ELMONT, N.Y. – Leading Belmont Stakes contender Exaggerator got a feel for Belmont Park’s main track on a rainy Monday morning, the Preakness winner’s first excursion over the surface since his arrival from Pimlico Sunday afternoon.
Overseen at Belmont Park by Keith Desormeaux’ assistant trainer Julie Clark, the probable favorite for the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes left Barn 29 during a welcome – albeit brief – respite from the rain shortly before the renovation break. Exaggerator walked through the paddock and grandstand tunnel to the main track and, with regular exercise rider Peedy Landry aboard, galloped an easy lap around the 1 ½-mile oval.
“He was really good,” said Clark. “The track is so big, it kind of looks like they’re going slower than they are, but he went in a nice good pace. Not fast, not slow, just right in the middle. He seemed to handle it well. He came back barely blowing and then I passed him off to [his groom] Vic [Vargas] and made Vic walk him because he was a handful, like he always is.”
Clark said she timed the son of Curlin in 20-second furlongs through much of the gallop before he gathered momentum through the final few furlongs.
“He went a couple in 18, 19 seconds,” she said. “He picked it up towards the end but he was just off of a two-minute clip, which is what we like. We don’t want him going too fast. It certainly was easy.”
The dark bay colt is expected to return to the track Tuesday morning for light training and is tentatively slated to have his final breeze for the Belmont on either Saturday or Tuesday, said Clark.
“He’s either going to gallop two [miles] or two-minute clip [a mile] tomorrow, Keith’s waiting to make that decision,” she said. “He might work on Saturday, or he may do a two-minute clip Saturday and breeze Tuesday. He’s had a pretty easy week since the Preakness, plus Keith wanted to see how handled the track, especially going a little further.”
Expected to face Exaggerator in the 148th running of the Belmont Stakes are Dale Romans trainees Brody’s Cause and Cherry Wine, a pair from the Todd Pletcher barn in Destin and Stradivari, Grade 2 Peter Pan runner-up Governor Malibu, Arkansas Derby winner Creator and runner-up Suddenbreakingnews, and Japanese invader Lani.
Swipe back in training
Exaggerator, one of five horses who arrived for Desormeaux on Sunday, is joined at Belmont by Swipe, a four-time runner-up to Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, including a late-closing second behind the eventual 2-year-old champion in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
“It was funny coming out of that race, everyone was still asking about Exaggerator [fourth in the Juvenile] and we had another one that finished even better,” Clark joked. “He’s always been a little under the radar, finishing second to Nyquist all the time. Now, I think people realize that that was such a tough horse to try to beat all the time.”
The Birdstone colt will be based at Belmont while he prepares for another return to the races, having suffered breathing issues off a five-month layoff in his lone 3-year-old start at Keeneland this spring, when he finished sixth in the Grade 3 Lexington on April 16.
“That’s what happened in the Lexington,” said Clark. “Keith thought he had heard a little something after the race and he got him checked out and got that problem addressed. He had some throat surgery and he walked for 30 days but he’s been back to the track for about a week now and he’s been great. He looks really good and feels good. I’ve always liked him, he’s one of my favorites. I’m happy to have him back.”
Swipe could return to the worktab as early as Saturday, which would be his first official breeze since April, although Clark adds that there is no time table for his comeback.
“Keith’s looked at a whole bunch of things, but he’s going to let the horse tell him,” she said. “He doesn’t want to rush him.”
Creator works for Belmont, ships to New York on Tuesday
Creator breezed Monday morning in his final workout at Churchill Downs before heading to New York in preparation of the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes on June 11. Trainer Steve Asmussen, who will be inducted this summer into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame, saw Creator clock five furlongs in 1:02 with jockey Florent Geroux aboard. The son of Tapit is scheduled to leave for Belmont on Tuesday.
“He’s training nicely,” Asmussen said. “It was nice and smooth and he galloped out well. The horse is doing great. We’re sending him out to Belmont [Tuesday] and giving him an easy half-mile either Monday or Tuesday of next week [June 6 or 7].”
Irad Ortiz, Jr. will be in the irons for Creator in the Belmont Stakes, replacing Ricardo Santana Jr., who guided Creator to a win in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby and a 13th-place showing in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby. Asmussen said Creator is gearing up for the longest race of his life with “Test of the Champion” but is looking forward to seeing how he fares on Belmont Park’s Big Sandy track.
“We’re somewhat concerned with the possibility of the lack of pace in the race, but Creator is a very talented 3-year-old that will get a mile-and-a-half in good style,” he said.
Asmussen added he is pointing Counterforce to the Grade 2, $500,000 Woody Stephens on Belmont Stakes Day on June 11. Other probables for the seven-furlong race for 3-year-olds is Colts Neck Stables’ Dig Deep, Hans Poetsch’s I Will Score, Zayat Stables’ King Kranz and GMB Racing’s Tom’s Ready. The Doug O’Neill-trained Mrazek, who finished second last-out in the Grade 3 Lazaro Barrera Stakes at Santa Anita, is also likely to start.
Asmussen said Holy Boss is being targeted for the Grade 2, $250,000 True North on June 10. The Jerry Durant-owned Holy Boss breezed five furlongs in 1:00.50 at Churchill on Monday.
Frosted leads McLaughlin’s Belmont Stakes Racing Festival contingent
Returning to Belmont Park after visiting his stables at the Greentree Training Center in Saratoga over the weekend, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin discussed his group of possible starters set for the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival.
Multiple graded stakes winner Frosted, who has not raced since returning from Dubai where he finished fifth in the Group 1 Dubai World Cup on March 26, worked five furlongs in 1:00.20 Friday. Pointing towards the Grade 1, $1.25 million Mohegan Sun Metropolitan Mile Handicap on Belmont Stakes Day, the 4-year-old returned from Dubai in good order according to McLaughlin and set to have one final work this week before the race.
“He’s doing very well coming off Dubai,” said McLaughlin. “We’ll work him one more time next Friday. He’s probably better going a little further [in distance] but the Met Mile is such an important race in terms of a stallion-making race that we decided we would run him there.”
Frosted will lead McLaughlin’s delegation for the Met Mile, which is now likely to include 2015 Group 2 Godolphin Mile winner Tamarkuz, in his first start of the year. Last out, he finished in fourth in the Grade 2 Kelso Handicap on October 3.
“He’s been training well,” McLaughlin said. “He came up from Camden and has been working weekly, so we’ll see where we’re at off the long layoff. Like I said, the Met Mile is such an important race, so we want to give our horses the best opportunity to win it.”
Marking, who finished fourth in this year’s edition of the Godolphin Mile in Dubai in his most recent start, is also probable for the race.
In addition to McLaughlin’s runners, the Met Mile is expected to attract a trio from Todd Pletcher in Anchor Down, Blofeld and Mshawish. Recent winner of the Grade 3 Pimlico Special Noble Bird is likely for Mark Casse, as is Razorback Handicap winner Upstart for Rick Violette and Sloane Avenue for Jeremy Noseda. Ami’s Flatter is questionable.
Stonestreet Stables’ Grade 1 winner Cavorting, who earned an impressive five-length victory in the Grade 2 Ruffian at Belmont on May 14, will be pointed for the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps. Expected to attract a star-studded field of multiple graded stakes winners including Forever Unbridled, Curalina, Stopchargingmaria, and Carrumba, McLauglin was looking forward to what likely will be a thrilling edition of the race.
“She’ll [Cavorting] train once before, either Wednesday or Thursday because she trains aggressive and she’s coming in fit. It’s a stellar field and we’re excited,” he said.
Finally, McLaughlin added that multiple graded stakes winner and fourth-place Kentucky Derby finisher Mohaymen recently returned to Saratoga and has put on some weight since his start in the Derby.
“He’s put on some weight – 46 pounds, to be accurate, since the Derby,” said McLaughlin. “He’s settled in nicely. We think he’s a special horse and in the Derby, he didn’t break sharp but ran very well to finish fourth. We’re looking to regroup and the goal is to first point for the [Grade 2] Jim Dandy [on July 30], with the ultimate goal the Travers [on August 27] to get him a Grade 1 win.”