10/19/2011 1:48PM

Belmont: Thunder Chief lands in soft spot against open company


ELMONT, N.Y. – New York-breds who have cleared their first two restricted allowance conditions usually have little choice but to take on open company next.

Some races are easier than others and the field that the New York-bred Thunder Chief meets on Friday at Belmont Park does not look overly daunting, making him a legitimate value play in the day’s feature race, which goes as the third.

Thunder Chief meets four maiden winners and one multiple claiming winner in the 1 1/8-mile race on the dirt. Thunder Chief, trained by Leah Gyarmati, is only 3 for 25, but he has not finished worse than fourth in any of his dirt races this year.

Thunder Chief cleared the New York-bred second-level allowance condition by three-quarters of a length here in July. Following a two-month layoff, Thunder Chief faced open company at Saratoga, finishing third, beaten 6 1/4 lengths by Cease, a horse who came back to run third, beaten a half-length, in last weekend’s Hawthorne Gold Cup.

Thunder Chief then returned to New York-bred company, finishing fourth behind Johannesburg Smile in the Noble Nashua Stakes. Johannesburg Smile will be one of the contenders in Saturday’s $200,000 Empire Classic.

“I thought it was a tough race. I was happy with it,’’ Gyarmati said. “He runs on anything. He always tries.’’

Alex Solis will ride Thunder Chief from post 3.

Carrington Village will try to rebound from a seventh-place finish in this condition on Oct. 2, a race that was run on a muddy track and which was his first start off a nine-month layoff.

“I don’t know what that was all about, could have been the wet track,’’ trainer Todd Pletcher said. “He came back with a really good breeze. We’ll throw it out and try again.’’

Carrington Village breezed in blinkers and will wear that equipment for the first time on Saturday.

Won Fast Bullet, trained by Richard Dutrow Jr., stretches out to 1 1/8 miles for the first time after running well in sprints. He gets Ramon Dominguez.

Steel Bridge, a maiden winner in his dirt debut, Keep Me Informed, and Crepe Au Sucre complete the field.

◗ Strong Impact, Lady Rizzi, and Silver Timber, the top three finishers from an optional claimer going six furlongs on turf on Sept. 28, meet again in a similar spot that goes as race 6.

There appears to be more speed in this field than there was on Sept. 28, which could set things better for Silver Timber, the 8-year-old gelding who won a race similar to this on Aug. 10 at Saratoga.