09/26/2013 3:25PM

Belmont Park: Justin Phillip looks to rebound in Vosburgh Invitational


ELMONT, N.Y. – A return to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint with Justin Phillip has been on Steve Asmussen’s mind since he left Santa Anita last year following a fifth-place finish in that race.

“His race last year in the Breeders’ Cup was deceptively good,” said Asmussen, who trains Justin Phillip for Zayat Stables. “He got squeezed at the start, he ran his last quarter [fast], and was one of the few horses closing anything at all.”

Justin Phillip will try to get a fees-paid trip to Santa Anita for the Nov. 2 BC Sprint on Saturday, when he tops an eight-horse field for the Grade 1, $400,000 Vosburgh Invitational at Belmont Park. The six-furlong Vosburgh is a Win and You’re In race for the $1.5 million BC Sprint. The Vosburgh also is the first leg of an all-graded-stakes pick four with a guaranteed pool of $500,000.

Justin Phillip won the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt by two lengths at Saratoga on Aug. 4 but finished a disappointing third behind Strapping Groom in the Grade 1 Forego at seven furlongs in the mud at Saratoga on Aug. 31.

“I don’t think he cared for that track,” Asmussen said. “It was tiring, and he’s a big, heavy horse. And he’s better at three-quarters.”

Justin Phillip will break from post  2 under John Velazquez.

Bahamian Squall earned his way into the BC Sprint with his victory in the Grade 2 Smile Sprint Handicap at Calder in July. He finished second to Justin Phillip in the Vanderbilt, a race in which he was hemmed in by Justin Phillip and Velazquez for a good part of the race.

“No discredit to Justin Phillip – he ran a good race, and I don’t know if we would have caught him – but I thought our horse ran a credible race,” trainer David Fawkes said. “He inches forward all the time. I expect improvement again. He’s training lights out.”

Bahamian Squall breaks from post 3 under Luis Saez.

The Lumber Guy came off a four-month layoff to win last year’s Vosburgh before running second in the BC Sprint. This year, he came off a six-month layoff with a second-place finish in the Chowder’s First Stakes, a race restricted to New York-breds at Saratoga. That race seemed to shake the rust off The Lumber Guy, who has fired a pair of bullet workouts since.

“I’m expecting him to put on a huge race,” said trainer Mike Hushion, who has tabbed Mike Luzzi to replace Velazquez aboard The Lumber Guy.

In from Southern California is Private Zone, a gelding by Macho Uno who came off a five-month layoff to win a minor stakes at Del Mar. Trainer Doug O’Neill said Rene Douglas, who manages the horse for Good Friends Stable, suggested shipping Private Zone across the country for this race.

“The horse really gets over a sandier type of track in really good shape,” said O’Neill, who also liked having five weeks until the Breeders’ Cup following this race. “We thought he’d like the surface there at Belmont. We thought we’d take our West Coast speed and see what we can do back East.”

Martin Pedroza, whose only other mount at Belmont Park came when he finished second aboard Miss Iron Smoke in the Grade 2 Matron in 1991, has the call from post 8.

Forty Tales, the only 3-year-old in the field, won the Grade 2 Woody Stephens over this track in June. He would need a contested pace to be most effective.

Strapping Groom, the 15-1 upset winner of the Forego, has won three of four starts since being claimed by David Jacobson for $35,000.

Palace has won five of eight starts – including a win over The Lumber Guy last out – since being claimed by Linda Rice for $20,000 a year ago.

Candyman E, second to Strapping Groom in the Kid Russell Stakes at Saratoga in August, completes the field.