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Jun 15, 2012

AMERICAN TURF CLUB LEAD-BELMONT STAKES

By: JOE GIRARDI


               The thirteen race card for the Belmont Stakes lost most of its luster when the day before the race, I’LL HAVE ANOTHER, the favorite for the Belmont Stakes and Triple Crown Hopeful was scratched due to an injury to his left front tendon. A chance at history would have to wait for another day and much of the appeal of the Belmont was gone. However, as they say the show must go on and the Belmont Stakes was still run on June 9th, 2012. Let’s take a look the four graded stakes races before the Belmont Stakes.

               The seventh race was the Grade II True North Handicap, a race run over six furlongs carrying a purse of $400,000 with a field of eight going postward. The favorite in the race was CAIXA ELETRONICA who was just 7-2. As the race unfolded, PACIFIC OCEAN battled early on with GIANT RYAN, through fractions of 21:4, 44:2, 56:3, those two horses began to tire in the lane as they were overtaken by JUSTIN PHILLIP who stalked those leaders from third. In deep stretch JUSTIN PHILLIP was run down late by CAIXA ELETRONICA who was seventh heading into the lane. The final time of the race was 1:09:2 which wasn’t spectacular given the early fractions. There was an unfortunate incident late in the race as GIANT RYAN broke down as they came to the wire. He was scheduled for surgery this past week but he had to be put down because of these injuries as signs of laminitis began to set in according to owner Shivananda Parbhoo.

               The eighth race was the Grade I Just A Game, run over the turf at one mile with a $500,000 purse. Seven horses went postward with WINTER MEMORIES going off as the even money favorite. TAPITSFLY, the five year old mare came out running from the rail last out, she set fractions of 23:2, 46:2, but as they turned into the lane she put her running shoes on scoring by more than two lengths over WINTER MEMORIES who was almost two lengths clear of the show horse HUNGRY ISLAND. The final time of the race was a very fast 1:32:1. That win put TAPITSFLY over the $1 million mark in earnings. The older filly and mare turf division should be very interesting the rest of this year.

               The ninth race was the Grade II Woody Stephens, run over seven furlongs with a purse of $400,000 with a field of 10 horses in the gate. The slight favorite in the race was TRINNIBERG who was sent off at 5-2. Coming off a well beaten 17th in the Derby after pressing the pace, TRINNIBERG was sent right to the lead again, set solid fractions of 22:1, 44:3 while under pressure from CURRENCY SWAP. As they entered the lane TRINNIBERG dug in and stayed very game to the wire to score by almost two lengths in a solid final time of 1:22:1 over CURRENCY SWAP, with IL VILLANO third. Another division that has some solid runners and should be interesting as the year goes on.

               The tenth race of the day was the Grade I Manahattan Handicap, run over the turf at 1 and ¼ miles with a purse of $500,000. There was a field of seven that went postward with HUDSON STEELE going off as the 2-1 favorite. After setting some moderate splits on the lead, HUDSON STEELE lead into the lane while being tracked by PAPAW BODIE and DESERT BLANC. DESERT BLANC and PAPAW BODIE overtook the frontrunner and battled to the wire with DESERT BLANC scoring by a nose. PAPAW BODIE held on for second over BOISTEROUS with HUDSON STEELE checking in fourth in a solid final time of 1:59:3.

               Finally the 11th race, the 144th running of the Belmont Stakes, the “Test of Champions”. The race was run over 1 and ½ miles and this Grade I event carried a purse of $1 million dollars. After the scratch of I’LL HAVE ANOTHER there was a field of 11 that entered the gate with DULLAHAN going off the slight favorite over UNION RAGS, both going off at 5-2. PAYNTER, trained by Bob Baffert and sent off as the third choice at 4-1 he was sent right to the lead under Mike Smith and set some very reasonable fractions of 23:3, 49:1, 1:14:3, 1:38:4 while being tracked by UNSTOPPABLE U and OPTIMIZER while UNION RAGS tucked in nicely on the rail in fourth. As they entered the lane, longshot ATIGUN made a wide move to get into second behind PAYNTER while UNION RAGS moved into third. As they continued through the long Belmont stretch PAYNTER, under left handed urging from Mike Smith, PAYNTER dug in holding off ATIGUN while UNION RAGS was closing up the rail. As they got to the wire UNION RAGS under jockey John Velazquez got his neck in front of PAYNTER, who was very game in defeat. ATIGUN held on for a clear third over STREET LIFE who closed for fourth. DULLAHAN, who was third in the Derby never seemed comfortable and checked in a well beaten seventh. Look for his connections to move him back to the turf as the year goes on. UNION RAGS had some redemption after a few bad trips and is looking for a big second half of the year for trainer Michael Matz and owner Chadds Ford Stable.

               Despite the disappointment of the scratch of I’LL HAVE ANOTHER, there was still a solid crowd of 85,811 which broke the record for a non-Triple Crown day and it was the sixth largest ever at Belmont Park. Can’t wait for the second half of the racing season to get underway.



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