10/26/2011 3:46PM

Belmont Park: Strong field, but rain may thin troops

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Barbara D. Livingston
Big Blue Kitten win his fifth race in a row in the Hall of Fame Stakes at Saratoga.

ELMONT, N.Y. – On paper, Friday’s $60,000 Shady Character Stakes for 3-year-olds came up extremely strong with a couple of established stakes winners like Big Blue Kitten and King Congie and several up-and-coming runners such as Data Link and Dynafortwo.

How the race actually shapes up on the track will be dependent on Mother Nature. With more than a half-inch of rain expected on Thursday, course condition – if the race even remains on the turf – will determine who actually runs.

Everything being equal, Big Blue Kitten would be the horse to beat. But trainer Chad Brown said he would most likely not run if the turf course was soft. Big Blue Kitten won five consecutive races capped by a 1  1/4-length score in the Grade 2 Hall of Fame at Saratoga on Aug. 12. He has not run since.

Brown said Big Blue Kitten “was a little tired” after the Hall of Fame and needed a freshening.

“He just needed a little time,” Brown said. “He had been running regularly and had some hard races; I thought he was not quite himself. He’s finally come back and is training very well but I probably won’t run if it’s soft turf. He’s breezed on it, he doesn’t like it.”

King Congie has handled less-than-firm turf and ran well in the off-the-turf Kent Stakes at Delaware Park, but trainer Tom Albertrani said Wednesday he was on the fence whether to run Friday or wait for another spot.

Data Link seemed on his way to becoming a stakes winner when he suffered a hind leg issue in the spring that required some time off. Data Link had won three consecutive turf races and was pointing to the Blue Grass Stakes in April when trainer Shug McGaughey had to stop on him.

Data Link began training at Niall Brennan’s farm in Ocala, Fla., before shipping to McGaughey in September.

“He’s doing good,” McGaughey said. “It’s kind of an ambitious spot for his first start back but I think it’s a good place to get him started.”

McGaughey would have Point of Entry to run if the race were to be moved to the main track.

If the race remains on turf and the course condition is soft, then Dynafortwo is worth a look. The son of Dynaformer is coming off a neck victory in a first-level allowance race on Oct. 6.

“He stays further than a mile,” trainer Christophe Clement said. “He’s a rank horse, he’s a strong horse, and I think he will actually enjoy softer ground, that’s the idea behind it. It’s ambitious, but it’s time to get ambitious.”