07/30/2011 12:56PM

Saratoga: Justin Phillip needs to summon Belmont form for Amsterdam

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Tom Keyser
Justin Phillip has run the two best races of his career at Belmont, including the Grade 2 Woody Stephens on Belmont Stakes Day.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Trainer Steve Asmussen would feel a lot more comfortable about Justin Phillip’s chances to win Monday’s Grade 2, $150,000 Amsterdam Stakes if the race were being held at Belmont Park and not Saratoga.

But since it will be run at 6 1/2 furlongs over Saratoga’s main track, Asmussen – and handicappers – are left to wonder if Justin Phillip is a Belmont horse-for-course or if he can translate what he has done downstate to Saratoga. If he can, he will probably win the Amsterdam, which drew a competitive field of seven, including stakes winners Travelin Man, To Honor and Serve, Caleb’s Posse, and Arch Traveler. Wine Police and Redeemed, while non-stakes winners, have combined to win 5 of 7 career starts.

Justin Phillip has run the two best races of his career at Belmont, winning a maiden race there last September and the Grade 2 Woody Stephens on Belmont Stakes Day. Elsewhere, Justin Phillip is 1 for 8, including a second-place finish in a slowly run maiden race last summer.

"My concern is if we can duplicate a Belmont Park race for him," Asmussen said Saturday. "He looked fabulous breaking his maiden at Belmont – never really duplicated it again until he got back to Belmont."

In the Woody Stephens, Justin Phillip displayed strong early speed under Ramon Dominguez and ran away from a competitive field to win by 3 1/4 lengths in the slop. There is a 30-percent chance of scattered thunderstorms on Monday.

"He likes an off track, obviously," Asmussen said. "His one good race over the winter going two turns was on an off track."

Asmussen also sends out Wine Police, who won what turned out to be a very good maiden race here last summer, beating the likes of subsequent stakes winners Soldat and Santiva. He is coming off a 2 1/4 first-level allowance wins here on June  24, his only star this year.

"I know he likes it here," Asmussen said. "I don’t think this group will spook him."

Arch Traveler finished third as the favorite in the Woody Stephens. The speed-favoring nature of Belmont’s sloppy main track that day may have played against him, especially the way he was ridden.

"It looked like it had the potential to be an unbelievable speed duel," trainer Jimmy Jerkens said. "So I said, ‘Why don’t you ease him back and stay there and hopefully they’ll come back to you?’ He wasn’t able to close on them. You could only take getting pelted with that [mud] for so long."

Two starts back, Arch Traveler won an overnight stakes going seven furlongs at Belmont by three lengths. He fired a best-of-39 five-furlong workout in 50 seconds here last Sunday.

To Honor and Serve, sidelined by a strained suspensory ligament, makes his return to the races off a four-month layoff in the Amsterdam. Trainer Bill Mott said he is running in this race because "we just have to get going."

Travelin Man is seeking to return to the form he showed at Gulfstream where he won the Grade  2 Swale. Caleb’s Posse drops back to a sprint for the first time since last November when he won the Clever Trevor Stakes by 5 1/2 lengths. Redeemed has won three straight and makes his stakes debut in here.