make Your Move will break from post 5 in a field of nondescript 3-year-olds that includes Battier, a minor stakes winner; Saint Vigeur, a well-beaten second in the Peter Pan; and maiden winners Moreno, For Greater Glory, and Abraham.

Make Your Move fills in for Transparent, a 10-length allowance winner in his last start whom McLaughlin said missed some time with minor issues.

Make Your Move has won three of his last four starts, starting with a maiden $50,000 claimer at Gulfstream in February. He was again offered for a claiming tag when he ran at Aqueduct in March, but there were no takers and he won again by 4 1/4 lengths.

Favored in a starter allowance at Belmont on May 8, Make Your Move was rallying along the rail when he was shut off by a horse ridden by David Cohen, who surprisingly didn’t get suspended for that ride. Make Your Move bounced back with a starter allowance win May 30 when shortened to seven furlongs.

“We ran back at seven-eighths because that’s what filled,” McLaughlin said. “He was very impressive. On all [speed] figures, he’s a very fast horse, but it’s a big step up into a Grade 2.”

Emcee back with McLaughlin

In similar fashion to the Yankees, McLaughlin is slowly getting his stars of yore back in his barn.

Emcee, last year’s Grade 1 Forego winner and beaten favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, has recently rejoined McLaughlin’s Saratoga string.

Emcee wintered in Dubai but did not run over the winter. He arrived back in the United States in May and has spent the last few months in Lexington.

McLaughlin said that Emcee had some “little issues. He’s back, and we’re happy to have him.”

McLaughlin said that Dance Card is close to rejoining his stable as well. Earlier this year, Dance Card underwent surgery to have chips removed from her ankles.

Vyjack could be headed to grass

Following an 18th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby and an eighth-place finish in the Belmont Stakes, Vyjack could be headed to the turf, trainer Rudy Rodriguez said Wednesday.

Rodriguez was considering the Curlin Stakes on the dirt for Vyjack, but the gelding is not eligible for that race, which is restricted to 3-year-olds who have not won a graded stakes over a mile this year. Vyjack won the Grade 3 Gotham at 1 1/16 miles in March.

Now, Rodriguez is seriously considering the turf for Vyjack, hoping to find an easier spot for the son of Into Mischief.

Rodriguez wanted to breeze Vyjack on the turf at Aqueduct, but said that there is maintenance being done on the course and it is unavailable for training.

Vyjack has worked twice on the dirt since the Belmont, including a five-furlong move clocked in 1:00.94 over Aqueduct’s main track Monday.

“He’s training good, coming along good,” Rodriguez said.