Sunday, June 4, 2017
PROBABLE: Classic Empire (Mark Casse); Epicharis (Kiyoshi Hagiwara); J Boys Echo (Dale Romans); Hollywood Handsome (Dallas Stewart); Irish War Cry (Graham Motion); Lookin At Lee (Steve Asmussen); Meantime (Brian Lynch); Multiplier (Brendan Walsh); Patch (Todd Pletcher); Senior Investment (Kenny McPeek); Tapwrit (Pletcher); Twisted Tom (Chad Brown)
POSSIBLE: Gormley (John Shirreffs)
CLASSIC EMPIRE - Trainer Mark Casse wasn't on hand, but he certainly liked what he heard about Classic Empire's gallop under Martin Rivera at Churchill Downs.
"He galloped great this morning," Casse said by phone. "In fact, I talked to Martin personally. He said he thought it was the best he ever went, said he's very sharp. Said he had his hands full. He's kind of a funny horse. They watch him train and everybody says, 'He goes OK.' He's not some horse who goes out and just wows you with his training. Now, if we wanted, he can breeze as fast as any horse you can ever have breeze. But at this point in time we don't try to do that. We just look for him to have good energy. He's not a horse who gets excited, so he's not a horse who is going to jump around and you say, 'Oh, he's feeling great.' You just look for him to be kind of happy. Some days he's a little more aggressive than others. Today, according to Martin, he was very aggressive. We do like that. Martin probably knows him as good as, if not better than, anybody.
"We don't look for excuses not to run. If they're happy and healthy and there's a race, we're going to run 'em," Casse said.
Keeping a horse happy and full of energy is no small feat when running three races in five weeks and now what will be four races in eight weeks. The same is true of Belmont contender Lookin At Lee, third to Classic Empire in the April 15 Arkansas Derby and the only other horse set to run in all three Triple Crown races this year.
To put it in perspective, Classic Empire and Lookin At Lee ran three races in less time than Preakness winner Cloud Computing ran one, his prior start coming six weeks earlier when third in the Wood Memorial in his third lifetime start.
Classic Empire, owned by John Oxley, also is a highly unusual horse to race at 4 1/2 furlongs, that coming three days before the 2016 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, and go on to contest the entire Triple Crown.
"If we were fortunate enough to win the Belmont - and it's a tall task - but how many stallions out there can say they broke their maiden at 4 1/2 and also won the Belmont?" said Casse. "I do know a little something about breeding, having been the general manager for Mockingbird when they were the leading breeder for years. I like having a horse, whether a mare or a stallion, that was able to run and stay sound and compete more than four or five starts. Hopefully it is something to think about down the road when he is a stallion.
"You look at the Kentucky Derby and you look at the horses that had similar trips to him, and there were a lot of good horses in there who showed nothing. And this horse, with one eye shut, went on to be fourth. So he's a seriously, seriously good horse."
It recently was announced that Classic Empire will join Ashford Stud's stallion roster when he retires from racing, giving international stallion conglomerate Coolmore's American operation its sixth Eclipse Award 2-year-old champion in eight years to stand at stud.
Classic Empire flies to New York early Tuesday morning, along with Casse's Grade I-bound stablemates Awesome Slew (Grade 1, $1.2 million Mohegan Sun Metropolitan Mile), World Approval (Grade 1, $1 million Woodford Reserve Manhattan) and Salty (Grade 1, $700,000 Acorn). Vanning out Sunday from Casse's stakes arsenal are to be Pretty City Dancer ($150,000 Jersey Girl), Dream Dancing and Corporate Queen (Grade 3, $200,000 Wonder Again), Wicked Macho ($150,000 Easy Goer or a Thursday allowance race), Mississippi Delta (Grade 3, $250,000 Intercontinental) and Holding Gold (Grade 3, $300,000 Jaipur).
EPICHARIS - The Japanese-bred Epicharis ventured out to Belmont Park's main track Sunday morning for the first time since his U.S. arrival. The son of Gold Allure galloped a brisk 1 1/2 mile with regular rider and assistant trainer Masa Aki in the saddle before returning to the barn.
Trainer Kiyoshi Hagiwara and his crew then took the colt on a schooling trip to the paddock where he took a few relaxed turns with Aki still in the irons. He was then led through the tunnel back to the main track where he stood for almost a minute.
The plan to familiarize Epicharis with his new surroundings was another positive step towards his start in the Belmont Stakes, said his connections.
The possibility of rain in Tuesday's forecast may delay the schedule for the colt's final workout before Saturday. Epicharis will return to the track Monday morning and is also scheduled to stand in the starting gate.
GORMLEY - Trainer John Shirreffs said Sunday morning he has a spot on a New York-bound plane booked for Gormley, but he said that he still does not know whether Gormley will run in the Belmont Stakes.
HOLLYWOOD HANDSOME - Trainer Dallas Stewart is maintaining his reputation for swinging for the fences with Hollywood Handsome. Florent Geroux has the repeat mount.
Stewart finished second in the 2008 Preakness with 38-1 Macho Again, the 2013 Kentucky Derby with 34-1 Golden Soul, the 2014 Derby with 37-1 Commanding Curve and the 2015 Preakness with 28-1 Tale of Verve. His best finish in the Belmont Stakes came with his first starter, 6-1 shot Dollar Bill, who came in a distant fourth in Point Given's 2001 tour de force.
There were high expectations for Hollywood Handsome before and after he finished a late-running fourth in the Louisiana Derby in his first stakes appearance. The camp flirted with the idea of trying to sneak into the Kentucky Derby with 10 qualifying points, which turned out to be far from enough to get in. They instead went to the Illinois Derby, finishing fifth.
"He ran great in the Louisiana Derby," Stewart said of the son of Tapizar. "Came flying, just missed third but ran really well. His race in Illinois wasn't that good. He got away bad and it just went bad from there. But he ran well here (at Churchill Downs) the other day. I think a lot of the colt, and I think he's going to like the distance. I think the mile and a half will be no problem.
"We've thought about the Belmont for a while, off and on," he said. "Just kicking around races. We thought about the Ohio Derby, the Matt Winn here. Talking to Mark (Stanley), we thought we'd take a shot. I think we've got a good shot."
Even without the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners, "It's still a very, very nice field of horses," he said. "Just the distance, I think, is going to be right up our alley."
Stewart said Hollywood Handsome worked six furlongs in 1:14 on Friday, though he was officially timed going five-eighths of a mile in 1:00.60.
Stewart also has Tom's Ready, campaigned by GMB Racing of New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson and wife Gayle, running in the Grade 1, $1.2 million Mohegan Sun Metropolitan Handicap.
Tom's Ready is yet another to show there is life after the Kentucky Derby with horses reformulated as sprinters or milers. Tom's Ready, second in the Louisiana Derby, came in 12th in the Kentucky Derby but five weeks later captured Belmont's Grade 2 Woody Stephens after charging hard from last. Ninth in Saratoga's Grade 1 King's Bishop, the son of More Than Ready won Churchill Downs' Grade 3 Ack Ack at a mile to earn a trip to the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, in which he was fifth with a wide trip.
IRISH WAR CRY - He is confirmed for the Belmont a day after working at Fair Hill Training Center. Rajiv Maragh will have the return mount.
"That's definitely what we intend to do, as long as things go well the next couple of days," trainer Graham Motion said. "(Owner Isabelle de Tomaso is) very much on board with taking a chance. Obviously, we feel like he didn't run his race on Derby day. If we were going to consider running him he needed to have a solid work, and I think he did. I thought he looked good this morning. We weighed him and he's put on 10 pounds since the Derby. We're very pleased with him.
"I think sometimes we overthink these things a little bit. Right after the Derby, I was just so discouraged that I didn't even want to think about another Triple Crown race. Watching him train and seeing how well he's doing being back at Fair Hill and then seeing the result of the Preakness, obviously he's run well with those horses before. It made me think more about it. It's a Classic, it only comes around once in a horse's lifetime and I think he deserves another chance."
Motion said Irish War Cry would van to Belmont following training Wednesday morning at Fair Hill Training Center.
J BOYS ECHO - the Dale Romans trainee walked the morning after working five-eighths of a mile in one minute at Churchill Downs.
LOOKIN AT LEE - Kentucky Derby runner-up Lookin At Lee breezed a half-mile in 48.33 (8/51) on the Belmont main track.
"He came back great and I thought it went perfect," said Toby Sheets, assistant to Asmussen. "He seems to really like Belmont. We got great weather this morning, so that always helps."
Sheets said Lookin At Lee, who finished fourth last out in the Preakness, is scheduled to paddock school on Thursday.
MULTIPLIER - Illinois Derby winner Multiplier, sixth in the Preakness, walked the shedrow at Keeneland, where he worked a half-mile on Saturday in 48.60. Trainer Brendan Walsh, who has horses at Churchill Downs as well, said Multiplier was to van over to Churchill late Sunday morning. He is scheduled to load onto a van and head to Louisville International Airport at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday.
"I'm just going to give him a couple of days here, because he's going so early on Tuesday," Walsh said.
SENIOR INVESTMENT - Lexington winner Senior Investment walked Sunday. Trained by Kenny McPee, the Discreetly Mine colt is currently slated to turn in his final work for the Belmont on Tuesday morning.
OTHERS - Notes unavailable for other Belmont contenders.