07/14/2010 11:00PM

Belmont roundup

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WHO'S HOT

Christophe Clement

It was a frustrating meet for the Paris-born trainer until July 8, when Balcazio ($8.70) kicked off a run of five consecutive winners to close out the next-to-last week of the stand, highlighted by Gio Ponti ($2.80) taking the Man o' War for the second straight year and thus ending a run of five losses since taking the 2009 Arlington Million.

"Everyone made a big deal of him getting beaten the last time, but I never had a doubt that the horse was the leader of his division," Clement said. "The race was completely against him. They walked on the front, he was last, but he's good enough to be versatile and win the race. He's back winning, and we'll go for the Arlington Million or the Pacific Classic, one of the two."

Clement's 5-for-5 run also included wins by Shekomeko Son ($8), Powder Princess ($5.50), and Perfect Casting ($4.80).

The recent low prices notwithstanding, Clement's average payoff from a dozen winners through July 11 was still at $10, making him the only trainer on the leaderboard in double-digits besides Dominick Schettino ($12.20).

Gary Contessa

He has been hot enough on the track to be a clear second behind Todd Pletcher with a week remaining, but Contessa, the leading trainer in New York each of the last four years, is hot under the collar regarding the current state of political affairs.

In response to last week's I Don't Get It Award in this space, which excerpted a quote from the New York Racing Association's CEO, Charles Hayward regarding Contessa being down from 120 horses to 55, Contessa contacted Roundup Central to vent with this message:

"I want to clarify something. I think Monmouth is living proof we don't have a horse shortage, we have an owner shortage. If the politicians would get off their asses and get the VLT's up and running, you would have a Monmouth situation in New York. Owners don't want to run for purses equal to or less than what they were five years ago; they're not motivated by purses here anymore, not when they can run for virtually the same money at Philadelphia Park at about half the 'day rate,' or go to Monmouth and run for more money. I have 12 stalls in New Jersey, and if I had another 40 stalls, I could fill them because people I've never trained for in my life want to get involved in the Monmouth money game.

"If nothing else, Monmouth has proven the fact that if you give money, they will come. Our politicians should be ashamed. They are the pits, and we should take one out and tar and feather him. They are fiddling while New York burns.

"I'm not trying to be crazy, but the bottom line is there is an owner shortage. Why race here when we're surrounded by equal or better purses? I'm a New Yorker through and through, and I want to race here, but how we don't have VLT's nine years after they were approved is a disgrace."

TRACK TRENDS

After a cancellation because of extreme heat Wednesday, July 7, there were 18 races on the main track Thursday through Sunday. Thirteen winners either led or were within two lengths of the lead at the pace call.

The 20 turf races included 15 turf sprints, no fewer than five of which were presented Sunday.

COMING ATTRACTIONS

The stakes program concludes Saturday, July 17, with, fittingly enough, the richest turf sprint of the local season. Among those expected for the $200,000 Jaipur was Stradivinsky, a well-traveled, 7-year-old gelding coming off a trio of wire-to-wire wins against claimers at Gulfstream Park, Arlington Park, and Churchill Downs. Stradivinsky was claimed by Rick Dutrow Jr. for $50,000 last out. "His numbers were good," Dutrow said. "This is a big race for him -- if he wins, the owners will get twice their money back." A bit more, actually.

Next week's four add-on days at Saratoga feature the Schuylerville opening day, the Coaching Club American Oaks on Saturday, the Sanford on Sunday, and the Evan Shipman on Monday.

CLAIM(S) OF THE MEET

A toss-up between Mission Approved and Tahoe Warrior, who were claimed from turf races here in June, and each returned big dividends last Saturday.

Mission Approved won the Saranac at Saratoga back in 2007 and took the 12-furlong Singspiel at Woodbine the following year, so Naipaul Chatterpaul was getting a horse with back class when he claimed him for $35,000 from his second start of the year.

Sent off as the rank outsider in the Man o' War at 53-1, Mission Approved set up shop on an easy lead, laying down a first quarter in 26.13 seconds, a second in 26.14, and a third in 25.80 - mind you, on an inner turf course hardened to a yellowish-green through a prolonged stretch of hot and dry weather. Still with plenty left in the tank thanks to a crafty ride by Jose Espinoza, Mission Approved remained clear into the stretch and led to the final yards before dual Eclipse Award winner Gio Ponti finally ran him down.

Mission Approved recorded a lifetime-best Beyer Figure of 100 and earned $120,000 for the Grade 1 placing.

"I thought he was a really nice horse, and he showed it," Chatterpaul said. "We ran him long where he could have an easy lead. I thought we had him, but Gio Ponti is a great horse."

Earlier that afternoon, it became evident the recent exploits of Rudy Rodriguez haven't been lost on bettors at Calder, who made Tahoe Warrior a 12-5 favorite in the $100,000 Turf Sprint Handicap on the Summit of Speed card.

Claimed from a win against $20,000 turf sprinters here June 2, Tahoe Warrior raced fourth to the stretch and unleashed a strong late run to win going away, earning back three times his purchase price in one fell swoop.

Rodriguez improved to 6 for 10 (60 percent, $5.52 return on investment) first off the claim and 14 for 24 (58.3 percent, $5.85 return) with new stock overall since hanging up his riding boots earlier this year. Into the final week at Belmont, he was third in the standings with a 16-for-47 record (34 percent), with a $5.40 average mutuel that indicates everyone is on the bandwagon.

No rules, just Rudy.

HORSES TO WATCH

Arch Support

Trainer: Gary Contessa

Last race: July 9, 2nd

Finish: 2nd by nose

This 2-year-old filly broke to the lead but was eased back to third through the first quarter, challenged inside, and finished gamely through an educational stretch drive first time out.

Dougie

Trainer: Anthony Dutrow

Last race: July 10, 10th

Finish: 2nd by 1/2

This $250,000 colt by Elusive Quality was sidelined for better than 22 months and returned with a Beyer Figure pair-up often indicative of impending development. He got the place late despite lacking room through the stretch run second time back.

Litigating

Trainer: Bill Mott

Last race: July 9, 2nd

Finish: 6th by 6 3/4

This homebred 2-year-old filly by Point Given is a half-sister to Go Between, a multiple stakes winner on turf and synthetic tracks, including the Pacific Classic in 2008. She lacked room behind the leaders in her six-furlong debut and may stretch out effectively.

Tahitian Warrior

Trainer: Saeed bin Suroor

Last race: July 10, 4th

Finish: 1st by 7 3/4

This 3-year-old gelding was beaten four lengths by Trappe Shot on Belmont Stakes Day and underscored Trappe Shot's quality by coming back to demolish first-level allowance sprinters under mild urging, recording a Beyer Figure of 103.