06/30/2009 11:00PM

Convocation steps up for Dwyer


ELMONT, N.Y. - When it became evident that Florida Derby winner Quality Road would not make the Triple Crown races, trainer Jimmy Jerkens had no choice but to look ahead to the second half of the year in the 3-year-old division. Though he is no longer the trainer of Quality Road, Jerkens may still have something to look forward to.

Saturday's $200,000 Dwyer Stakes at Belmont Park kicks off the second half of the year in the 3-year-old division, and Jerkens will be represented by Convocation, who enters the Grade 2 race off just a maiden win, albeit an impressive one. In his fourth career start, Convocation rolled to a 6 3/4-length victory over this track on Belmont Stakes Day, running a mile in 1:35.38 while under wraps the final eighth of a mile.

"He got into the right spot," Jerkens said. "The horse on the lead was tiring so bad. The track was so insanely fast, it's hard to judge anything. But still he did run awfully well."

Convocation, a son of Pulpit owned by the Centennial Farms, broke slowly and finished second as the favorite in a 12-horse maiden race at Gulfstream Park in February. A month later, in a two-turn race at Gulfstream, Convocation bore out leaving the starting gate and then again turning for home when finishing last as the 4-5 favorite in a 1 1/8-mile maiden race.

When he returned to New York, Convocation faced older horses in a one-mile maiden race and got boxed in somewhat around the turn. Though he had three-sixteenths of a mile of clear sailing, he finished second to the 4-year-old Top It. Then came his breakout performance on Belmont Stakes Day.

"He's one of those horses who didn't come out of his mother knowing how to be a racehorse, he had to learn it," Jerkens said.

Though it is not Jerkens's usual routine to put a horse into a Grade 2 stakes off a maiden win, he said he preferred to point to a race that he knew would fill as opposed to an allowance that may or may not fill.

Convocation will break from post 2 in what is a seven-horse field for the 1 1/16-mile Dwyer. Alan Garcia, who rode Convocation in his debut, has the mount as Kent Desormeaux, aboard Convocation for the maiden win, will be at Churchill Downs to ride Mr. Sidney in the Firecracker.

Among the major players in the Dwyer is American Dance, who is owned by Edward Evans, the same person who took Quality Road away from Jerkens last month. Jerkens said he does not have any added motivation to win the Dwyer.

"It's just nice to have another nice one," he said. "I don't know about showing anybody anything."

The Dwyer field, from the rail out, is: Warrior's Reward (Calvin Borel), Convocation (Garcia), Kensei (Edgar Prado), Masala (Cornelio Velasquez), American Dance (John Velazquez), Just Ben (Rajiv Maragh), and Sunday Sunrise (Ramon Dominguez).

Tagg seeks first Suburban with Dry Martini

Trainer Barclay Tagg's original goal with Dry Martini was the Grade 2 Cornhusker Handicap at Prairie Meadows, a race Tagg won with Dry Martini in 2007. But after a solid win over Belmont's main track on May 8 and several good works here the last month, Tagg decided the Grade 2 Suburban would be an equally good spot.

Oh, and one more thing.

"I've won the Cornhusker," Tagg said. "I haven't won the Suburban."

Dry Martini was one of 10 horses entered in the $400,000 Suburban, which will go as race 10 on Saturday's 11-race card. A win in the Suburban would make Dry Martini a million-dollar earner.

Dry Martini won the Grade 3 Stuyvesant for Billy Turner last November but was returned to Tagg this winter in south Florida. After running second to It's a Bird in the Sunshine Millions Classic, Dry Martini ran fourth in the New Orleans Handicap and third in the Charles Town Classic before beating two horses winning the off-the-turf Three Coins Up here May 8.

"I think he likes this track, he's always there to beat," Tagg said. "If everything goes his way, they have him to watch out for. He's a nice, solid, classy horse."

Tagg prefers when Dry Martini can lay in midpack and have a pace in which to close. That figures to be the case in the Suburban, with the likes of Finallymadeit, Cool Coal Man, and possibly Samhoon in the field. Samhoon is cross-entered in a third-level allowance race here Friday.

The Suburban field, from the rail out, is: Finallymadeit (Eduardo Nunez), Dry Martini (Edgar Prado), It's a Bird (Javier Castellano), Asiatic Boy (Alan Garcia), Stud Muffin (Cornelio Velasquez), Rising Moon (Jose Lezcano), Real Merchant (Rajiv Maragh), Cool Coal Man (John Velazquez), Ready's Echo (Ramon Dominguez), and Samhoon (Eibar Coa).

Baffert targets another Prioress trophy

Trainer Bob Baffert seeks his third Prioress in the last six years when he sends out Acorn winner Gabby's Golden Gal against eight other 3-year-old fillies in the Grade 1, $300,000 race at six furlongs.

Gabby's Golden Gal will be cutting back to six furlongs from her win in the Grade 1 Acorn at one mile.

"I don't think it will hinder her at all," said Tonja Terranova, who helps oversee Baffert's New York string. "Bob's pretty confident in running her three-quarters as well as long. The way she trains, she could probably do anything."

Gabby's Golden Gal will try to duplicate the exploits of Indian Blessing last year and Friendly Michelle in 2004, who won this race for Baffert.

The Prioress, the only Grade 1, six-furlong race exclusively for 3-year-old fillies, drew a field of nine. The field, from the rail out, is: Luster (Cornelio Velasquez), Cat Moves (Ramon Dominguez), Heart Ashley (Edgar Prado), Light Green (John Velazquez), Reforestation (Eibar Coa), Be Fair (Alan Garcia), Gabby's Golden Gal (Javier Castellano), Selva (Rajiv Maragh), and On the Menu (Jeremy Rose).

Sal the Barber wires Don Jack

Sal the Barber got loose on an uncontested lead under Ramon Dominguez and led all the way en route to a 4 1/4-length win over 3-5 favorite Pinckney Hill in Wednesday's $67,700 Don Jack Stakes. It was a half-length back to Tamborim in third.

Sal the Barber, a son of Alphabet Soup, was coming off a third-place finish in the Lamplighter Stakes in which he attempted to rally from off the pace. Friday, with his new running style, Sal the Barber covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:49 and returned $15 as the fourth choice in a field of six.

Sal the Barber is owned by Lewis Schaffel and trained by Christophe Clement.

New York Stakes drops to Grade 3

After a review by the North American Graded Stakes Committee, the $250,000 New York Stakes, taken off the turf on June 20 and won by Icon Project, was dropped to a Grade 3 from a Grade 2 stakes.

All graded stakes that are moved from the turf to the dirt automatically drop a grade, pending a review. The committee consists of 11 racing secretaries, who are provided a data sheet comparing the program field to the starting field. The original field of 10 scratched down to five, though it kept graded stakes winners Criticism and Backseat Rhythm.

Earlier in the month, the Grade 3 Hill Prince, moved from the turf to the dirt, did keep its grade.