After the running of the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) at a yielding Aqueduct, persistent rain washed the Belmont Turf Sprint and Jockey Club Derby off the turf. The surface switch materially altered their character, and both were downgraded from their original Grade 3 status pending review of the Graded Stakes Committee.
Jockey Club Derby
Harrell Ventures’ Lost Ark has yet to run up to the level of his champion half-sister Nest, or Grade 1-winning half-brother Idol, but he capitalized on his opportunity in the $485,000 Jockey Club Derby. So did trainer Todd Pletcher, who sent out the trifecta in a scratch-decimated race that morphed into a 1 1/4-mile affair in the slop.
With the withdrawals of Godolphin’s morning-line favorite Measured Time, second choice Webslinger, Faraday, and Mondego, the Pletcher trio loomed large. Favoritism devolved upon the 1.30-1 Classic Catch, who won an off-the-turf allowance at Saratoga last out. Stablemate Fearless Soldier went off at 3.30-1, and Lost Ark ranked third as a 3.85-1 chance.
Lost Ark had dirt credentials, although he hadn’t progressed on the main track since his romp in last summer’s Sapling S. Hence the son of Violence and the A.P. Indy mare Marion Ravenwood tried turf in the Sept. 1 Saranac (G3), placing a decent third that warranted further investigation.
Perhaps the key move was adding blinkers for the Jockey Club Derby, since Lost Ark responded to new rider Kendrick Carmouche’s every call. Stalking Fearless Soldier through fractions of :23.91, :48.21, and 1:12.72, the bay put his head in front at the mile mark in 1:37.87. Lost Ark inched away down the stretch, but had to stay on task to hold the belated rally of Classic Catch by three-quarters of a length in 2:03.97.
“He’s shown a lot of ability on the dirt,” assistant trainer Byron Hughes said, “and I thought Kendrick did a good job of letting him run into that first turn and got a good position on our stablemate’s outside shoulder. He was able to kick home and got the job done.”
“They put blinkers on him,” Carmouche said, “and I thought he should have been forward. They wanted me to put him forward. I was sitting in a perfect spot the whole way around there. It was going to be whoever quickened at the end, and none of them quickened. We just galloped around there. I’m glad it came off the turf. I thought I had a decent shot on the grass, but I had an even bigger shot on the dirt.”
Classic Catch was playing catch-up from a troubled start, when he was buffeted to last.
“I got squeezed very hard leaving the gate, and I think it cost me the race to be honest,” jockey Florent Geroux said. “I thought the fractions were pretty good, and we didn’t go too slow, but I had to make a move at the three-eighths pole and I think that’s probably what I needed for the last eighth of a mile. I was just behind the eight ball from the beginning, which is not ideal.”
Fearless Soldier reported home another 3 1/4 lengths back in third. This first try on dirt left Hughes thinking that he wants to revert to turf. Dataman missed third by a head, and Anglophile, who was all at sea a long way out, was eased to the wire.
Lost Ark sports a mark of 8-4-0-1, $538,600. He could be the first half of a half-sibling act with stablemate Nest, who preps for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) in Sunday’s Spinster (G1) at Keeneland.
Bred by Ashview Farm and Colts Neck Stables in Kentucky, Lost Ark brought $275,000 as a Keeneland September yearling.
Belmont Turf Sprint
To paraphrase Voltaire’s quip about the Holy Roman Empire, this stakes was neither at Belmont, nor on turf. At least the six-furlong dash was a sprint.
Conditions figured to suit Today’s Flavor, who had romped in the April 30 Affirmed Success S. at this track and trip, in the slop, versus New Yok-breds. The Reddam Racing runner was accordingly dispatched as the 7-5 favorite here, and he delivered another wire-to-wire victory.
Trained by George Weaver and ridden by Javier Castellano, Today’s Flavor splashed through splits of :22.33 and :45.41. Thin White Duke, who would have been a prime player on turf, proved adept on the surface switch to emerge as a threat. But Today’s Flavor had a half-length to spare in a final time of 1:09.74.
Wit, another with cross-surface appeal, kicked into gear too late in third. Next came Alogon, Dancing Buck, Pirate Rick, Alexis S, Eamonn, and Yes and Yes. Big Invasion, Fauci, and Nothing Better were withdrawn.
Today’s Flavor was coming off a successful turf debut in a Sept. 22 allowance. All of his prior starts were on dirt, dating back to the beginning of his career out west with Doug O’Neill. While the son of the late Laoban was earning his first open-company stakes credit here, he’d finished fourth in the April 8 Carter H. (G1) and June 10 True North (G2). The five-year-old gelding has amassed $474,080 from a 14-7-3-0 line.
“His win last time was just an experiment,” assistant trainer Blair Golen said of his turf tilt, “because he is a Laoban and he’s a very versatile horse. They were a little frustrated with him and the way he was going, and they tried to freshen him up over the summer. He breezed excellent, so what’s the worst that would happen? He wouldn’t win? So, now we have a lot of options.
“On the turf, he has a different kick. On here, from the first time that he ran with Doug (O’Neill) and into his other races, when he gets the lead, he’s confident. As soon as he gets away from the horses, he settles. Like you’ll see in his demeanor out of the gate, he runs hard and once he gets on the lead, he just lengthens out his stride and covers a lot of ground. As soon as he feels them or hears them (his rivals), he just kicks on.”
Castellano also commented on how Today’s Flavor gets brave up front.
“That type of horse in the dirt, he likes to be put on the lead,” the Hall of Fame rider said. “He was going to the lead, and he encourages himself and gets very confident in himself, and that was my goal today and it worked out great. It was supposed to be on the turf, but it rained and the conditions worked out in my case for this particular race, especially the way he did it. I’m very fortunate enough I rode him last time on the turf here and covered up a little bit to save all the ground.
“Today was a different ballgame with the way the track played. I tried to use his speed on the lead and run wire-to-wire. I had a lot of confidence with him, and knew he would put in a good show today and I’m happy with the result today.”
Today’s Flavor was bred by Joseph Calvo in the Empire State. The $80,000 Fasig-Tipton New York Bred yearling purchase is out of the Speightstown mare Evangelical. Since Laoban was himself produced by a Speightstown mare, Today’s Flavor is intensely inbred to the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) champion – and potent mud influence. No wonder Today’s Flavor is 3-for-3 on off tracks.