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A Gold-en weekend at Belmont Park


A Gold-en weekend at Belmont Park

By Bob Ehalt

The Breeders’ Cup is about a month away and the New York contingent for the World Championships will come into a sharp focus this weekend.

Saturday’s Jockey Club Gold Cup card at Belmont Park will feature four stakes, three of them graded stakes, while Sunday’s card includes two Grade 1 stakes.

On Saturday, the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup tops an 11-race card and, as a Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” race, offers a guaranteed, all-expenses-paid spot in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 4 at Del Mar.

The 9-5 favorite in the mile-and-a-quarter Grade 1 stakes is Keen Ice, who is best known for beating Triple Crown champion American Pharoah in the 2015 Travers.

This year in four starts, Keen Ice has prevailed only once, notching a three-length victory in the Grade 2 Suburban at Belmont at the same mile-and-a-quarter distance as the JCGC. The Travers was also contested at the 10-furlong distance that Keen Ice seems to relish.

In his last start, Keen Ice was second in the Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga, 5 ½ lengths behind the victorious Gun Runner.

“We’re looking forward to getting him back at a mile and a quarter,” said trainer Todd Pletcher. “He’s been training well and we hope he can give us the same kind of effort he did in the Suburban.”

Keen Ice is one of three starters in the JCGC for Pletcher, who is the sport’s all-time leading earner but is winless in the JC Gold Cup with five runner-up finishes. He will also saddle Woodward runner-up Rally Cry (6-1) and Destin (12-1), who was second by a nose in the 2016 Belmont Stakes.

“(Destin) has had two races off a long layoff and I thought his second race was a big improvement so we hope he continues moving in the right direction. The mile and a quarter should suit him well and he’s seemed to run well at Belmont. I thought Rally Cry ran very well in the Alydar at a mile and an eighth and if he can reproduce that kind of race, I don’t think the distance will be much of an issue,” said Pletcher. “He seems like the kind of horse that, when he’s able to get into a good rhythm, he’s able to keep going.”

The main challengers for Pletcher’s uncoupled trio are Pavel (5-2), a 3-year-old trained by West Coast-based Doug O’Neill who won the Grade 3 Smarty Jones at Parx in his last race, New York State-bred monster Diversify (7-2) and Jim Dandy winner Good Samaritan (8-1).

The other “Win and You’re In” race on the card is the $500,000 Champagne, which will provide a ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

The 7-2 favorite in the mile test is actually a maiden, Good Magic. Trained by Chad Brown, he was second by a length in his debut to the front-running Hazit, who is listed at 4-1 in the morning line in the Champagne.

Another main threat is also a maiden, Bahamian (5-1), who was second last time out in a maiden race at Del Mar.

Saturday’s card, which starts at 12:15 p.m., also includes the $500,000 Hill Prince and the $150,000 Belmont Turf Sprint Invitational.

Sunday’s card includes the Grade 1 Frizette for 2-year-old fillies and the Grade 1 Flower Bowl for fillies and mares on the turf, a pair of Breeders’ Cup Challenge races.