Shaman Ghost appears to be getting very good for trainer Jimmy Jerkens, posting victories in the Santa Anita H. (G1) and Pimlico Special (G3), and figures to be an overwhelming favorite among six rivals in the $750,000 Suburban (G2). The 1 ¼-mile test is one of five stakes races Saturday on a strong Stars and Stripes Racing Festival at Belmont Park.
A son of Ghostzapper, Shaman Ghost was named champion 3-year-old male in Canada after winning the 2015 Queen’s Plate. That turned out to be the penultimate start of his sophomore season and the Stronach Stables homebred came back to post a couple of nice wins in the Woodward (G1) and Brooklyn (G2) last year.
He opened his 5-year-old campaign with a runner-up finish to Arrogate in the Pegasus World Cup (G1) at Gulfstream Park and has really hit his best stride of late, registering a career-best 114 BRIS Speed Rating in the May 19 Pimlico Special. Javier Castellano sticks with the classy Ontario-bred.
Matt King Coal looks like the main threat following a 3 ¾-length tally in the June 3 Mountainview at Penn National that garnered a 107 BRIS Speed number. Irad Ortiz Jr. has the call for Linda Rice. Follow Me Crev invades from California for Vladimir Cerin after posting runner-up efforts in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1) and Californian (G2). John Velazquez picks up the assignment.
Grade 1 winner Keen Ice, unraced since a seventh in the Dubai World Cup (G1), will attempt to snap a 10-race losing skein for Todd Pletcher. Rounding out the field are Ben Ali (G3) victor Watershed, fifth most recently in the Pimlico Special; and Grade 3 scorer Sunny Ridge, who exits a runner-up in the June 10 Brooklyn.
The $350,000 Belmont Sprint Championship (G2) marks the first start back for Mind Your Biscuits, one of the top contenders for the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Del Mar. Third in last year’s Sprint at Santa Anita, the Chad Summers concluded 2016 with a victory in the Malibu (G1) and exits an impressive three-length score in the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) at Meydan in late March. Joel Rosario sticks with the late-running son of Posse.
A total of seven horses were entered for the 7-furlong Belmont Sprint including three-time graded winner Unified, who will make his first start since a neck second in the Carter (G1) in early April; seven-time stakes scorer Stallwalkin’ Dude, second to eye-catching winner Roy H in the June 9 True North (G2) at Belmont; multiple Grade 3 hero Tommy Macho, third in the Met Mile (G1) last out; and Awesome Slew, winner of the Commonwealth (G3) three back and fourth most recently in the Met Mile.
The $400,000 Dwyer (G3) kicks off the stakes action and multiple Grade 1 winner Practical Joke is the one to beat. The Chad Brown trainee should relish the cutback to a one-turn mile trip after finding the 1 ¼-mile distance too taxing in a respectable fifth-place Kentucky Derby effort. Rosario retains the mount.
Battalion Runner, who will make his first start since a runner-up in the Wood Memorial (G2), is also part of the five-horse field. The Todd Pletcher-trained colt posted a couple of nice wins over maiden and entry-level allowance foes at Gulfstream Park prior to his last and promises to show speed under Velazquez.
Completing the line-up are Woody Stephens (G2) runner-up Giuseppe the Great; multiple stakes-placed True Timber; and expected longshot Tale of Silence.
The Stars and Stripes Racing Festival also includes the $1.2 million Belmont Derby (G1) and $1 Belmont Oaks (G1) for turf sophomores.