Last year’s $250,000 True North (G2) at Belmont Park proved to be a stakes coming-out party for Roy H, who by season’s end would be acclaimed the nation’s best male sprinter. The connections of the eight older horses in Friday’s renewal of the 6 1/2-furlong dash would undoubtedly love to replicate that success, but first thing’s first.
The connections of Roy H will be represented here instead by Bobby Abu Dhabi, second to City of Light in the Triple Bend (G1) in March and a last-out winner of the Kona Gold (G2), both at Santa Anita.
“He has really matured for us the past few months,” trainer Peter Miller said. “He’s become a bigger, stronger version of the horse we had last year.”
Imperial Hint nearly pulled winning the sprint title himself at Del Mar in November, finishing only a length behind Roy H in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1). Returning with a stakes win against Florida-breds at Tampa, the fleet dark bay weakened to sixth in the seven-furlong Churchill Downs (G2) over the slop on Derby Day.
The winner of that Churchill Downs, and a horse for the Louisville course, was Limousine Liberal, who bypassed a chance to repeat in last week’s Aristides (G3) to aim for this bigger prize. His ventures outside of Kentucky have not yet produced a win, though he did place in past editions of the Alfred G. Vanderbilt (G1) and King’s Bishop (G1).
Fourth in the Churchill Downs was Whitmore, third as the even-money favorite in the 2017 True North. Seemingly not quite as dominant since as he’s eked out three stakes wins in six starts since finishing a distant third to Roy H, trainer Ron Moquett believes otherwise.
“I think he’s better [than last year],” Moquett said. “He’s smarter, or we’re learning little things about him all the time. He’s teaching us how he wants to be trained.”
Joking won the 2016 True North and Vosburgh (G1), but has been missing in action since the latter victory in October of that year after contracting life-threatening pneumonia when traveling to California for that year’s Breeders’ Cup.
“He was my first graded stakes winner and first Grade 1 winner, so when he got sick I really want to save his life,” trainer Charlie Baker said. After months of care on and off the farm, the nine-year-old returned to training in October.
Also lining up in the True North are Westwood, winner of the $147,000 Runhappy at Belmont May 12; multiple stakes winner Recruiting Ready, winner of a swift Belmont allowance in the slop last month timed in 1:15 1/5 for 6 1/2 furlongs; and the Grade 3 veteran Always Sunshine.
American Gal, two-length winner over Ivy Bell in the Humana Distaff (G1) at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day, will renew rivalry with that mare in the $250,000 Bed o’ Roses (G2) over seven furlongs. American Gal is a four-time stakes winner, including a dominating score in the Test (G1) in her last trip to New York.
The field also includes Humana Distaff third-placer Lewis Bay, whose only out-of-the-money finish in 14 starts was a fourth in the 2016 Test. The mare is a multiple graded winner, including the Turnback the Alarm H. (G3) at Belmont as a three-year-old.
The competitive field also includes multiple Grade 2 scorer Highway Star, Distaff H. (G3) runner-up Divine Miss Grey, and the multiple graded-placed Chalon.
The $150,000 Tremont for two-year-olds at 5 1/2 furlongs features a field of seven. The betting action figures to be concentrated on the Todd Pletcher-trained pair of Sombeyay and Outshine, the Wesley Ward charge Mae Never No, the lone filly in the field, and the Steve Asmussen debut winner Sir Truebador.