05/14/2013 2:30PM

Belmont Park: Pacific Ocean faces test in grass debut

Barbara D. Livingston
Pacific Ocean will be on turf for the first time in his seasonal debut for a new trainer, Michelle Nihei.

The worlds of graded sprint stakes winners on dirt, turf .and synthetic collide when Pacific Ocean, Next Question, and Hoofit clash in Thursday’s $85,000 Around the Cape overnight stakes.

A field of 10 older males entered the six-furlong dash scheduled for the inner turf.

Already a graded stakes winner on synthetic and dirt, Pacific Ocean tries grass for the first time in his seasonal debut for new trainer Michelle Nihei. He earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 108 winning the 2011 Vernon O. Underwood on Cushion Track for Mike Mitchell and a 103 Beyer wiring last year’s James Marvin for former trainer Richard Dutrow Jr.

“We’re excited about giving him the opportunity to do something different,” said Nihei of the 6-year-old gelding, who has run just 10 times. “His versatility is less of a question than his longevity.”

Next Question was given over to Michael Trombetta after spending more than a year on the sidelines. He springboarded off a couple of ruinous trips at Saratoga to win a seven-furlong allowance on Belmont’s Widener turf course, followed by an upset victory in Woodbine’s Grade 1, $500,000 Nearctic Stakes.

“He had some horrible luck at Saratoga – things just went from bad to worse,” Trombetta recalled. “But it turned around for him in the fall.”

Next Question returned from a layoff in the recent Shakertown Stakes, in which he set a pressured pace before winding up fifth, beaten just a half-length.

“It was a good race off the layoff,” Trombetta said. “It should put him in a good spot. We’re looking forward to running him, and he can handle some give in the course as long as it’s not too soft.”

The New Zealand-bred won his first two starts in the United States for Graham Motion on synthetic tracks, including a nose victory in the 2011 Phoenix Stakes. He is winless in nine subsequent outings, however, and makes his first start in nearly five months.

Bruce Brown entered the uncoupled pair of Night Officer, second to Ben’s Cat in the recent Mister Diz at Pimlico, and the returning Spring to the Sky, an overnight sprint stakes winner on Belmont’s inner turf last fall.

The turf-meant contingent is completed by Martini Madness, Saint Pete, and Yield Bogey.

Buffum and Sage Valley could use this race as a stepping-stone to the True North Handicap (June 8) if it is switched to dirt.