10/04/2012 1:41PM

Belmont Park: Soft turf an uncertain factor for Dullahan in Jamaica Handicap

Barbara D. Livingston
Dullahan training at Belmont Park last weekend. He is coming off his best performance, an upset victory in the Pacific Classic on Polytrack at Del Mar.

ELMONT, N.Y. – The uncertainty over how several of the top contenders will handle soft turf adds intrigue to an already interesting handicapping puzzle that is Saturday’s Grade 1, $400,000 Jamaica Handicap at Belmont Park.

Dullahan, a three-time Grade 1 winner over synthetic surfaces, was installed as the 4-5 morning-line favorite for the Jamaica, a race restricted to 3-year-olds and scheduled for 1 1/8 miles over the inner turf course.

Wet weather prompted New York Racing Association officials to cancel turf racing Wednesday and Thursday, and it was expected that at least some of Friday’s five scheduled turf races would be transferred to the dirt. Though Friday and most of Saturday were expected to be dry, thunderstorms were in the forecast for Thursday night.

Dale Romans, the trainer of Dullahan, said he would prefer firm ground for his horse because “we’ve never had him on soft turf.” In three turf starts, Dullahan has two seconds and a third.

At 2, Dullahan ran twice on turf, but Romans said those races were “before he really turned the corner.” Dullahan last raced on turf in March when second to Howe Great – also in this field – in the Palm Beach Stakes at Gulfstream.

“That was his first race of the year,” Romans said. “He’s done nothing but steadily improve all year.”

Dullahan is coming off his best performance, when he ran down the 5-year-old Game On Dude to win the Grade 1 Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 26.

Dullahan, the 123-pound highweight, will break from post 3 under Joel Rosario.

Summer Front and Howe Great finished 1-2 in the Grade 3 Hill Prince here in June. In that race, run at a mile, Summer Front was trapped on the rail before Ramon Dominguez swung him into the four-path, and he outkicked Howe Great in the final sixteenth for a half-length victory.

Since then, Summer Front won an overnight stakes at Saratoga before finishing third in the Grade 1 Secretariat, run at 1 1/4 miles at Arlington in August.

Christophe Clement, the trainer of Summer Front, has reservations about the soft turf and said he would wait until Saturday before deciding whether to run.

“He is without a doubt a much better horse on firmer ground than softer ground,” Clement said. “I just hope the ground dries up between now and Saturday. We’ll make a decision on Saturday.”

Since the Hill Prince, Howe Great won the Jersey Derby at Monmouth and was beaten three-quarters of a length by a sharp front-running winner, My Best Brother, in the Grade 2 Del Mar Derby.

“I thought he ran super, he ran a great race,” said Graham Motion, the trainer of Howe Great. “Nobody went with the horse on the lead.”

Though Howe Great’s past performances show all his races were run on firm ground, Motion believes it had rained prior to one of his three wins at Gulfstream during the winter.

While King Kreesa is expected to be on the lead, Howe Great shouldn’t be too far off the pace.

“He ended up being on the lead in Florida because there was no speed in those races, and [speed] is advantageous down there,” Motion said. “He’s one you can do whatever you like, really.”

Cogito, a Virginia-bred son of Giant’s Causeway, shipped in from Europe, where he comes out of some very good races. In a Group 2 race in France, Cogito was beaten 1 1/2 lengths by Bayrir, who came to the U.S. to win the Grade 1 Secretariat at Arlington in August.

Cogito, trained by Brian Meehan, will wear blinkers for the first time. Assistant trainer Stewart Gosnell said Cogito has gone well in them.

“He felt good in them,” Gosnell said. “We’re very happy with him. It’ll take a good one to beat him.”

Unbridled Command, King David, and Shkspeare Shaliyah complete the field.