06/06/2012 3:27PM

Belmont Stakes 2012: Four graded stakes on undercard serve as an appetizer

Tom Keyser
Brilliant Speed is co-highweighted in the Manhattan at 119 pounds.

ELMONT, N.Y. – The huge throng that will be on hand Saturday at Belmont Park in anticipation of seeing racing’s first Triple Crown winner since 1978 will have ample opportunity to warm up for the occasion with four graded races on the Belmont Stakes undercard, including a pair of Grade 1 events, the Manhattan and Just a Game.

The 1 1/4-mile Manhattan drew a well-matched field of eight turf specialists, including Boisterous, Hudson Steele, Brilliant Speed, and Al Khali.

Boisterous, who will share high weight of 119 pounds with Brilliant Speed, is coming off a one-length victory in the Grade 3 Fort Marcy and has won his only two previous starts at 10 furlongs. A son of Distorted Humor, Boisterous has captured three of his last four outings dating back to his win here last fall in the Grade 3 Knickerbocker.

Brilliant Speed has run just twice since finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Turf and comes off an improved showing when third behind loose-on-the-lead Little Mike in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve at Churchill Downs.

“There was no pace in the Woodford and he wasn’t beaten very far,” said Brilliant Speed’s trainer, Tom Albertrani. “A little more pace would suit him well on Saturday.”

Al Khali stumbled at the break to lose all chance, ultimately finishing far back in the Woodford Reserve, after having defeated allowance rivals four weeks earlier at Keeneland. Al Khali was Grade 1-placed twice for trainer Bill Mott following his fourth-place effort in the 2011 Manhattan.

Hudson Steele has won four of his last five tries dating back to August 2010. He is unbeaten and virtually untested in his only two starts this year, with both of those victories coming at Pimlico, including the Grade 2 Dixie on the Preakness undercard.

* Grade 1 winner Winter Memories and the steadily improving Hungry Island head a strong field in the one-mile Just a Game that also includes Tapitsfly, Wallis, Dancinginherdreams, Sylvestris, and Up in Time.

Winter Memories launched her 2012 campaign with a popular and very impressive victory in the Grade 3 Beaugay over a yielding course May 5. She won the Grade 1 Garden City here at 3.

Hungry Island finished strongly to defeat Tapitsfly by a length to register her second Grade 2 win in the Distaff Turf Mile on the Kentucky Derby undercard.

Trainer Dale Romans won the 2011 Just a Game with C. S. Silk and hopes to defend his title Saturday with Tapitsfly.

“She needs to get a Grade 1, the purse is half a million, and we won this race last year,” said Romans when asked why he scratched Tapitsfly out of last Saturday’s Grade 3 Mint Julep Handicap at Churchill Downs in lieu of this tougher spot.

* Trinniberg will make his first start since the Kentucky Derby when topping a field of 10 3-year-olds in the seven-furlong Woody Stephens. Trinniberg, winner of the Grade 3 Swale and Bay Shore earlier this season, has worked forwardly at Calder for his return to sprinting.

“I think the experience he got in the Derby has made him a better horse,” said Shivananda Parbhoo, the owner of Trinniberg. “He couldn’t be training any better.”

The Grade 2 Woody Stephens will give Trinniberg a chance to avenge his setback last fall at Saratoga at the hands of Currency Swap in the Grade 1 Hopeful. Currency Swap rebounded from a rough trip in the Grade 3 Illinois Derby to win the seven-furlong You and I Stakes here last month.

Hierro, who rallied from mid-pack to upset Paynter in the Grade 3 Derby Trial, should also be a major player in the Woody Stephens.

* Parbhoo will also be represented by the starting highweight, Giant Ryan, in the Grade  2 True North. Giant Ryan, who won the Grade 1 Vosburgh in his last local appearance, will carry 120 pounds in the six-furlong True North against a group that includes Smiling Tiger and speedsters like Royal Currier and Crossbow.