by NYRA Press Office
In seven starts, owner Frank Fletcher said he has been impressed with what he's seen out of his homebred filly Frank's Rockette but is hoping she becomes a graded stakes winner in Saturday's Grade 3, $100,000 Victory Ride at 6 ½-furlongs over the main track at Belmont Park.
"She's on the top of her game right now," Fletcher said. "She's a small horse, but she's grown and gotten stronger. She ran very well in a couple of Grade 1 races last year as a 2-year-old and I've been pleased with each race."
The Victory Ride, slated as Race 3 at 2:24 p.m. Eastern, is the first of five graded stakes on Saturday's Runhappy Met Mile Day card. The stakes-laden 11-race showcase is headlined by the Grade 1 Runhappy Met Mile, open to 3-year-olds and up and offering a berth in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile in November at Keeneland; and also features the Grade 1, $400,000 Manhattan for 4-year-olds and up going 1 1/4-miles on turf; the Grade 2, $200,000 Suburban, a 10-furlong test for 4-year-olds and upward; and the Grade 3, $150,000 Poker, a one-mile turf test for older horses.
The Runhappy Met Mile will feature live on NBC from 5 - 6 p.m. Eastern with the entire Runhappy Met Mile Day card available on America's Day at the Races on FS1 beginning at 1 p.m. First post Saturday is 1:15 p.m.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, Frank's Rockette has been favored in each of her career starts and has never finished worse than second. Although winless in both of her Grade 1 starts, which took place on the NYRA circuit in the Spinaway at Saratoga and the Frizette at Belmont Park, the Into Mischief bay filly has displayed top quality talent with her consistent record.
Frank's Rockette kicked off her career with an 8 3/4-length triumph at Churchill Downs en route to three placings against graded stakes company, including a second in the Grade 2 Adirondack at Saratoga.
Fletcher recalls watching her career debut noting that she displayed an almost too laid back demeanor in the paddock.
"I remember the first time I saw her running at Churchill Downs and watching them saddle her in the paddock," Fletcher said. "She had her head down and it looked like she was going to sleep. I said to the assistant, 'Was she up all night last night?' She does the same thing every time, but as soon as she gets to the track she's focused and ready to run. She's a got a great personality. She's real sweet and easy to be around but once she goes to the track, she's all business."
With no other bona fide frontrunners in the Victory Ride field, Frank's Rockette is likely to lead the early charge. Fletcher said the early gate speed can be worrisome.
"She scares me sometimes," Fletcher said. "She gets out there and runs so fast at the beginning that I get worried she's going to be done at the end. Every time, she seems to find a new gear and finishes up strong."
Following a runner-up effort in the Frizette to Wicked Whisper to close out her juvenile campaign, Frank's Rockette returned to action in style making her 2020 bow a winning one in the Any Limit on February 22 at Gulfstream Park. Sent to post as the even-money favorite, she took command and strolled to a seven-length victory while producing a career-best 98 Beyer Speed Figure.
Frank's Rockette arrives at the Victory Ride off a 3 ½-length win in an allowance optional claiming event going six furlongs at Churchill Downs, which came after finishing second in the Purple Martin at Oaklawn Park to subsequent Group 1 Commonwealth Cup runner-up Kimari.
Fletcher, a native of Little Rock, Arkansas who owns Fletcher Auto Group, said he was hoping to see his special filly get a stakes win at his home track.
"I really wanted to win that race because it was at my home track, but the horse that beat us that day looks like a really nice one," Fletcher said.
Frank's Rockette is out of the graded stakes-winning Indian Charlie broodmare Rocket Twentyone, who won the Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Lassie as a 2-year-old and was trained by the late Tom Howard, whose wife Kathy serves as Fletcher's racing manager.
Howard said she sees a lot of similarities between Frank's Rockette and Rocket Twentyone.
"They look so much alike its uncanny," Howard said. "She's had foals before this one and I never saw any similarities, but this one was different. I remember watching her run in her first race and she did things just like her mother."
Howard, a former jockey, has been acquainted with Mott for many years having ridden horses for the trainer and relishes the opportunity to work with the horseman in a different role.
"Billy Mott is just a really good guy," Howard said. "He's a true and solid individual. He was good to me back then and put me on some winners and he's still a good guy today."
Fletcher names all of his horses to honor his longhaired German Shepherd named Rocket.
"I'm currently on Rocket number three," Fletcher said, adding that his prior two dogs named Rocket each lived to be 11 years old. "I've probably had hundreds of horses over the years with the name 'Rocket'. Years ago, I had a nice one named Son of Rocket who ran third in the  Arkansas Derby and won the Southwest and we had some fun with him. But this one's a filly, so now we have a Rockette."
Listed as the 3-5 morning line favorite, Frank's Rockette will blast out of the inside post under Hall of Famer John Velazquez in the Victory Ride.
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Forewarned throws caution to wind in taking on Suburban (G2) field
Forewarned has been put in ambitious spots before and will again take a chance against a talented field when he departs from post 3 in the eight-horse Grade 2, $200,000 Suburban on Saturday, Runhappy Met Mile Day, at Belmont Park.
Owned and trained by Uriah St. Lewis, the Ohio-bred returned off a near three-month layoff to run third in the 1 1/16-mile Grade 3 Westchester on June 6 at Belmont. St. Lewis said the Suburban's 1 1/4-mile distance could be an even better fit. The last time the Flat Out colt ran at the distance, he set a Mahoning Valley Race Course track record for his 2 ¾-length victory in the Best of Ohio Endurance Stakes, completing the course in 2:04.41 in October.
"He's pretty good at that distance," St. Lewis said. "He broke the track record that day, so hopefully he can come back and run fast enough to beat the group he's going up against tomorrow."
That group includes the 1-2-3 finishers of the 2019 Grade 1 Belmont Stakes, with winner Sir Winston [7-2 on the morning line], runner-up Tacitus as the 9-5 favorite and Joevia [20-1] comprising a talented field that also includes 2-1 Mr. Buff.
Forewarned drew post 3 and is listed at 30-1 with jockey Manny Franco aboard.
After ending his 2019 with a fifth-place effort in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile in December at Aqueduct, he started his 5-year-old campaign with a fourth-place effort in the John B. Campbell in February at Laurel Park and ran sixth in the Harrison E. Johnson Memorial on the same track in March.
In the Westchester, he rallied from eighth-of-nine and chased the field six-wide before a strong finish allowed him to earn blacktype for the first time in four starts and first since his record-setting win in Ohio.
"He's doing excellent," St. Lewis said. "The last time gave me a lot of confidence because he's really more of a mile-and-an-eighth or a mile-and-a-quarter horse. He made a mild run in the Westchester, but now he has the right distance and there's a lot of speed, so hopefully he can run his race. He's pretty good at this distance, so hopefully he can shock them and win the race."
Forewarned is a familiar face on the NYRA circuit. Last year, he ran in two of the more prestigious races in the summer meet at Saratoga Race Course, finishing fifth in the Grade 1 Whitney and eighth in the Grade 1 Woodward. St. Lewis said he's taking it one race at a time but said he's hopeful to make a return trip to the Spa this year, which runs July 16-through-September 7.
"We'll take it one step at a time here, but if everything works out tomorrow, then we'll go after it and figured out where we go next," St. Lewis said.
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Gatsas hopes Vekoma can continue winning ways in Runhappy Met Mile (G1)
After running the race of his life with an emphatic 7 ¼-length romp in the Grade 1 Runhappy Carter, R.A. Hill Stable and Gatsas Stables' Vekoma tackles an even tougher field assembled for Saturday's Grade 1, $500,000 Runhappy Met Mile.
The recent eye-popping victory under Hall of Fame rider Javier Castellano, which garnered a 110 Beyer, was a second start of the year for the Candy Ride chestnut colt who made his 2020 bow a winning one in the Sir Shackleton on March 28 at Gulfstream Park. Last year, Vekoma earned accolades heading into the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby after drawing away to victory in the Grade 2 Blue Grass at Keeneland for trainer George Weaver.
To earn a second Grade 1 victory, Vekoma will have to topple a field that includes last year's Grade 1 Runhappy Travers and Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup-victor Code of Honor and McKinzie, the winner of last year's Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga.
Already a winner going a one-turn mile during his 2-year-old campaign in the Grade 3 Nashua, Vekoma will be stretching back out to a mile from the seven-furlong Carter.
"He's got so much talent it's unreal," said co-owner Mike Gatsas. "I think he can handle it. Javier knows the horse very well and he can get the distance without a problem. They have a great rapport with one another, so we'll let him decide on a trip."
In both of his 4-year-old starts, Vekoma has displayed tactical speed sitting just off of the pacesetters before making a winning bid at the top of the stretch.
Gatsas anticipates that Vekoma will display a similar running style on Saturday.
"He has some early speed, so he'll help set the pace somewhat," Gatsas said. "He won't be on the lead, but he should be forwardly placed. Javier rides him extremely well and understands him well, so he knows what he's doing."
Vekoma, named after a Dutch manufacturing company of roller coasters as a nod to his champion-producing sire's name, has taken his connections on an exciting ride. Hill and Gatsas also partnered with graded stakes-placed Our Country, who ran eighth in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf last November at Santa Anita as well as New York-bred stakes winner Funny Guy.
"It's such a great partnership, but what's really good about it is that it's also a great friendship," Gatsas said. "We've had a lot of fun over the years. We've gone to the Derby, the Breeders' Cup together and we just won the Carter so it's been such a fun experience."
Vekoma, bred in Kentucky by Alpha Delta Stables, is out of the Speightstown broodmare Mona de Momma who also is a Grade 1 winner going seven furlongs.
Being a Grade 1 winner with a Grade 1-winning sire and dam makes Vekoma quite enticing as a stallion prospect, but Gatsas said a triumph in the Runhappy Met Mile, which is known for being a "stallion making race", could make his breeding value even more appealing.
"Hopefully this adds to his resume," Gatsas said. "He also won the Blue Grass last year so I'm sure a lot of Kentucky farms would be interested in that. He took down that field real well, too.
"He's just such a special horse," Gatsas added. "He's not a big, strapping colt, but he is really well-built."
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Mr. Buff stretches out to ten furlongs in Suburban (G2)
Chester and Mary Broman's multiple stakes-winning millionaire Mr. Buff will try 1 1/4-miles for the first time in Saturday's Grade 2, $200,000 Suburban at Belmont.
Trained by John Kimmel, the 6-year-old New York-bred son of Friend Or Foe has posted wins from seven furlongs up to a mile an eighth in a 37-race career that boasts eight stakes wins from an overall record of 14-7-4 and purse earnings of $1,076,536.
The sizable chestnut was in a good run of form over the winter at Aqueduct with scores in the Alex M. Robb, Jazil and Haynesfield before his training was interrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He returned off a four-month layoff last out to finish second to Funny Guy in the one-turn mile Commentator on June 12 at Belmont.
"He was rolling until they shut things down here. He missed a month of training," said Kimmel. "He walked for a month at the farm and he didn't have the bottom into him that Funny Guy did, not to mention he carried 127 pounds. I thought he was going to get swallowed up, but he actually hung in there really well."
Mr. Buff matched a career-best 106 Beyer Speed Figure with his 20-length score in the Haynesfield on February 22 when left alone on the front end under regular pilot Junior Alvarado.
That effort came on the heels of a similarly powerful score in the open Jazil at nine furlongs. Kimmel has tried Mr. Buff in graded company twice when off-the-board in the Grade 2 New Orleans on a track he didn't handle and was seventh last summer in the Grade 1 Woodward at Saratoga.
On Saturday, the 17.2 hands tall Mr. Buff will have a significant weight break carrying just 118 pounds against a field headlined by 2019 Grade 1 Belmont Stakes champ Sir Winston [124 pounds] and multiple graded-stakes winner Tacitus [122 pounds].
Kimmel said the added distance may help Mr. Buff ease into his significant stride.
"I contemplated running him a little further if I had the chance and this looked like the right opportunity," said Kimmel. "A mile and a quarter will have a much more reasonable pace scenario and maybe he won't have any issued with his lead transitions like he does sometimes at a flat mile and the pace is a little faster.
"When he gets going 45 to the half and three quarters in 10 and change, sometimes he doesn't make that switch to his outside lead," added Kimmel. "But he's been pretty good at it when he goes around two turns, so we'll see how he does at one and a half turns."
Mr. Buff will exit post 4 under Alvarado in the Suburban which will close out Saturday's 11-race card.
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Dream Friend looks to raise stakes in Poker (G3)
Dream Friend has been a bit of a late-bloomer, breaking his maiden late in his 3-year-old year in November 2018. But after finishing in the money in his last six starts, trainer John Terranova is moving the son of Ghostzapper up to stakes company for the first time in 10 starts in the Grade 3, $150,000 Poker on Saturday, Met Mile Day, at Belmont.
Owned by Eric Fein, Christopher McKenna, Harris Fein, Guri Singh and Jerry Walia, Dream Friend returned off a seven-month layoff to run third in an optional claimer on June 3 over the Belmont turf.
"He's doing really well. We were potentially looking at a couple of allowance spots, but it didn't materialize," Terranova said. "It just seemed like a good time. He's doing well coming out of that first race off the layoff. Hopefully he'll take a bit of a jump forward and stay competitive at this level."
Dream Friend has been the pacesetter in five of his last six starts and was in second position in the other, a runner up effort in September in a one-mile turf route at Belmont. The Poker, contested at one mile on the Widener turf course, could allow Dream Friend to be forwardly placed again.
"He has been consistent. Pace wise, he has speed. The race doesn't look like it has too many frontrunners in there," Terranova said. "We'll see what happens weather wise tonight if everyone stays in or not. He's ready and doing really well, hopefully we'll have a big effort out of him again."
Nine horses entered the Poker, with one main-track only entrant, led by 5-2 Value Proposition. Dream Friend, listed at 8-1, drew the inside post with Jose Lezcano, who was aboard last month.
"He's always good from the gate so hopefully that continues. He's a speedy type of horse so if he gets away cleanly, hopefully things will go well," Terranova said.