by NYRA Press Office
Carrying a consistent record of four wins from nine lifetime starts, graded stakes winner Warrior's Charge will face his most challenging test yet when taking on a field which includes four Grade 1-winners in Saturday's Grade 1, $500,000 Runhappy Met Mile at Belmont Park.
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, headlines a Runhappy Met Mile Day card offering five graded stakes on Independence Day. Also featured is 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; the Grade 3, $150,000 Poker, a one-mile turf test for older horses; and the Grade 3, $100,000 Victory Ride, a 6 1/2-furlong sprint for sophomore fillies.
Slated as Race 9 at 5:47 p.m. Eastern on Saturday's 11-race card, which offers a first post of 1:15 p.m., the Runhappy Met Mile will feature live on NBC from 5 - 6 p.m. Eastern and also on America's Day at the Races on FS1.
Owned by Ten Strike Racing in partnership with Sol Kumin and Madaket Stables, Warrior's Charge notched his first graded stakes win two starts back in the Grade 3 Razorback at Oaklawn before a runner-up finish in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap on May 2.
Piloted by Florent Geroux, the dark bay son of Munnings was urged to the front, controlled the pace through moderate fractions before a top-of-the-stretch confrontation with By My Standards, who drew off to victory. Warrior's Charge finished a half-length to the better of fellow Met Mile aspirant Mr Freeze while recording a career-best 99 Beyer Speed Figure.
The Brad Cox trainee won at fourth asking following three third-place finishes. The Munnings dark bay colt led at every point of call to a six-length triumph in a 1 1/16-mile Oaklawn Park maiden special weight last March en route to a 6 ½-length first-level allowance victory over the Arkansas oval at the same distance one month later.
Those efforts inspired his connections to try him in the Grade 1 Preakness at Pimlico, where he controlled the pace and finished a hard-fought fourth in his lone off-the-board effort.
On Saturday, Warrior's Charge will be cutting back to one turn for the first time since his second career start and will break from the outside in the eight-horse field.
"I don't mind the outside with him," said Ten Strike Racing stable manager Liz Crow. "I still think we'll be the speed. Florent is so good out of the gate. He's [Warrior's Charge] never won when sitting off another horse, but I don't think he minds doing that."
The long term goal for Warrior's Charge is the Grade 1, $2 million Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile on November 7 at Keeneland.
"I think he's going to have a big year," Crow said. "It's nice to see him have his coming out party this year. The Met Mile came up a bear of a race, so it's going to be tough. There's less options for him as there are just about ever horse in American right now. He's so deadly on the front end that it'll be interesting to see what he can do going one turn."
Ten Strike Racing also has graded stakes-winning New York-bred Dot Matrix set to run on Saturday, as he will tackle Grade 1 company for the first time in the $400,000 Manhattan over the inner turf course.
The 7-year-old Freud gelding won the biggest race of his career three starts back in the Grade 3 John B. Connally at Sam Houston over next-out graded stakes winner Bemmas Boy. Boasting the most experience over the Belmont green with a record of 14-3-3-2 over the New York oval, Dot Matrix won last year's Ashley T. Cole over the inner turf defeating Grade 1-winner Voodoo Song by a half-length.
Dot Matrix arrives at the Manhattan off a game runner-up finish in the Tiller. The hard-fought effort made up for a prior start in the Grade 2 Muniz Memorial Classic at Fair Grounds after missing the break and was never a factor finishing a distant 11th to stablemate Factor This.
"He's such a good horse. It was a weird race at Fair Grounds a few starts back where he missed the break," Crow said. "With a little pace up front, he belongs in this group. Brad really thinks that he's a Grade 1 caliber horse going marathon distances, so he's going to have the chance to prove it."
Both Warrior's Charge and Dot Matrix will attempt to give Ten Strike Racing their third stakes triumph of the meet, including Critical Value's win against state breds in Sunday's Bouwerie for trainer Jeremiah Englehart.
Ten Strike Racing owns four broodmares with two of them - Aunt Dot Dot [dam of Dot Matrix] and See the Forest [dam of Critical Value] producing stakes winners this year.
"It's just so cool because they only have four broodmares and two of them produced stakes winners this year," Crow said.
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Action-packed Saturday awaits owner Randy Hill
Owner Randy Hill of R.A. Hill Stable has enjoyed a successful Belmont Park meet with two stakes winners this season. But with only two weeks left of the meet, the fun could only be getting started for Hill, who sends out three formidable stakes contenders on Saturday.
Spearheaded by Grade 1 Runhappy Carter winner Vekoma in the Grade 1, $500,000 Runhappy Met Mile, Hill also is the park owner of Up In Smoke who makes her graded stakes debut in the Grade 3, $100,000 Victory Ride, as well as Grade 1 winner Channel Maker who seeks his third victory at such caliber in the $400,000 Manhattan.
Trained by George Weaver, Vekoma provided Hill with a stakes triumph during the Belmont meet with a sensational 7 ¼-length romp in the Grade 1 Runhappy Carter, where he registered a 110 Beyer for the performance.
Vekoma will square off against three other Grade 1 winners including last year's Met Mile runner-up McKinzie.
"It's a tough race. McKinzie is about as good of a horse as there is currently," Hill said. "You worry about a possible bounce, but if he runs back to his last race, he'll be tough. I've got all the confidence in the world in this horse. He's training well so we're ready as we can be."
Owned by Hill in partnership with Gatsas Stables, Vekoma won the Grade 3 Nashua at 2 and the Grade 2 Blue Grass at 3 years old en route to a 13th-place finish in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby. He has done no wrong in two starts since the 'Run for the Roses' and made his seasonal bow with a 3 ¾-length win in the Sir Shackleton on March 28 at Gulfstream Park.
Up In Smoke has never raced outside of her native Florida, encompassing five starts. That will change when the stakes winning daughter of The Big Beast takes on four others in the 6 ½-furlong Victory Ride.
Also conditioned by Weaver, Up In Smoke has won all but one of her five career starts. Her lone defeat was a distant fourth going two turns in the Hollywood Wildcat at Gulfstream Park, where she finished 10 ½ lengths to graded stakes-winner Tonalist's Shape.
Up In Smoke, owned by Hill in partnership with Black Type Thoroughbreds, arrives at the Victory Ride off of a triumph in the Game Face on June 6 over the South Florida oval.
"We think she's talented and this is the right spot for her," Hill said. "There wasn't anywhere else for her to run and she was ready to run. Outside of that race, she's unbeaten."
A winner of Belmont Park's Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic in September and the Grade 1 Man o' War in May 2019, Channel Maker has finished a respective eighth and fourth in the prior two editions of the 1 ¼-mile event.
A recent troubled eighth in the Tiller on June 4, Channel Maker, trained by three-time Manhattan winner and Hall of Famer Bill Mott, has not displayed frontrunning fashion since a half-length runner-up finish to Arklow in last year's Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, but Hill would like to see his horse put such ways on display.
"He's been the subject of about three or four bad trips in a row. I hope that he goes to the front, because I think that's what he's best at," Hill said. "He's a difficult horse to ride and Jose was able to get him to relax [in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic]. That was his best race that day. He ran a 108 Beyer and we haven't been able to do that since. Belmont is his favorite surface."
Hill praised New York-bred Funny Guy, who won the Commentator earlier this meet for trainer John Terranova off a nine-month layoff. The Big Brown bay recorded a 101 Beyer for the performance and could step up to open company next out.
"I love that guy," Hill said. "We think he's open stakes quality and he did that off the bench. I've got some nice horses right now."
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Champion Monomoy Girl on track for Ruffian (G2)
Eclipse Award-winning mare Monomoy Girl will kick off her 2020 graded stakes action in attempt to make a case for Champion Older Mare in next Saturday's Grade 2, $150,000 Ruffian on July 11 at Belmont.
The daughter of Tapizar arrived at Belmont Park on Wednesday alongside Grade 1 Runhappy Met Mile contender Warrior's Charge for trainer Brad Cox. Following a sensational 3-year-old campaign in 2018, which included five Grade 1 victories in the Ashland at Keeneland, Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs, Acorn at Belmont Park, Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga and the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Churchill Downs, Monomoy Girl missed the entirety of her 4-year-old season.
She was sent to WinStar Farm last spring after a mild case of colic and suffered an injury to her hamstring last fall when preparing for a potential comeback.
Despite being forced to twice delay her long-anticipated return to action, Monomoy Girl put her winning ways on display last out, going a one-turn mile in a Churchill Downs allowance event that featured stakes winners Talk Veuve To Me and Fashion Faux Pas.
In her first start since defeating older fillies and mares in the 2018 Breeders' Cup Distaff, Monomoy Girl tracked the pace over a sloppy main track sitting a close fifth early on and received her cue from jockey Florent Geroux around the far turn before drawing off to a 2 ¾-length victory.
"She's doing awesome. It would help if we could have run a week or two earlier but it's a great spot to jump off her last effort," said Liz Crow of BSW/Crow Bloodstock who manages Monomoy Girl on behalf of owners Monomoy Stable, Michael Dubb, the Elkstone Group and Bethlehem Stables.
Although the talented chestnut mare's career highlights have taken place in the two-turn Kentucky Oaks and Breeders' Cup Distaff, Crow said she can thrive going a one-turn mile. She owns victories going the distance in the Grade 1 Acorn in June 2018 as well as the Rags to Riches at Churchill Downs during her 2-year-old campaign.
Crow indicated a second victory in the Grade 1, $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff on November 7 at Keeneland Race Course is the end goal.
"She's deadly going a one turn mile," Crow said. "Her speed figures in the Acorn, Rags to Riches and her last start were great. But from here, she'll see a mile and a sixteenth to a mile and an eighth. The Personal Ensign is a little quick back after the Ruffian, but we do know that the Breeders' Cup is definitely the long term."
Crow, who signed the ticket for Monomoy Girl when she went through the sales ring at the 2016 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, was purchased for $100,000.
"It's amazing how much she's changed," Crow said. "If you look at her you could mistake her for a colt. Her hips have widened, her shoulders have deepened, and looking her now as a 5-year-old she just doesn't look like the same horse. She's better now than she's ever been."
Monomoy Girl has accumulated just over $3 million in lifetime earnings and has never finished worse than second in a dozen starts, 10 of which were victories.
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Moretti and Social Paranoia training well for Saturday stakes assignments
Repole Stable and Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners' Moretti, trained by Todd Pletcher, will look to make the grade in Saturday's Grade 2, $200,000 Suburban at Belmont.
Moretti secured his first stakes score last out in the 1 3/8-mile Flat Out with a frontrunning performance contested on a sloppy Belmont main track under Hall of Famer Javier Castellano.
In besting 2019 Grade 1 Belmont Stakes-winner and Suburban rival Sir Winston, Moretti garnered a career-best 96 Beyer Speed Figure.
Assistant trainer Byron Hughes said the improved effort showcased a more mature Moretti, who was making his ninth career start.
"It was probably a combination of things with the biggest thing being the mental aspect of it," said Hughes. "He seems to be more focused than in the past and he didn't mind the sloppy track, but I don't think that's necessarily the only reason he ran so well either. We expect another big effort, he's been training well."
The 4-year-old Medaglia d'Oro colt utilized an aggressive approach in the Flat Out and Hughes said more of the same is likely on Saturday when Moretti emerges from post 8 under Castellano.
"Last time, on a sloppy track, horses tend to carry well on this track when they get to the front, so that was the strategy," said Hughes. "This time, if he breaks sharp, I don't think we'd take anything away from him."
Bred in Kentucky by Thoro-Bred Stables, Moretti is out of the Grade 1-winning Concerto broodmare Rigoletta, who also produced Grade 1-winning millionaire Battle of Midway. He was purchased for $900,000 from the 2017 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Select Yearling Sale.
The Elkstone Group's Social Paranoia will turn back in distance for Saturday's Grade 3 Poker at one mile on the Widener turf.
Social Paranoia made the grade in his seasonal debut with a last-to-first charge in the Grade 3 Appleton, a one-mile turf test on March 28 at Gulfstream Park. He arrives at the Poker from an off-the-board effort in the Grade 2 Fort Marcy contested over nine furlongs on a Belmont inner turf rated good.
Hughes said the cut back in distance will benefit Social Paranoia, who garnered a career-best 100 Beyer in the Appleton score over firm footing.
"It should suit him well. He's training well at the moment," said Hughes. "It's a little bit harder turf down there [at Gulfstream Park] but we haven't had whole lot of rain up here and the turf should be pretty firm."
Jose Ortiz has the call aboard Social Paranoia from post 5.
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Just Whistle tuned up for Suburban (G2)
Trainer Michael Matz will saddle Just Whistle in Saturday's Grade 2, $200,000 Suburban, a 11 1/4-mile test for older horses at Belmont.
Matz, an accomplished equestrian who competed at three Olympics, gained fame in the thoroughbred industry as the trainer of 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro and added a second U.S. classic win with Union Rags, who surged up the rail to collar Paynter in the 2012 Belmont Stakes.
Just Whistle, a 5-year-old son of Pioneerof the Nile, is lightly raced with a record of 3-3-1 from 12 career starts. The veteran horseman said he has always held the late-developing horse in high regard.
"We've always thought he had a lot of ability," said Matz. "When he was younger, he had a lot of little things, like bone bruising, that hopefully now that he's older have grown out. He seems to be a little more consistent this year and I hope he keeps it up."
Just Whistle will tackle the one-two-three finishers of the 2019 Belmont Stakes on Saturday when he squares off against Sir Winston, Tacitus and Joevia. It will mark just his third attempt with graded company following a third in the 2018 Grade 3 Peter Pan at Belmont and a closing fifth in the 2019 Grade 3 Pimlico Special.
The talented bay added blinkers two starts back when rallying to be second in the Grade 3 Hal's Hope at 1 1/8-miles at Gulfstream Park and arrives at the Suburban from an impressive score in the nine-furlong Sunday Silence held May 17 on a sloppy Gulfstream Park main when a neck the better of graded-stakes placed Spinoff.
"Since we put the blinkers on, he seems to have matured and settled down. Hopefully, we can have a little more consistency this year," said Matz.
Just Whistle will exit post 7 under Belmont spring/summer meet leading rider Irad Ortiz, Jr. in the Suburban, which is slated as the last of 11 races on Saturday's Runhappy Met Mile Day card.
Matz said Just Whistle's late-running style requires a strong rider.
"Every jockey that comes back on him has certainly earned their money. They have to ride him the whole way," said Matz. "He's just laid back and that's him. He's a grinder that hopefully there's enough speed in the race that they'll come back to him.
"We were lucky to get Irad," added Matz. "We'll keep our fingers crossed that there's enough speed in the race and that Irad ate his Wheaties that day."
Ortiz, Jr., who has captured the Eclipse Award for outstanding rider the past two seasons, last piloted Just Whistle in the Pimlico Special.
Matz noted that Runnymede Racing's Postulation, a Grade 3-winner with $551,411 in purse earnings, is nearing the start of his 8-year-old campaign.
The Harland's Holiday gelding, bred in Kentucky by Juddmonte Farms, captured the 2017 Grade 3 American St. Leger at Arlington Park and last year added the Presious Passion to his ledger in his seasonal debut in August at Monmouth Park
Matz said Postulation could make his return in the Grade 2 Elkhorn slated for July 12 at Keeneland.
"He's doing well. We're just looking for a race for him," said Matz. "We might consider the Elkhorn for him. He runs well fresh, so we'll see what happens. This year we gave him the whole winter off and he's almost ready to come back. He was pretty consistent last year and hopefully we can find a couple races for him this year."
Hidden Creek Farm's Lasting Union, a 3-year-old Union Rags chestnut, earned a 75 Beyer Speed Figure when graduating at fourth asking on June 19 at Laurel Park. Making her first start around two turns, Lasting Union traveled gate-to-wire under Jevian Toledo for the one-length score.
Bred in Ontario by William D. Graham, Matz said Lasting Union will target the $500,000 Woodbine Oaks, a nine-furlong Tapeta test slated for August 15 at Woodbine Racetrack.
"This is the first time we got her to go two turns and she did it well," said Matz. "She's a Canadian-bred and she's nominated for the Oaks up there. I'm not sure if we'll get another race into her in-between, but we'll take a look at what horses go in the Oaks. Being that it's a mile and an eighth, I think it will suit her real well."
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Admission Office could gain entry to Saratoga as he looks towards Bowling Green (G2)
Amerman Racing's Admission Office could be bound for New York after winning his first graded stakes last out. Trainer Brian Lynch said the 5-year-old son of Point of Entry came out his victory in the Grade 3 Louisville on June 13 at Churchill Downs in good order.
Admission Office registered a triple digit Beyer Speed Figure for the second time in three starts, earning a 100 number after edging Arklow by a head in the 1 ½-mile turf route last month. The Kentucky homebred could now target the Grade 2, $250,000 Bowling Green on August 1, Whitney Day, at Saratoga. Contested at 1 3/8 miles on the Spa's turf, the Bowling Green is the first flat turf graded stakes for 4-years-old and up on the Saratoga schedule.
The Grade 1, $400,000 Manhattan on Saturday at Belmont Park was initially a possibility for Admission Office. But the 1 ¼-mile trek on the inner turf was passed over as Lynch didn't want to wheel him back after just three weeks following his hard-fought effort against a 12-horse field.
"I was thinking about the Manhattan, but Admission Office just won the Louisville down here and ran very, very hard, and it just taxed him a little," Lynch said. "I didn't want to get too ambitious and bring him back too quick because the good racing is just starting to open up."
Lynch said the rescheduled Grade 1 Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic, set for September at Churchill, remains a possibility as well for Admission Office.
As a 4-year-old, Admission Office earned blacktype in four graded stakes, posting runner-up efforts in the Grade 2 Dixie in May 2019 at Pimlico and the Grade 2 Ft. Lauderdale in December at Gulfstream to cap his campaign. He also finished third in the Grade 2 Wise Dan in June at Churchill and in the Grade 3 River City Handicap in November at the same track. In all, he had finished second or third in six total stakes before breaking through in the Louisville over firm turf.
The Manhattan will still see a Lynch trainee, as Terry Hamilton's Spooky Channel will be going for his second graded stakes win of the year following a win by a neck over Cross Broder in the Grade 3 W.L. McKnight in January at Gulfstream Park.
Spooky Channel, 8-2-0 in 15 career starts, drew the outermost post 8 in the Manhattan. Listed as 15-1 on the morning line, he will have the services of jockey Julien Leparoux.
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FOX Sports to present Investec Derby (G1) and Investec Oaks (G1)
FS1 will present live coverage of Saturday's Group 1 Investec Derby and Group 1 Investec Oaks from Epsom Downs Racecourse.
A field of 16 sophomores will line up for the 1 1/2-mile Investec Derby led by likely race favorite English King, who is trained by Ed Walker and will be piloted by Frankie Dettori. Providing steep opposition will be the Andrew Balding-conditioned Kameko under Oisin Murphy and Mogul, who boasts the services of Ryan Moore, as one of six Aidan O'Brien trainees in the race.
The Investec Oaks, at 12 furlongs for sophomore fillies, is led by the O'Brien-trained Love, who captured the Qipco 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket with Moore in the irons.
Two hours of coverage on FS1 begins at 10 a.m. hosted by NYRA racing analyst Acacia Courtney.
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Post times set for 2020 Saratoga Race Course summer meet
The 2020 summer meet at historic Saratoga Race Course will feature 71 stakes worth $14.45 million, encompassing 39 graded stakes and 18 Grade 1s from Thursday, July 16 through Monday, September 7.
Under current New York state guidelines, Saratoga Race Course will open on July 16 without spectators in attendance. The 40-day meet will feature at least one stakes race every live racing day, highlighted by the 151st renewal of the Grade 1, $1 million Runhappy Travers on August 8 and the Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney on August 1, as the anchors of two of the biggest racing days in North America.
After opening weekend, racing will be conducted five days a week, Wednesdays through Sundays.
First post for regular race days at the 40-day meet will be 1:10 p.m. Eastern with the exception of days when a steeplechase event is carded which will feature a first post of 12:50 p.m.
Post times for signature events including Runhappy Travers Day (Saturday, August 8th), Woodward Day (September 5th) and Closing Day will be announced shortly.
For more information about the Saratoga summer meet, please visit https://www.nyra.com/saratoga/racing/stakes-schedule/.