06/10/2013 11:18AM

Trip Notes: Belmont Stakes, Manhattan Handicap, Woody Stephens Stakes

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June 8

Belmont
True North Handicap (race 7)

Kudos to the track crew as despite heavy rains all day Friday and overnight the track was in great shape by the time the stakes action commenced (listed as good for this). Fast Bullet, making his first start of the year, staked his claim along with Delauney and Sahara Sky as a top dirt sprinter as he led this field on a merry chase. He broke sharply and as expected went right to the lead. He opened up a couple lengths, set solid splits, seemed to be in a bit of trouble turning for home as the 3 who were right behind him moved closer, but then opened up again and never really had a scare late. All the major sprints figure to be under consideration for him, though he may not get as easy a lead. Justin Philip, entrymate of the winner, stalked a couple lengths behind Fast Bullet while staying on the rail, was traveling very nicely on the far turn as he moved closer, looked very dangerous for a moment as Fast Bullet came off the rail leaving him with a lane, but was unable to take advantage of that opening, then swung out as Fast Bullet moved back to the inside and stayed on decently without threatening the winner. Laurie’s Rocket stalked and stayed on gamely for 3rd. Sage Valley, winner of 4 straight coming into this, lagged back but this was basically a parade all the way around as no one made up any significant ground.

Belmont
Just a Game II (race 8)

Stephanie’s Kitten, a Grade 1 winner on synthetic and multiple Grade 2 winner on turf, can now boast of being a Grade 1 winner on turf as she was the recipient of a beautiful ride and some good fortune. On a track labeled yielding she sat back in this quality field, bided her time along the inside, moved closer on the turn, caught a big break when Centre Court, just in front of her, came off the rail giving her a lane, pushed through, moved past a tiring Mizdirection while staying on the rail, engaged hard-charging Better Lucky, and gamely prevailed. Not only did she get a wonderful trip, but she’s now 4 for 4 on non-firm turf, so the footing played to her strength, too. Better Lucky sat 4th just outside Centre Court, moved up nicely on the turn, went around a tiring Laugh Out Loud and then Mizdirection to grab the lead, was immediately taken on by Stephanie’s Kitten, battled gamely and lost a tough one. Hungry Island sat back with Stephanie’s Kitten, but unlike that rival had to go around and finished decently, though she was never a threat. Centre Court seemed to be in a great spot stalking in 3rd while saving ground, moved closer on the far turn, inexplicably came off the rail which allowed Stephanie’s Kitten to go through and then left her behind a wall of horses, tried to get going, but it was too late. Since she didn’t show her usual push-button acceleration you could make a case she didn’t handle the boggy conditions. Mizdirection went right out to set the pace, took some pressure from a rank Laugh Out Loud and weakened. She and may not have cared for the footing, and while she can handle a mile, it could be at this level that’s a smidge beyond her. This was a very strong group and you get the feeling if you ran this race 10 times you’d get 5 different winners depending on footing/trip.

Belmont
Woody Stephens (race 9)

Track was upgraded to fast prior to this race. Forty Tales benefitted from a super ride from Joel Rosario and the right kind of pace. The Grade 3 Kentucky Derby Trial winner lagged well back while Let Em Shine was pushed into hot splits by Zee Bros. Forty Tales steadily advanced, was still midpack with a lot of ground to make up turning into the lane while between horses, swung further out to avoid some tiring runners and finished resolutely for the score. His “surge” may have looked better than it was since a number of runners in front of him were stopping, but this still stamps him a potential Grade 1 King’s Bishop type. Declan’s Warrior sat back off the hot pace, moved in tandem with the winner into the lane and was right alongside, moved out with Forty Tales, had to dart to the inside to avoid a tiring and weaving Clearly Now and finished well for 2nd. Clearly Now stalked, went after the tiring speed into the lane, looked poised to win but then ran out of fuel himself, had trouble keeping a straight path late and just lost 2nd in the final strides. Let Em Shine ran big all things considered. He broke sharply and went right to the lead, was hounded by Zee Bros though hot splits, looked beaten by that rival into the lane but kept going to again move past that foe but got overtaken in the final yards by the top 3.

Belmont

Manhattan Handicap (race 10)
Point of Entry confirmed he’s the best turf distance horse in the land, but it came at a big price. Making his first start since beating Animal Kingdom in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Handicap, Point of Entry was a bit slow into stride on the soft course as longshot Plainview set a decent pace. He bided his time, remaining out in the clear, edged closer going to the far turn, was then asked for run, moved up alongside Optimizer, kept a threatening Real Solution at bay and was actually edging away late. However, he came out of the race with a slight condylar fracture of his left hind cannon bone which requires surgery. Obviously future plans are up in the air. Optimizer ran a splendid race. He stalked the pace, moved up to grab the lead into the lane, battled back gamely on the rail when hooked by Point of Entry, finally relented but only grudgingly, and held 2nd. Real Solution sat back, came with a threatening run into the lane as if he might go by Point of Entry and Optimizer but had his challenge rebuffed. Twilight Eclipse, making his first start since setting a 1 1/2-mile world record when winning Gulfstream’s Grade 2 Pan American March 23, sat midpack near Point of Entry, tried to go with that foe on the turn but couldn’t keep up. He likely not only needed the race but seems better on firm ground.

Belmont
Belmont Stakes (race 11)

A horse who trainer Todd Pletcher continually said was possibly his most talented of the crop came through and did his trainer proud as Palace Malice gave Pletcher and rider Mike Smith their 2nd Belmont victory apiece. In the Kentucky Derby, Palace Malice, with blinkers on, ran off and fizzled, finishing 12th. They skipped the Preakness, removed the blinkers and it worked as he bided his time off a very strong pace set by Frac Daddy, Freedom Child and Oxbow (2nd fastest four-furlong split only behind Secretariat in ’73). He was always traveling well, moved closer on the turn, ranged up alongside then-leader Oxbow, had no trouble moving past that foe and opened up in the lane despite a snail-like last quarter as he was obviously tired. The Jim Dandy/Travers path is the plan, according to Pletcher. Oxbow ran splendidly, pressing Frac Daddy and Freedom Child through brisk splits. He took over turning for home, couldn’t stay with the winner but persevered to hold 2nd. Orb, the favorite off his big Ky. Derby win, was well back early, which seemed wise considering the fast splits up front. He made a nice sustained run on the far turn while wide, loomed ominously turning for home but just didn’t have the needed punch. The Grade 1 Travers at Saratoga Aug. 24 is his summer target. Revolutionary, the 2nd choice, wasn’t as far back as in the Derby, moved closer down the backstretch, continued to nudge closer on the turn but then came up empty when it mattered. He may get a freshening. Golden Soul, the Kentucky Derby 2nd, was back with Orb, moved with that rival while just behind him on the far turn, but hit the brakes early. Freedom Child, coming off a smashing win in the Grade 2 Peter Pan, was on the pace but caved in during the final furlongs, as did pacesetter Frac Daddy.

Churchill
Early Times Mint Julep Handicap (race 9)

Miz Ida ran 2nd here May 12, her first start of the year, and apparently got what she needed out of that race as she vaulted forward to beat a strong field here and earn her 2nd Grade 3 win. She bided her time early after a slow start, moved closer turning for home while saving ground, came through between horses, moved to the outside for clear sailing and powered past her rivals and win going away. She might next go in the Lady Canterbury at Canterbury July 13. Daisy Devine, the favorite who has knocked heads with the best of her division the past couple years, showed her speed as usual to dog pacesetter Soft Whisper. She took over from that rival into the lane, braced for Miz Ida’s charge, but was no match for that gal. This was yet another fine effort for Daisy Devine, and her 3rd in the Grade 2 Distaff Turf Mile May 4 looks even better now when you note she chased Stephanie’s Kitten and Hungry Island, who came back to run 1st and 3rd in the Grade 1 Just a Game at Belmont today. Colonial Flag, making her first start of the year, was just in front of Miz Ida early, moved closer to be threatening into the lane but didn’t produce the needed punch. Could be she needed this race. Heavenly Landing, 2nd in this last year and 3rd just behind Miz Ida in that May 12 optional claimer here, was fractious in the gate, broke slowly and never got involved.

Betfair at Hollywood Park
Charles Whittingham Handicap (race 4)

The turf distance division out West remains in a state of flux as Tale of a Champion notched his first graded stakes while trying 1 1/4 miles for the first time. He stalked the modest pace of Lucky Primo, edged closer turning for home, challenged that foe into the lane, got the better of him to grab the lead and kept favored All Squared Away at bay. The Grade 3 Sunset here July 14 could be next as winning at this longer trip opens up some doors. The four major grass races at 10 furlongs or more this year in Southern California have now been won by four different horses. All Squared Away stalked in 4th, gamely went after the leaders into the lane but just couldn’t get to Tale of a Champion. Lucky Primo went right out to the lead, set modest splits, battled back when hooked into the lane but couldn’t keep up with the top 2 in the final furlong. Slim Shadey, 2nd in this last year, pressed Lucky Primo from the start, was still there turning for home but then gave way badly to finish last. He may be in need of a break.

Betfair at Hollywood Park
Honeymoon Handicap (race 10)

Sarach showed promise at Santa Anita this winter, winning two straight grass races, but then sort of went off the rails when 5th in two turf stakes. She got back on track here and showed she fits with the top 3-year-old turf fillies out West as she posted a mild upset. After those two 5ths she was freshened a couple months and posted a bullet work June 2 to indicate she was feeling good. Here she used her speed, bouncing right out to the lead. She was able to dictate tempo through modest splits and gamely held her narrow advantage all the way to the line. The Grade 1 American Oaks here July 13 figures next. Scarlet Strike, the heavy favorite, was last early, still last to the far turn before commencing her run and finishing strongly. She just couldn’t get to the winner. The American Oaks still figures to be on her radar, too. Macha chased the winner from the start, kept after her through the lane but just wasn’t good enough. Still, it was a good run and she could have a say in the American Oaks as well. Becky Lou, who campaigned in England last year and then won in her first U.S. start at Santa Anita April 18, lagged back and finished decently, though she was no threat. Charlie Em, who beat many of these when winning the Grade 3 Senorita here May 11 in her U.S debut, sat back, made a bit of a run into the lane but couldn’t sustain it and in fact flattened out in a disappointing outing.

June 9

Monmouth
Monmouth Stakes (race 10)

On paper Boisterous appeared to have a class edge and that’s the way it worked out on the course as he was victorious as the heavy favorite. From his rail slot he showed his tactical speed to sit behind Two Notch Road, Euro raider Wrote and Tune Me In. He was content to remain there, saving ground all the while, moved out from behind those horses turning for home, surged past Two Notch road and drew to win comfortably. While he may not be of the same class as stablemates Point of Entry or Data Link, he can still do some damage in the right spot. He might next go for Belmont’s Grade 3 Poker July 4 or possibly ship west for the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile at Hollywood June 29. Shug McGaughey said the horse wants firm turf, so that will determine where he goes. Big Blue Kitten sat last early remained well back before commencing a strong rally that earned him 2nd, though it never looked as though he’d catch the winner. Two Notch Road made the running under pressure, rebuffed challenges, was no match for the winner but fought on gamely for 3rd, only losing 2nd in the final strides.