Monday, June 5, 2017
CLASSIC EMPIRE - The expected favorite on Saturday had another aggressive 1 1/2-mile gallop pre-dawn Monday at Churchill Downs under exercise rider Martin Rivera.
"He looked really good, so we leave first thing in the morning," said Norman Casse, who runs the Churchill operation for his dad, trainer Mark Casse. "It's basically what you want to see a horse doing when they come into a race like this. You don't want them to be lethargic. You want them to show energy, show you're holding them together, trying to slow them down. And that's the way he looked."
Mark Casse said the well-documented issues that Classic Empire had over the winter, which delayed his progress, now could play in his favor.
Now, in spite of an eventful Triple Crown that saw him finish fourth in the Kentucky Derby after a brutal trip and then lose the Preakness by a head, Classic Empire is arguably a relatively fresh horse heading into the 1 1/2-mile Belmont.
"If he had run more early winter, maybe he wouldn't be as good as he is right now," Casse said. "Sometimes the road to where you want to go is not always the easiest road. But if you end up liking where you're at ... and that's where we are right now."
HOLLYWOOD HANDSOME - Gaineway Farm Sales Director Michael Hernon shows up frequently at racetracks to watch horses bred, sold or sired by stallions of the farm.
However, on Monday morning he was at Churchill Downs to watch Hollywood Handsome, a horse produced from his own broodmare band of four. In addition to that, he's also is from the first crop of the Gainesway stallion Tapizar, winner of the 2012 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.
"Hopefully this colt will relish the distance," said Hernon. "None of them have run a mile and a half, so we don't know yet. Certainly Dallas Stewart thinks his strong suit is going long. It's a big step up in class for him, but this horse has a great disposition and demeanor about him. He's very calm, cool. I think he's improving. He looks well. His weight is good, he's relaxed. Who knows? You've got to take a shot. They all have to get the mile and a half. It is a big purse, very significant race on the calendar. If you're not in you can't win."
Hollywood Handsome comes in off an allowance victory at Churchill Downs, which followed a fifth in the Illinois Derby on April 22 and an encouraging fourth in the Louisiana Derby on April 1.
Hernon was looking for mares in foal to Tapizar, a son of Gainesway's mega-star stallion Tapit, when he bought Lady Flickerflacker for $65,000 while she was carrying Hollywood Handsome. He sold the resulting colt as a yearling for $200,000 at Fasig-Tipton Kentucky's October sale to Lexington businessman Mark Stanley.
"It would be huge to get a classic winner in the first crop of any stallion," Hernon said. "But this horse is going to go off at 40-1. We just hope he gets a clean trip and a good chance in the race, and we'll find out what he's got."
Gainesway has another connection to the Belmont field this year, with Tapwrit being a son of Tapit, already the sire of Belmont winners Tonalist in 2014 and Creator last year.
J BOYS ECHO - J Boys Echo jogged a mile Monday morning at Churchill Downs after a day off following Saturday's five-furlong workout in 1:00.00. He will fly to New York early Tuesday.
J Boys Echo will be the ninth Belmont Stakes runner trained by Dale Romans, who has an unusual statistic in the Triple Crown finale. Four of his eight starters finished third, his best finish to date.
Romans' board-hitting horses were Nolan's Cat in 2005, First Dude in 2010, Medal Count in 2014 and Keen Ice in 2015.
Romans has had some nice horses finish off the board in the Belmont, including 2011 Preakness winner Shackleford and multiple grade I winners Dullahan (2012) and Brody's Cause (2016).
"It's not Woody Stephens' record, but it's an odd record," Romans said. "I sure would love to move up a notch or two. I think you just have to have a little more horse, and hopefully we're taking the right one up there."
"It's going to be a big field of horses, a lot of good horses," Romans said of the Belmont. "You might not have the two marquee names out there right now, but you might have some horses who will be marquee names by the fall. I think a lot of people would like to say they were there when that horse had its breakthrough race, so people should show up. A star could be born. Maybe it's J Boy.
"It's a hard race to predict," he added. "Unless there's a stone-cold standout, it's such an outlier for what horses have done or will do again. It's definitely a great race, and hard to win. Hard to have the right kind of horse."
MULTIPLIER - Illinois Derby winner Multiplier had an easy morning Monday, jogging once around the main track at Churchill Downs ahead of his next engagement in Saturday's Belmont Stakes.
Multiplier has been at Churchill since Sunday after putting in a half-mile breeze in 48.60 Saturday at Keeneland for trainer Brendan Walsh. The gray or roan son of The Factor is scheduled to be on a flight early Tuesday morning headed for New York.
"I sent him to Churchill because they're going out of Louisville tomorrow and I didn't want to add another two-hour trip on a van to the flight and everything as it was," Walsh said. "It was just easier to have him at Churchill, and he's so adaptable anyway."
Joining Multiplier on the Tex Sutton flight from Louisville will be fellow Belmont contenders Classic Empire, the expected favorite, and J Boys Echo. Assistant trainer Tom Molloy will look after Multiplier at Belmont until Walsh arrives for training Friday.
"He should be there around lunchtime tomorrow," Walsh said. "He'll just gallop away there for the first few mornings. We'll probably bring him out there Wednesday morning and back him up to the mile pole and just gallop him around nearly a full circle."
Multiplier was purchased privately by the partnership of Gary Barber, Adam Wachtel and George Kerr prior to the May 20 Preakness, where he gained ground late to be sixth, beaten less than six lengths. Joel Rosario, aboard in the Preakness, gets a return call in the Belmont.
"He's doing great. I'm delighted with him," Walsh said. "He worked great on Saturday and he's in really good shape, as good a shape as he can be in, so we're really looking forward to it."
SENIOR INVESTMENT - Trainer Ken McPeek was on hand Monday morning at Belmont Park as Lexington winner Senior Investment got back to the track following a routine walk day on Sunday.
Senior Investment, who hit the board with a third-place finish at 31-1 in the Preakness, is scheduled to turn in his final breeze for the Belmont Stakes Tuesday morning, said McPeek.
"He looks good, he had a nice gallop this morning," he said. "I'm probably going to work him just an easy half tomorrow. It's a similar routine that worked for us with Sarava (the 2002 Belmont winner)."
Senior Investment, a chestnut colt by Discreetly Mine, will be McPeek's sixth Belmont starter, and the first for owner Fern Circle Stable and jockey Channing Hill.
"Anytime you can position yourself to where you've got a chance in one of these big races, it's exciting," McPeek said. "It's not easy, but he's a good horse and he's improving. I think he'll handle the distance really, really well. We're going to fire away.
"On the gallop-out in the Preakness, he made up even more (ground on the leaders) and that's kind of his style," he said. "The hard part in this race will be how the pace unfolds and whether it works for him or against him, but he's a horse that will keep going and going, and hopefully he can outgallop them."
OTHER - No notes on the other Belmont contenders.
Bob Baffert, Woody Stephens Stakes and Easy Goer Stakes
American Anthem had another sharp work Monday morning at Santa Anita. Bob Baffert watched the son of Bodemeister go a half-mile over the main track in 47.00, handily, ranking third of 53 horses at the distance. It was his third work following a 1 3/4-length triumph in the seven-furlong Laz Barrera on May 13. The Woody Stephens is also seven furlongs.
The Laz Barrera was the first start for American Anthem since being taken off the Triple Crown trail following an off the board finish in the Rebel and Santa Anita Derby. He was second by a head in the one-mile Sham on Jan. 7 to open the year.
"He worked good today and he's doing really well. That was a huge effort last time coming off of those other races. If he can run that race back, he's going to be very competitive," Baffert said by telephone. "Eventually I want to stretch him out. I thought about the Easy Goer because of the mile and a sixteenth, but the Woody Stephens is a big race so we'll take a shot there."
Also working Monday at Santa Anita for Baffert was West Coast, who went a half-mile in a bullet 46.20, handily, for the Easy Goer. The bay Flatter colt has run first or second in each of his four starts, getting beat a head by Senior Investment in the Lexington on April 15 but returning to defeat older horses in a 1 1/16-mile second-level allowance May 20.
"He got a little unlucky in the Lexington. The track was really deep that day, and he came up and made that early run and he was just lost out there by himself, and he got caught," he said. "The other day I ran him in an allowance against older horses. I was going to run him in the Belmont if he ran really well, but that day he just didn't really 'wow' me. He was in a bad spot the whole way around there and we had to use him and he didn't finish like we wanted him to. But, he came back and he's worked well, and I think he should be real competitive."
Baffert's horses, including Mor Spirit for the Metropolitan and Abel Tasman for the Acorn, are scheduled to arrive in New York Wednesday. Baffert said he would be at Belmont for training Friday.