Saturday Offers Ample Stakes Action Day and Night

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Ted Black

June 9th, 2017

This Saturday's 149th edition of the Belmont Stakes, the third jewel of thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown for three-year-olds that will again go unclaimed, might appear soft and anti-climactic, but it is part of a stellar card that will have connections of many winners and runners-up already thinking about the Breeders Cup at Del Mar Race Course in California this fall. Then Saturday night's card at Mohawk Racetrack in Canada will not be quite as strong, but it offers a bevy of eliminations for lucrative finals that will make for a superb evening one week later.

Saturday's Belmont Stakes is not only anti-climactic since no horse will head into the one-mile and one-half marathon with Triple Crown aspirations, but the famed oldest jewel of the crown will not include either Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming or Preakness winner Cloud Computing and then before the post positions were drawn two-year-old champion Classic Empire, a sharp second in the Preakness after an unlucky fourth in the Derby, was withdrawn to a minor foot ailment. His next target will now be the Grade I, $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park this summer.

In the wake of numerous absences, Irish War Cry, sharp winner of the Holy Bull Stakes an the Wood Memorial before fading as the second choice in the Derby, appears certain to occupy the favorite's role in the Belmont. Based at the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Maryland under the guidance of trainer Graham Motion, who won the Derby and Dubai World Cup with Animal Kingdom, Irish War Cry was unable to handle the off going in the Derby but could easily regain his winning ways in the Belmont against a suspect field.

Other solid contenders for this diluted edition of the Belmont include Epicharis, Tapwrit, Gormley, J Boys Echo, Lookin At Lee, Patch and Twisted Tom. Trainer Chad Brown won the Preakness with Cloud Computing, but instead the Eclipse Award conditioner opted to bypass the Belmont with the Preakness hero and instead head into the last leg of the Triple Crown with an improving horse that won his last two starts against open stakes foes at Laurel Park.

Then one race earlier the track will host the Grade I, $1 million Manhattan Stakes on the turf where Beach Patrol, World Approval, Time Test, Potemkin, Divisidero and Sadler's Joy all have serious chances. Then  one race earlier the track will host the Grade I, $1 million Metropolitan Handicap, a race that once was the featured event of the Memorial Day card. Rally Cry, Sharp Azteca, Mor Spirit and Awesome Slew all rate serious contenders in this modest renewal of the Met Mile.

Three races earlier the latest renewal of the Grade II, $500,000 Woody Stephens Stakes for three-year-olds colts heading seven furlongs, Maryland-based Recruiting Ready will arrive in stellar from and looms a serious upset player against Wild Shot, American Anthem, Long Haul Ray and Petrov. Then one race earlier Songbird will make her four-year-old debut in the Grade I, $750,000 Ogden Phipps Stakes for fillies and mares. Songbird has won 11 of 12 starts and banked $3.7 million in her career, with her lone setback a narrow defeat against older champion Beholder in last year's Breeders Cup Distaff.

That same evening at Mohawk Racetrack in Canada, many of the sport's best pacers of both genders and varying ages will clash in a bevy of elimination events for lucrative stakes one week later. Several horses already in the Hambletonian Society National Top 10 poll - including the top two pacers - will be on hand this week and should return next week along with several others looking to crack the top 10.

Saturday's second race is the first elimination of the Roses Are Red for pacing fillies and mares. Blue Moon Stride, Darlinonthebeach and Pure Country - last year's champion three-year-old filly pacer and freshman filly pacing champ the year before - will tackle newcomers Lakeisha Hall and Frost Damage Blues. Only three of them will earn a spot in the final and one of the three fourth-place finishers will draw into the final.

Then one race later the three-year-old pacing colts will be on display in the first elimination for the $1 million North America Cup, but most of the attention will be focused on Downbytheseaside. Hero of the $300,000 Art Rooney Stakes at Yonkers Raceway last month and perfect in three seasonal starts thus far, Downbytheseaside looms as the odds-on favorite in this elim and arrives as the top rated horse of any age or either gait in the Hambletonian Society poll.

Looking to topple the early division leader are five sophomores who performed well over the strip. Lawrencetown Beach and Stealth Bomber were second in their respective Ontario Sire Stakes elims, while Sports Column finished third and Some Attitude was fourth. Even if he tastes defeat in this elim, Downbytheseaside almost seems assured of earning a spot in the final.

Then two races later in the first Fan Hanover elimination for three-year-old pacing fillies, Idyllic Beach looms the favorite having won her seasonal debut after posting an 8-4-2 slate and $730,000 banked last season. Soiree Seelster and Blameitonthenight both won their respective ONSS splits last week, while Roselily was second to 'Soiree' in her split.

Then one race later in the second Roses Are Red elim, Penpal, Call Me Queen Be, Sandbetweenurtoes, Nike Franco N and Solar Sister, who makes her seasonal debut in this spot, will clash in a contentious group. Nike Franco N was second to reigning division champion Lady Shadow in the $150,000 Betsy Ross at Harrah's Philadelphia last month, while Sandbetweenurtoes already sports an 8-3-1 slate and $150,000 banked from 16 starts this year in a busy campaign.

Then one race later in another Fan Hanover elimination, Tequila Monday and Agent Q - the one-two finishers in the $150,000 Lismore final last month at Yonkers, will renew their rivalry and will be joined by Shes Watching, Bettors Up and Someomensomewhere, who has finished second in all three of her starts this year after posting a solid 4-6-1 slate and $490,000 banked from 14 outings last year as a juvenile.

Then one race later in the second North America Cup elim, all eyes will be on Huntsville, last year's juvenile pacing colt champion who has won twice in three starts this year for trainer Ray Schnittker. Huntsville won seven of 11 starts last year and earned over $720,000 en route to his division title and looms the odds-on choice against Normandy Beach, Miso Fast, Richard Hill, Maryland-bred Classic Pro and the rapidly improving Beckhams Z Tam, who has won all four of his starts this year after going winless in six tries last season.

Then one race later in the third North America Cup elim, Fear The Dragon, winner of all four of his starts this year including a 1:49.1 score over Huntsville in a Pennsylvania Sire Stakes event at Pocono Downs last month, looms as the odds-on choice despite the presence of Ocean Colony, who was second to the 'Dragon' in another PASS split last month. Hurricane Beach and Filibuster Hanover both rate outside chances to crack the exacta and perhaps earn a berth in the final.

Then one race later in the last Roses Are Red elim, Lady Shadow seeks her third straight victory to start the campaign and the defending champion aged pacing mare and Maryland-bred horse of the year will look to enhance her bankroll and reputation. Lady Shadow won 12 of 20 starts last year and already sits second in the National Top 10 poll behind Downbytheseaside and will likely top short gimmicks that will include Wrangler Magic, Waasmula and Prairie Sweetheart, who has been third in both of her starts this year after winning all seven of her outings last season.