March 3, 2024

Hard Love looks to give connections second win in Pennine Ridge

Hard Love wins the 2021 Woodhaven S. (Coglianese Photography)

Pennine Ridge S. (G2) — Race 9 (5:12 p.m. ET)

A couple high-profile barns that have been surprisingly cold during the Belmont Park spring/summer meet will look to heat up a bit more in Saturday’s $200,000 Pennine Ridge S. (G2), a nine-furlong grass test for three-year-olds.

Jonathan Thomas, striking at more than 30 percent for the year but with just one of his first 12 Belmont starters, saddles likely favorite Hard Love. The son of Kitten’s Joy has won two of three starts, including last month’s Woodhaven S. at Aqueduct as an odds-on favorite.

Hard Love is co-owned by Robert LaPenta, who also co-owned the Thomas-trained winner of the 2018 Pennine Ridge, Catholic Boy, who went on to capture the Belmont Derby (G1) and Travers (G1).

“We’re trying to get to the Belmont Derby but the Pennine Ridge is no slouch of a race either,” Thomas said. “He’s going to have to show up and run really well.”

Todd Pletcher, recently elected to the Hall of Fame, has started the Belmont stand uncharacteristically with only three wins from his first 34 starters. He sends out two, including Kentucky Derby (G1) veteran Sainthood, who finished 11th in the Churchill Downs classic after finishing a rough-trip second in the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) at Turfway Park.

While Sainthood will be making his turf debut in the Pennine Ridge, stablemate Shaftesbury belatedly broke his maiden over the Widener turf last month in his fifth career outing. The colt is an Uncle Mo half-brother to Grade 1 winner Lochte and is from the family of 1991 Horse of the Year Black Tie Affair.

“We’ve had turf in the back of our minds with this one all along. With him being out of a Lemon Drop Kid mare and being by Mshawish, his breeding suggested that,” Pletcher said of Sainthood. “I thought his two works on the turf here were really good.”

Also coming off a strong workout on the grass is another turf newcomer, The Reds, who was elevated from second to first in the Federico Tesio S. at Pimlico last out for John Kimmel. The son of Belmont S. (G1) winner Tonalist has done his best work around two turns in a busy seven-race career so far.

Exiting a sharp allowance win is Safe Conduct, who upset a May 2 Belmont cast by 2 1/2 lengths at odds of 38-1. Runner-up that day was the Chad Brown-trained Public Sector, second to Fire At Will in the Pilgrim (G2) last fall.