BELMONT PARK GOES JUMPING ON DAY AFTER THE BELMONT
Afleet Alex, Giacomo and the others don't have a monopoly on Triple Crown action at Belmont Park this weekend, as 14 Thoroughbreds will line up for the third leg of the Steeplechase Triple Crown Sunday.
The $75,000 Meadow Brook Stakes (Gr. II) attracted a standout field including Toughkenamon and Mixed Up, each of whom has won a leg of the series this spring. The 2 1/2-mile, 10-jump test goes postward on the inner turf course at 2:04 p.m. as the day's third race.
Bill Pape's Mixed Up should get most of the attention after trouncing much of Sunday's field in the series' second leg, the $75,000 National Hunt Cup at Radnor, Pa. on Preakness Day. Trained by Hall of Famer Jonathan Sheppard, the 6-year-old has not lost in three starts (two steeplechase, one flat) this year. In his last outing, he stalked the pace of Charlie Whiskey until the stretch and rolled past jim to win by two lengths of jockey Danielle Hodsdon, who will be aboard again at Belmont. Charlie Whiskey will be the first horse to draw in off the also-eligible list if there is a scratch, but the field includes six others who finished behind Mixed Up that day.
Sheppard has gradually brought the son of Carnivalay into a steeplechase career. Mixed Up has won six times on the flat, and is now 3-for-5 over jumps. The Radnor win signified his arrival at the head of the class of first- and second-year hurdlers.
"I was quite impressed (with his Radnor win) although I don't know exactly what he beat," said Sheppard. "I liked the way he did it. He was much more relaxed than the first few times he ran. It will be a lot different this time though. It's a big, sweeping track and there are a few more horses. My fear is that some really strong, staying, closing-type horse could outrun him a little bit at the end. He's a handy, neat little horse."
Huntington, N.Y. resident Pape has been a longtime steeplechase owner, racing such stalwarts as Hall of Famer Flatterer and champions Martie's Anger and Athenian Idol with Sheppard.
Toughkenamon and jockey Rob Massey won the series' first leg in an upset, but were a well-beaten seventh in the second leg, a race in which none of the returning starters finished better than fifth. Trainer Kathy McKenna takes the blinkers off the 6-year-old son of Maria's Mon.
Sheppard's fear of new challengers looms in a variety of forms. Trainer Tom Voss jumps into the Triple Crown fray with multiple winners The Editor's Son and Motel Affair. Both fit Sheppard's description of likely threats -- staying is their game. The Editor's Son, a 6-year-old son of Mr. Greeley, won twice last year, and was competitive in Saratoga allowance company. Motel Affair, a 5-year-old by Colonial Affair, came from off the pace to win a Saratoga allowance hurdle last summer and was fifth in his only 2005 hurdle start last month at Atlantic City.
Jack Fisher counters with Paradise's Boss, the 2004 novice champion still looking for his first 2005 win, the accomplished mare Footlights and dual 2004 winner Hay Getoutofmyway. The former dominated Triple Crown talk early in the year, based on four impressive wins last season, but finished third in the opener April 23 and was last of nine finishers at Radnor. Footlights has won twice vs. fillies/mares this year and comes off a stakes win at Fair Hill. She gets better with distance, and could have plenty to say late in the race. Fisher upset the 2002 Meadow Brook with 50-1 shot Sharp Face.
Trainer Doug Fout sends German-bred Numitas up from Virginia. A winner of four hurdle starts in England last year, Numitas makes his first American jump start after placing second in a flat race for steeplechasers at Atlantic City in April.
"If he settles toward the back and can make a run like he did at Atlantic City, he'll be competitive," said jockey Matt McCarron, the current NSA leader. "The big field might make it tight, so we're going to have to get lucky and get a clean trip. A race with that many runners suits a horse that likes to be close because you'll encounter a lot less traffic."
The field for the Meadow Brook, by program number, with owner, trainer and jockey.
1. Why Not Baby. Lilith Boucher, Lilith Boucher, Remy Winants.
1A. Class Yankee. Mede Cahaba Stable, Lilith Boucher, Richard Boucher.
2. Toughkenamon. Armata Stable, Kathy McKenna, Rob Massey.
2B. The Editor's Son. Perry Bolton, Tom Voss, Blair Waterman.
3. Mixed Up. Bill Pape, Jonathan Sheppard, Danielle Hodsdon.
4. Irish Actor. Otto Stolz, Ricky Hendriks, Jody Petty.
5. Hay Getoutofmyway. Andrea Seefeldt Knight, Jack Fisher, Tom Foley.
6. Footlights, Arcadia Stable, Jack Fisher, David Bentley.
8. Shady Valley. Vesta Balestiere, Bruce Haynes, Robbie Walsh.
9. Motel Affair. Blackwood Stable, Tom Voss, Cyril Murphy.
10. Erin Go Bragh. Brigadoon Stable, Doug Fout, Chris Read.
11. Paradise's Boss. Ann Stern, Jack Fisher, Xavier Aizpuru.
12. Numitas. Eldon Farm, Doug Fout, Matt McCarron.
AE13. Charlie Whiskey. Fox Ridge Farm, Tom Voss, Chip Miller.
AE14. Professor Maxwell. Nancy Gerry, Janet Elliot, Gregg Ryan.
MEADOW BROOK HISTORY
The Meadow Brook has a long history at Belmont, and was first run there in 1916. The race's prior winners include Hall of Famers Elkridge, Neji and L'Escargot. Also run at Aqueduct for a time, the race was a fixture at NYRA tracks until 1971. The Meadow Brook has been the final leg of the Triple Crown since its revival in 1999. In six years, no horse has swept the Steeplechase Triple Crown though four have won two legs.
In addition to this race, Meadow Brook was the name of a steeplechase meet first held in 1883 on the Hempstead Plain. The race course later moved to Old Westbury on the estates of William C. Whitney and F. Ambrose Clark, where it hosted steeplechase racing through 1941. The featured Meadow Brook Cup was a 21-fence timber race.
Given all that history, steeplechasing relishes another chance to compete at Belmont Park, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.
"I think it's huge for us," said Sheppard, also the National Steeplechase Association president. "There was a time last fall when we didn't think we were going to be (at Belmont) at all. The fact that we are there, in line with the other Triple Crown races on our schedule, and on the day after the Belmont Stakes, is great."
Sheppard led a meeting with NYRA officials in November, and solidified the partnership which also includes nine races (Thursdays) in Saratoga.
"We have a very comfortable rapport with NYRA, though we're not complacent about it and I feel quite positive about our association with them and they seem to be willing to work with us," he said. "There's been a little bit of give and take, and from our point of view it's great to see a big field. Hopefully we can put on a good show."
NSA SUMMER RACING SCHEDULE
June 19 Colonial Downs (2 races), New Kent, Va.
June 26 Colonial Downs (2 races), New Kent, Va.
July 3 Colonial Downs (2 races), New Kent, Va.
July 10 Colonial Downs (2 races), New Kent, Va.
July 17 Colonial Downs (2 races $50,000 Ferguson Stakes), New Kent, Va.
July 23 Philadelphia Park ($50,000 Flatterer Stakes), Bensalem, Pa.
July 24 Colonial Downs (1 races), New Kent, Va.
July 24 Saratoga Open House, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
July 28 Saratoga (1 race), Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
July 31 Colonial Downs (2 races), New Kent, Va.
Aug. 4 Saratoga (2 races), Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Aug. 7 Colonial Downs (2 races), New Kent, Va.
Aug. 11 Saratoga ($75,000 A.P. Smithwick Stakes), Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Aug. 18 Saratoga (2 races), Saratoga Springs, N.Y.