07/06/2011 2:56PM

Belmont Park: Bank Merger gets back on dirt

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Barbara D. Livingston
Bank Merger will return to dirt for Friday’s third-level allowance feature at Belmont Park.

ELMONT, N.Y. – When last seen in North America, Bank Merger won the $250,000 Gallant Bob Stakes at Parx Racing, capping a brief, but successful, 3-year-old campaign for Sheikh Mohammed’s Darley Stable and trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.

After a fruitless winter racing over the synthetic surface of Dubai’s Meydan Racecourse, Bank Merger returns to North America and – perhaps, more importantly – dirt to try to jump-start his career in Friday’s third-level allowance feature at Belmont Park. The 6 1/2-furlong race, which also carries an optional claiming tag of $75,000 will go as race 5 on a nine-race program that begins at 3 p.m. This is the second of three “Party at the Park” programs at Belmont scheduled to feature live entertainment in addition to food and drink specials.

In 2009, Bank Merger won his debut at Monmouth Park. He was away from the races for 11 months when he returned to take a first-level allowance race at Saratoga. That prompted his connections to try the Grade 1 King’s Bishop, where he finished second to Discreetly Mine, who was winning his third consecutive graded stakes. Bank Merger then won the Gallant Bob by a neck over the promising Rule by Night.

Bank Merger wintered in Dubai, where, racing for Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin outfit, he put in two non-competitive races over the Tapeta surface at Meydan.

“I don’t think he showed a whole lot in his training, and he didn’t do much running in either one of his races,” said Rick Mettee, assistant to trainer Saeed bin Suroor, for whom Bank Merger now races. “Since he’s been back, he’s been pretty straightforward, he’s trained well. This is a good spot to see where we are at with him.”

Bank Merger shows five works for his return, including a five-furlong move in 1:00.60 last Friday that was the best of 12 at the distance.

“Kiaran tells me he runs a little better than he works,” said Mettee, who will give a leg up to Alan Garcia from post 5.

Have You Ever looks like the horse to catch under Javier Castellano. After successfully being utilized as a rabbit for stablemate Calibrachoa in the Grade 3 Tom Fool in March, Have You Ever has won two of three starts, including a starter handicap here May 29 where he carved out solid fractions and won by 2 1/4 lengths in 1:09.17.

“The horse has been training well,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “Obviously, his last race was very good, so I’m happy with that. I think he’s somewhat one-dimensional, no need to change.”

Just Hold On, who beat Have You Ever at Belmont on May 15, has upset potential. Strapping Groom and Delaunay complete the field.