09/26/2013 3:56PM

Belmont Park: Kelso tough assignment for long-absent Graydar

Tom Keyser
Trainer Todd Pletcher will gauge how Graydar performs in the Kelso before determining whether the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile or BC Classic might be the best fit for him.

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ELMONT, N.Y. – In some respects, Graydar may be the most fascinating horse entered on Saturday’s card at Belmont Park.

Among the early-season leaders of the older male division, with victories in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap and Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap, Graydar has been absent for six months, owing to surgery to remove ankle chips.

Saturday, Graydar returns in the Grade 2, $400,000 Kelso Invitational, a one-turn mile race at Belmont Park. While a Win and You’re In race for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile on Nov. 1, the Kelso could be a stepping-stone for Graydar to the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on the Nov. 2 card.

“He’s proven he can be very effective at a mile. He’s also been very good at a mile and an eighth,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “We’ll see how well he runs in the Kelso, how much he gets out of it, and how he trains after it if one start since March is enough to get in the Classic.”

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For the last several weeks, Graydar has been training with Whitney Invitational winner Cross Traffic, who is running in Saturday’s $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Graydar suffered his only loss at Belmont last September to Saratoga Snacks in a one-mile allowance race that came five months after he won a one-mile maiden race at Gulfstream. Pletcher believes he has a different horse this September.

“To me, he’s been training more impressive than at any point of his career,” Pletcher said. “He still has to go over there and run a tough race off a long layoff.”

Adding some intrigue to Graydar is the fact his jockey, Edgar Prado, was winless with 62 straight mounts entering Thursday’s 10th race, dating back to Aug. 28.

Graydar could play out as the primary speed horse in the seven-horse Kelso. His list of challengers includes Souper Speedy, who is 3 for 4 at Belmont; Jackson Bend, who comes off a good second in the Grade 1 Forego; and Brujo de Olleros, a Group 1 winner in Uruguay who comes off a big effort in a minor stakes race at Delaware Park.

Souper Speedy, a son of Indian Charlie, comes off an allowance win at Saratoga going seven furlongs in his last start.

“The horse is doing good. He deserves to step up. He’s been running some good races apart from the race two back at Saratoga when was on the lead, which took him out of his game,” said trainer Tom Albertrani, referring to the James Marvin Stakes in which he finished fourth.

Jose Lezcano, who returns from a month layoff due to a fractured wrist, rides Souper Speedy.

Hymn Book, winner of the Grade 1 Donn Handicap in 2012, has 3 wins and 3 seconds from 7 lifetime starts at Belmont. He is coming out of a second-place finish to repeat winner Pants On Fire in the Grade 2 Monmouth Cup on July 28 and is getting blinkers added for this race, an equipment change suggested to trainer Shug McGaughey by jockey John Velazquez.

“He thought they might help focus him a little bit,” McGaughey said. “He breezed in them a couple of times. Whether it’s made a big difference, I don’t know. I’d like to see him in the race a little more. I think the blinkers will help that.”

Easter Gift, who will be coupled with Jackson Bend in the wagering, had won three consecutive races before running second to Vitoria Olimpica in the Alydar Stakes at Saratoga.

Praetereo, making his third start after being claimed for $62,500 by David Jacobson, completes the field.