Friday, May 16, 2014

Belmont Park Notes: Friday, May 16, 2014

The New York Racing Association, Inc.

Friday, May 16, 2014


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Belmont Park Notes


  • French star Gailo Chop, Blue Grass winner Dance With Fate targeting inaugural G1 Belmont Derby
  • McLaughlin bullish on Fitful Skies entering next Saturday's G2 Sheepshead Bay
  • Za Approval will seek first win of 2014 in G3 Poker on Memorial Day; Clement has Orion Moon, Irish Mission for G2 Sheepshead Bay
  • Fields forming for Memorial Day weekend graded turf stakes


ELMONT, N.Y. - The inaugural Grade 1, $1.25 million Belmont Derby Invitational might be seven weeks away, but the 1 ¼-mile turf race on July 5 already has been selected as the next start for Gailo Chop, a two-time Group 3 winner in France, and Dance With Fate, who captured the Grade 1 Blue Grass in April at Keeneland before finishing sixth in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby.


Gailo Chop, a gelded son of Deportivo, has stamped himself as one of the most promising 3-year-olds in Europe but is ineligible for races such as the Group 1 Poule d'Essai des Poulains (French 2000 Guineas) and the Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby), which are restricted to colts and fillies. In two starts this year, Gailo Chop has won the Group 3 Prix la Force by three-quarters of a length on April 6 and the Group 3 Prix Noailles by 1 ¾ lengths on April 21. Both starts came at Longchamp.


Antoine Watrigant trains Gailo Chop for OTI Management and Alain Chopard. OTI bought into Gailo Chop earlier this year upon the advice of bloodstock agent Emmanuel de Seroux.


"There are a number of factors [why Gailo Chop is running in the Belmont Derby," said Terry Henderson, one of OTI's co-founders. "No. 1, he can't start in the classics in France because he's a gelding. Second, the race was suggested to us by a pair of people we respect: [trainer] Christophe Clement and Emmanuel de Seroux. Third, the purse being paid out got our attention. Put it this way, if the race was worth what is was worth last year ($500,000 as the Jamaica Handicap in October), we wouldn't be considering the race."


Henderson said Gailo Chop will train up to the Belmont Derby in France and will fly to New York the week of the race.


Dance With Fate already has proven himself on synthetic tracks, having won the Blue Grass by 1 ¾ lengths over Keeneland's Polytrack after finishing second by a half-length in the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby in March over Golden Gate Fields' Tapeta surface. He gave a solid account of himself when sixth, beaten 6 ¼ lengths in the Kentucky Derby, but his connections want to see if he can excel against the best 3-year-old grass horses. In one turf start, Dance With Fate won an entry-level optional claimer in January at Santa Anita.


"The Belmont Derby seems like it will become a premier race for 3-year-olds, and we want to find out just how good he is running on turf," said Peter Eurton, who trains Dance With Fate for Sharon Alesia, Bran Jam Stable, and Ciaglia Racing. "He ran well in his one start on the turf and does well on synthetic surfaces, and they say horses who do well on synthetic often do well on turf. There's also the attraction of the purse, and everybody loves New York."


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Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin hopes the extra ground will help Fitful Skies pick up her first victory in North America when the 5-year-old competes in the Grade 2, 1 3/8-mile Sheepshead Bay on May 24. The Sheepshead Bay, a turf race restricted to fillies and mares, is worth $200,000.


Fitful Skies, owned by Godolphin Racing, won her final start in Europe when she captured the Group 3, 1 3/8-mile Grosser Preis von German Tote Herbst Stutenpreis in September in Germany. She was then taken to North America to compete in the Grade 1, 1 ¼-mile E.P. Taylor in October at Woodbine, where she finished second by a head to Tannery.


Subsequently transferred from trainer Henri-Alex Pantall to McLaughlin, Fitful Skies has made one start this year, a ninth in the Grade 1, 1 1/16-mile Jenny Wiley on April 12 at Keeneland.


"She's a really nice filly," said McLaughlin. "She was second in the E.P. Taylor last fall, and then [Godolphin] sent her to us to be in America. We were happy to receive her. We entered her at Keeneland because we were having trouble getting a race for her, and it was a tough spot, a Grade 1. She didn't have a great trip and wants further, so everything points to a good effort in the Sheepshead Bay. She's a real nice filly, and we think we're going have a big year with her. Hopefully, it starts in the Sheepshead Bay."


With this upcoming Monday serving as the eight-year anniversary of Invasor's triumph in the 2006 Grade 1 Pimlico Special, McLaughlin reflected upon the future Hall of Famer's North American debut. Invasor won the Pimlico Special by 1 ¼ lengths, the start of a six-race winning streak that included the 2006 Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Classic and culminated with a score in the 2007 Group 1 Dubai World Cup.


"We had no real expectations [for Invasor before the Pimlico Special]," said McLaughlin, who trained the son of Candy Stripes for Shadwell Stable. "That was the turning point. We actually were going to run in the $100,000 race (the William Donald Schaefer), but then we decided to run in the Pimlico Special because there were only six [horses] in there. And then he dropped back at the three-eighths pole like he was going to be last, and then he came back and won. It was a big turning point in his career and our thoughts on him."


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Trainer Christophe Clement has a strong hand for the Grade 3, $300,000 Poker, to be run on Memorial Day, and the Grade 2, $200,000 Sheepshead Bay, to be run on the preceding Saturday. In the Poker, Clement is likely send out Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Mile runner-up Za Approval, who is winless through two starts in 2014 but has won two graded stakes at the distance in addition to his strong showing in last year's Breeders' Cup. He was fourth in both the Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe in March at Santa Anita and the Grade 1 Maker's 46 Mile on April 11 at Keeneland.


"As long as the ground is not too soft, Za Approval will run [in the Poker]," said Clement. "He loves it firm. I ran him a little bit unfit in California first time out [in 2014] and he went off form in Kentucky, though I'm not exactly sure why. He came back here and seems to be doing well."


Meanwhile, Clement is likely to saddle Irish Mission and Orion Moon in the Sheepshead Bay. The former will be making only her second start for the trainer and nearly became a Grade 1 winner last year against males in the Northern Dancer at Woodbine, while the latter most recently missed by a neck in the Grade 3 Beaugay.


"Irish Mission ran in the Beaugay but she'll be better going long, so it'll be fun," said Clement. "Orion Moon might have a go [at the Sheepshead Bay]; she had an easy work this morning and looked OK. We were thinking about the [Grade 1] Just A Game, but she's not a mile type of filly. The next race would be a Grade 3 in New Jersey in late June, but she might make that race anyway, so we've got to think about it."


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The Grade 2, $200,000 Sheepshead Bay is shaping up to be a deep and competitive field of filly and mare turf marathoners. Chief among the likely starters is last year's Sheepshead Bay winner Tannery, trained by Alan Goldberg. The 5-year-old daughter of Dylan Thomas became a Grade 1 winner in 2013 when she took the E.P. Taylor at Woodbine. One start prior, she finished second to Laughing in the Grade 1 Flower Bowl Invitational at Belmont Park, and closed her year out with a solid third-place showing against males in the Grade 3 Red Smith, in which she finished only a half-length behind eventual Grade 1 Man o' War winner Imagining.

Tannery appears set to square off with the runner-up from last year's E.P. Taylor,

Fitful Skies, who is now in the barn of trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. The E.P. Taylor marked the daughter of Dubawi's first start in North America, having raced in Europe for most of her career, and has since contested the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley, her first start with McLaughlin.


Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott is likely to send out an intriguing European import in

Modernstone, who has raced predominantly on synthetic surfaces in England. The 4-year-old Duke of Marmalade filly has shown an affinity for longer distances, and has compiled a record of 3-4-1 in 10 starts, though she has yet to test graded stakes company.


Other probable starters include Caroline Thomas, Industrial Policy, Moment in Dixie, Orion Moon, Riposte and Viva Rafaela.

Za Approval is likely to headline the Grade 3, $300,000 Poker on Memorial Day at Belmont Park. The talented miler finished second to two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan in last year's Breeders' Cup Mile, but has yet to find the winner's circle since last year's Grade 3 Knickerbocker at Belmont. 

The wickedly fast Peace and Justice, trained by John Shirreffs, is on track to head east for the race. The War Front colt has a penchant for running as fast and as far as he can in his races, and has shown a particular affinity for races at one mile, as he's won three of five starts at the distance.

Last year's third-place finisher in the Poker, Big Screen, is also likely to be among this year's field. The 5-year-old son of Speightstown has made 19 career starts, only three of which have been over turf. Late in 2013, he made a case for himself being a turf miler by taking the Who's To Pay at Belmont over next-out winner Bad Debt.

Other probable for the race include Jack Milton, Plainview, Sinatra and

Vinny Goodtimes.



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