10/17/2012 2:02PM

Belmont Park: Hymn Book takes a drop into Frank Martin Stakes

Barbara D. Livingston
Hymn Book is 2 for 5 at Belmont Park, with both wins coming in overnight stakes.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Coming off a disappointing eighth-place finish in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup three weeks ago, Hymn Book seeks some class relief when he starts in Friday’s $85,000 Frank “Pancho” Martin Stakes at Belmont Park.

The Frank Martin, named for the Hall of Fame trainer who died in July, is scheduled for 1 1/16 miles over the main track. It drew graded stakes winner Rule and the Brazilian-bred Group 1 winner Xin Xu Lin, who makes his North American debut for Godolphin.

Hymn Book is 2 for 5 at Belmont Park, with both wins coming in overnight stakes such as this. Last Oct. 20, he won the Firethorn Stakes at 1 1/16 miles in the mud before finishing second behind To Honor and Serve in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct.

This year, Hymn Book has competed in nothing but graded events, winning the Grade 1 Donn at Gulfstream in February. He was competitive in four other graded heats before finishing an uncharacteristic eighth in the Gold Cup.

Though Hymn Book had shown a liking for off tracks, trainer Shug McGaughey didn’t think he liked the good main track on Gold Cup Day.

“It was kind of slick on the bottom,” McGaughey said. “Ron the Greek didn’t run any good either. If we were fourth, beaten two or three lengths, I wouldn’t blame anything. I have to think he didn’t run his race.”

Rain is in the forecast for Friday, which could make for a wet track. Before the Gold Cup, Hymn Book had won four or five starts over a wet surface.

There appears to be ample speed in the Frank Martin with Rule, who comes off poor efforts in Whitney and Woodward at Saratoga, and Small Town Talk, who set the pace in the Iselin at Monmouth before running third.

Xin Xu Lin is the wild card in the field. He is by Wondertross – beaten a nose in the 1999 Florida Derby – out of a Brazilian-bred mare. Xin Xu Lin won three Group 1’s on turf, but has run only twice in 22 months. He finished last in the Maktoum Challenge at Meydan on Jan. 12.

“He’s trained very well,” trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. “A very difficult horse to place being he’s won five times and he doesn’t have any conditions, so we’re in an overnight stakes on dirt, which is a new surface for him. I would think he’s in need of a race if everything went well, being he’s been away so long.”

Isn’t He Perfect drops into this spot after finishing sixth in the Grade 1 Forego. Ponzi Scheme and Small Town Talk, second and third in the Majestic Light Stakes at Monmouth in July, complete the field.