05/20/2011 12:22PM

Belmont Park: Clement has sharp pair for stakes


ELMONT, N.Y. – A forecast of improved weather is good news for a Sunday card that features a pair of overnight stakes scheduled for turf.

Christophe Clement sends out contenders in both $60,000 stakes. Longhunter will be favored in the A Gift for 3-year-olds on the Widener, and Grassy is a solid threat in the Three Coins Up for older horses on the inner turf.

Longhunter appears ideally situated in the seven-furlong A Gift, as he breaks outside against six rivals. He won twice from four starts in Ireland as a 2-year-old – a much-the-best debut at seven furlongs, and a nose victory in the Blenheim Stakes on soft turf.

Although he was outfinished late at 1 1/16 miles in his U.S. debut, Longhunter returned a few weeks later to win a one-mile turf stakes by a measured length over subsequent Lexington Stakes winner Derby Kitten. In that race, Longhunter swept up four wide to join the leaders while still in hand on the turn, and quickly opened daylight while running the last quarter-mile in well under 23 seconds.

“He’s a lovely horse, galloped out strongly that day and is training very well,” said Clement. “This looks like a good spot for him.”

Batter Up was an off-the-pace winner over $75,000 maidens and starter allowance rivals in his first two turf starts at Gulfstream, both on firm ground, for Chad Brown. He figures as second choice over Punster and Shankopotamus, two others that also graduated from the maiden ranks in Florida.

Fastest Magician, Parent’s Honor, and Preachintothedevil look to try grass for the first time.

Six horses scratched from Thursday’s rained-off Three Coins Up are back for another shot. The original cast is missing Slews Answer, who was rerouted to Saturday’s Dixie at Pimlico, but picked up Wishful Tomcat, who is already a three-time winner at the meet and apparently loose on the lead in this 10-furlong event.

Wishful Tomcat ran his turf record to 4-1-0 from 5 starts when claimed from a front-running score last Sunday by Naipaul Chatterpaul. Last year, Chatterpaul claimed Mission Approved for $35,000, and came within a neck of wiring Gio Ponti in the Grade 1 Man o’ War at 53-1 a month later.

Wishful Tomcat, said Chatterpaul, “is a very honest horse. His form on turf is awesome, and there’s no speed in there.”

Grassy was victimized by a lack of pace in his 5-year-old debut at Keeneland, but he will find this a more suitable distance. “He had a nice prep race, and the mile and a quarter is better than a mile and an eighth,” said Clement, who added he ultimately plans to stretch out last year’s Red Smith winner to 1 1/2 miles.

Grand Rapport, cross-entered in the Dixie, would be making his first start since winning the Kent Stakes last September for Gary Contessa.

Boisterous, a late-blooming Phipps Stable homebred with wins on firm, good and yielding turf, is a strong threat for Shug McGaughey, who won with four of his first eight meet starters.