07/06/2017 2:46PM

Matt King Coal the speed of Suburban, Shaman Ghost the class

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Barbara D. Livingston
Shaman Ghost (above) has won two Grade 1 races, but may have his hands full trying to catch Matt King Coal in the Suburban Stakes.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Matt King Coal is the horse to catch, but Shaman Ghost is the horse to beat in the Grade 2, $750,000 Suburban Stakes on Saturday at Belmont Park.

The Suburban, being run for the 131st time, drew a six-horse field, but only Matt King Coal looks to have any early speed. Trainer Linda Rice plans to let Matt King Coal take jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. as far as he can on the front but knows it’s a tough assignment to beat a multiple Grade 1 winner such as Shaman Ghost.

“He’s never seen anything the likes of Shaman Ghost, but it’s the logical spot for him right now,” Rice said. “He’s a speed horse – I think he can get a mile and a quarter. We’ll find out if he can get it with this kind of company.”

Matt King Coal has won three of his last four starts, including a 3 3/4-length victory in the Mountainview Stakes going 1 1/8 miles at Penn National on June 3. His lone loss this year came by a neck to Imperative in the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic.

Matt King Coal gets in with 117 pounds, six fewer than Shaman Ghost.

Shaman Ghost is likely the third-best older male dirt horse in the country behind Arrogate and Gun Runner and will be looking to add the Suburban to victories in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap in March and the Grade 3 Pimlico Special in May. His only loss this year came when he ran second to Arrogate in the first running of the Grade 1, $12 million Pegasus Invitational at Gulfstream in January.

Shaman Ghost laid up relatively close to the pace in winning the Santa Anita Handicap and wasn’t too far off the pace in the Pimlico Special, where he defeated stablemate Dolphus by a neck.

“His last few races, he’s been coming out of there and laying closer than he ever did before,” said trainer Jimmy Jerkens, who won the last two editions of the Suburban with Effinex.

Follow Me Crev, third to Shaman Ghost in the Santa Anita Handicap, was shipped here by trainer Vladimir Cerin because he liked the timing and the distance of this race.

“I think my horse is a legitimate mile-and-a-quarter horse,” Cerin said. “It gives him six weeks from his last race and six weeks to his next race, the Pacific Classic. There may not be pace in the race, [but] so what? If you don’t try, you can’t win.”

John Velazquez rides Follow Me Crev from post 5.

Completing the field are Keen Ice, the 2015 Travers winner over Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, Sunny Ridge, and Watershed.

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KEY CONTENDERS

Shaman Ghost, by Ghostzapper

Last 3 Beyers: 106-108-112

◗ Since running fourth in this race last year, he’s been put on Lasix and has three graded-stakes victories and a runner-up finish to Arrogate in five races.

◗ Has seemed a bit handier in his last two starts and even in last year’s Grade 1 Woodward, which he won by a head.

Matt King Coal, by Cool Coal Man

Last 3 Beyers: 102-96-96

◗ Had a relatively easy race in disposing of three rivals in the Mountainview and now gets his biggest class test.

◗ His lone off-the-board finish came in the 2016 Wood Memorial, from which he emerged with a pelvic fracture, according to Rice.

Follow Me Crev, by Quality Road

Last 3 Beyers: 104-99-101

◗ Comes off a career-best Beyer Speed Figure in running second to Cupid in the Grade 1 Gold Cup at Santa Anita in May.

◗ Cerin said Follow Me Crev wasn’t 100 percent fit when third to Shaman Ghost in the Santa Anita Handicap, noting that the gelding’s lone start in the previous seven months was a 1 1/16-mile allowance race.