Woodslane Farm’s homebred Sadler’s Joy will look to build on his recent victory in last month’s Grade 2 Pan American, facing seven rivals in the first Grade 1 of Belmont Park’s spring/summer meet, the $ 400,000 Man o’ War at 1 3/8 miles on the inner turf on Saturday.
A 4-year-old by Kitten’s Joy, Sadler’s Joy looks to be a budding turf warrior, ratcheting four wins from his last five starts since breaking his maiden in his fourth career race. The chestnut colt, trained by Tom Albertrani, ran through his conditions in his sophomore campaign before wading into the deeper waters of graded stakes competition.
He made his stakes debut in the Grade 3 W. L. McKnight Handicap at Gulfstream Park in January, where he bested fellow Man o’ War entrants Charming Kitten, Twilight Eclipse, and Patterson Cross, and finished a head behind another, the winner Taghleeb. Sadler’s Joy returned for the Grade 2 Pan American on April 1 and found himself in front at the wire to win by a head over Designed for War, ahead of Patterson Cross and Taghleeb, third and fourth, respectively.
“We’ve always had high regards for the horse since his first race actually,” said Albertrani. “It took him a couple of races to put things together but he’s made steps forward ever since he broke his maiden. It looks like he could be a very serious horse, as far as the route races on the grass go, for sure.
“He’s won four of his last five races and beaten a head in the McKnight, so he’s really proven himself to be a top turf horse,” he added. “Hopefully we’ll continue this weekend. It looks like the same group of horses that are going to show up this weekend. They’ve all been within heads and necks of each other in their last few races, so hopefully racing luck plays a bit of a part in everything too. I’m very excited to see this horse run back again. He’s always shown he’s got a good turn of foot and we’ll keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best through the end of the year.”
Julien Leparoux, who has been aboard Sadler’s Joy in both starts this year, has the return call. The pair will break from the rail.
Among Sadler’s Joy’s competition are the winners of the Man o’ War’s last two runnings in Wake Forest and Twilight Eclipse.
Wake Forest, who recorded a three-quarter-length score over stablemate Money Multiplier in the 2016 edition, will make a repeat appearance for trainer Chad Brown and Michael Dubb, Sheep Pond Partners and Bethlehem Stables. A 7-year-old German-bred by Sir Percy, Wake Forest has hit the board in each of his last four starts, including his first win since the Man o’ War with a head victory in the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida on March 4 at Gulfstream.
Wake Forest will be ridden by Javier Castellano from post 3.
West Point Thoroughbred’s Twilight Eclipse, who picked up his first Grade 1 victory in the 2015 Man o’ War, will be making his first start since transferring to the barn of Graham Motion from Albertrani earlier this year.
The 8-year-old Purim gelding has earned more than $ 2.1 million in 39 lifetime starts, which has included wins in the 2012 and 2014 editions of the McKnight, and runner-up Grade 1 efforts to the Motion-trained champion Main Sequence in the United Nations and Turf Classic Invitational while under Albertrani’s tutelage.
“He’s a lovely horse, a really cool horse,” said Motion. “With a 7- or 8-year-old, you kind of feel like they are getting into the twilight of their career, but he certainly doesn’t act like it. Running against him, I obviously was very aware of him. I had never really been around him, per se, but I followed his career very closely. He’s a great horse to be around. He’s got a great way of going and he works super.”
Edgar Prado has the call aboard Twilight Eclipse, set to break from post 7.
Grade 1 Belmont Derby runner-up Highland Sky will make his return to Belmont for trainer Barclay Tagg one week later than expected following Highland Sky’s race-day scratch in last Saturday’s Grade 3 Fort Marcy due to the weather.
Winner of the Woodhaven last spring at Aqueduct Racetrack, Highland Sky turned in hard-fought runner-up efforts on the Belmont grass, finishing a neck behind Camelot Kitten in the Grade 3 Pennine Ridge and a neck again behind European import Deauville in the Belmont Derby in July. Following the Derby, Tagg said Highland Sky was given a lengthy break to give the colt ample time to recover from a foot bruise and regroup for a 2017 season.
Highland Sky won his comeback race by three-quarters of a length at a mile and a sixteenth in February at Gulfstream and was on schedule to make his stakes return in last weekend’s Grade 3 Fort Marcy. Tagg said he scratched the 4-year-old Sky Mesa colt when the Belmont turf came up soft.
“He won the only race we put him in and that was in Florida,” said Tagg. “We were hoping to run him back there, but then we got him here and put him in [the Fort Marcy]. Then we got all that rain so we didn’t do that, so now we’ve got him in here.
“We’re disappointed we couldn’t run him last week, but we’ll try again this week,” he added. “If that doesn’t happen, we’ll keep trying. The only thing I would’ve rather done is if I had gotten that race in last week, that was a mile and an eighth, and I could’ve moved him up more gradually. This is a mile and three-eighths and it’s kind of a big jump. He ran a mile and a sixteenth in Florida but that was three, four months ago now. He’s a pretty classy horse so I think he can handle it.”
The Irish mare Zhukova will take on males as she makes her U.S. debut for trainer Dermot Weld and owner Mrs. C. C. Regalado-Gonzalez. The 5-year-old daughter of Fastnet Rock will be ridden by John Velazquez from post 4.
Trainer Mike Maker will send out a pair of long-distance turf specialists in Taghleeb and Charming Kitten, winners of the last two editions of the two-mile H. Allen Jerkens in the winter at Gulfstream. Taghleeb will have the services of Jose Ortiz from post 8, while Charming Kitten will be ridden by Irad Ortiz, Jr. from post 2.
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott will saddle Patterson Cross, still looking for his first stakes win following a close second in the Diarmida and a third in the Pan American. Jose Lezcano has the mount aboard the 4-year-old colt by Arch. The pair will break from post 6.
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