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ELMONT, NY – Juddmonte Farms homebred Flavius, one of three entries bearing the legendary green and pink silks, is the morning line favorite as he cuts back in distance for his 2020 debut in Sunday’s $80,000 First Defence Stakes at Belmont Park.
The First Defence is a 7-furlong sprint over the outer turf course for horses 4 and up and is slated as the penultimate event of a 10-race card.
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Here is a look at the full field for the First Defence:
1. Flavius (7/2) – Though bred in Kentucky as a son of top American turf sire War Front, Juddmonte Farms sent him to Ireland to start his career, where he put together a 3-2-1-0 record. He went unraced from October 2018 until he debuted stateside for Chad Brown in November 2019, finishing fourth in 2 starts. Brown adds blinkers here, a rare and not-always-successful move (16%) for the nation’s winningest turf trainer.
2. Sombeyay (4/1) – He won 2 of his first 3 starts as a precocious juvenile in 2018, but he struggled for over a year to find success again. He rediscovered the magic when trainer Todd Pletcher tried him on turf midway through 2019, posting a surface record of 5-1-3-0 that includes a victory in the Canadian Turf Stakes (G3) earlier this year.
3. Jakarta (50/1) – After changing barns to Mike Maker for the start of 2020, this field’s lone female entry turned her first turf steps into gold, wiring a 5-furlong optional claiming field at Gulfstream Park. She repeated that performance in the Powder Break Stakes, a 1-mile event rained off of the turf. She is cross-entered in Saturday’s Intercontinental Stakes (G3) for fillies and mares, and it is yet unknown in which field her connections feel more confident.
4. Delaware (8/1) – The second Brown entry to sport the Juddmonte Farms silks, he makes his stateside debut here after compiling an 11-3-3-1 record in two years spent running on French grass. He won 2 straight before ending his 2019 campaign in September’s extremely tough Prix du Moulin de Longchamp (G1) against older males and should find this field much more manageable – if he can overcome the long layoff and adapt well to the North American style of running.
5. Win Win Win (8/1) – A track record-setting performance in last year’s Pasco Stakes led to the Kentucky Derby (G1) trail, which saw him run third in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and second in the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) before being placed ninth in the Kentucky Derby and seventh in the Preakness Stakes (G1). His most recent start saw hm take the Manila Stakes over this course on July 4 in his first turf attempt, and though he is unraced since, trainer Mike Trombetta wins 11% off of long layoffs.
6. Nicodemus (10/1) – He won last year’s Westchester Stakes (G3) over a sloppy local main track and was a nose away from taking January’s Toboggan Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct in his most recent star. Though this marks his inaugural grass attempt, he is a half-brother to 6-time turf winner Twelve Tribes and trainer Linda Rice wins 13% with first-timers on the green.
7. Seismic Wave (10/1) – The third Juddmonte Farms color-bearer has made his 11 career starts for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, who saddled him to 2019 stakes victories in the Cutler Bay and the English Channel. He is unraced since taking the latter over this course last October, but he fired bullets in three of his past four recorded works and Mott wins at a 10% clip off of extended layoffs.
8. Skyler’s Scramjet (30/1) – Only 1 of his past 20 career starts came on turf – a 5 1/2-furlong sprint at Saratoga in 2017 that saw him nearly lose the rider after an awkward start. He was a 1/2-length away from upsetting last year’s Carter Handicap (G1), but he needs to revert form after finishing at least 14 lengths behind the winner in his 3 subsequent starts.
9. Hawkish (15/1) – His turf mile record of 5-4-1-0 includes two stakes (one graded) and looks even better when you consider that his lone defeat was a 1/2-length miss in another graded stakes. He shook off the rust in his 2020 debut last month and makes his second start off of a long layoff for trainer James Toner, who wins 38% under such conditions.
10. Vici (20/1) – Since David Donk claimed him a year ago April, he has strung together a 5-0-4-1 record while sprinting on dirt and turf. Though the War Front gelding might not pose a strong threat on paper, his consistency and recent form hint that he could provide sharp bettors with a juicy price in the exotics.
11. Honor Up (20/1) – The Michelle Nevin trainee won his turf debut while going 1 1/16 miles over the local inner course in 2018, then just missed by 3/4 of a length on Saratoga’s inner course in his next start. He switched back to dirt and won 4 of his next 5 starts, but a drop-off in his form and a sharp recent work on turf have him back on grass to right the ship.
12. Majestic Dunhill (15/1) – As he’s cross-entered in Saturday’s Carter Handicap (G1), trainer George Weaver will have to choose where to run. The Majesticperfection gelding started his career going 9-3-1-2 on the grass before transitioning to the main track, so if he runs here rather than the Carter, watch out.
13. Lonhtwist (30/1) – Though it took him seven starts to break his maiden, the lightbulb appeared to turn on, as he later put together back-to-back victories at the end of 2019. All 3 career wins have come sprinting on New York turf courses (including 2 over the local lawns) and this will be his first start for new trainer Keith O’Brien.
14. Therapist (5/1) – The 6-time stakes winner has not found success since the Elusive Quality Stakes here in April 2019, though he was competitive in all but 1 of his 5 subsequent starts that year. Unraced since finishing well-beaten over this course and distance against optional claiming rivals, he runs for a Christophe Clement barn that fires at 20% after similar layoffs.
15. Complexity (5/2) (Main Track Only) – One of two runners hoping for rain, he won the 2018 Champagne Stakes (G1) while going 1 mile over the local main track as a juvenile. He struggled to stay on the track in 2019, making only 3 starts during the calendar year, but bettors better beware his talent and back-class if he makes the starting gate.
16. Stan the Man (8/1) (Main Track Only) – The other entry needing an off-turf edition in order to run, he ended 2019 winning the Queens County Stakes for his first score at that level. If he makes the gate and the main track turns nasty, look out: he has a record of 6-3-2-0 over wet courses.
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