The battle-toughened Rey de Café, a colt who has ascended to the upper echelon of the 3-year-old turf division this spring, returns to Belmont Park as the horse to beat in Friday's grade III, $100,000- added Hill Prince. Run at nine furlongs on the inner turf, the Hill Prince drew an accomplished field of 11 3-year-olds. In fact, seven of its entrants own a prior stakes win.
Although it is only early June of his 3-year-old season, but Rey de Café has been involved in some all-out stretch wars, wars that would make the hair stand up on even the toughest of veterans. Last fall, Rey de Café missed winning an allowance race at Keeneland by a head after bumping in deep stretch. Two weeks later, he wore down Doubleo in the shadow of the wire to win Keeneland's Bourbon County by a neck.
The spring, Rey de Café missed winning Keeneland's Transylvania by only a neck, finishing third best after an intense three-horse battle. A month later, he won Churchill Downs' grade III American Turf by the barest of noses.
"He's been in some close races to say the least," trainer Rusty Arnold said. "With some luck, he could be undefeated on the turf."
Rey de Café is classy and has yet to run a poor race on the turf, but Arnold says he isn't the easiest horse to ride.
"He's got a habit of losing interest," Arnold said. "You can't make the front with him too soon."
Unfortunately, Arnold said Rey de Café made the lead prematurely in the April 8 Transylvania at Keeneland. He was run down late by Chattahoochee War and Guillaume Tell, beaten a neck for all the money.
So Arnold, hoping to prevent a reprise of the Transylvania, instructed jockey Javier Castellano to take the colt back off the pace in the May 6 American Turf at Churchill. Rey de Café came with one run and got up to win by a nose.
"That was the idea behind taking him back off the pace," Arnold said. "He lost the Transylvania in the last three strides so I thought it was worth a shot to take him back and see if he'd run. Obviously he did."
Rey de Café, a son of Kingmambo
, has never started over the Belmont turf. He is, however, training as good as ever according to Arnold.
"He couldn't be going over there any better," he said.
Rey de Café carries highweight of 123 pounds in the Hill Prince, with Castellano aboard.
Crown Point is undefeated in the Belmont turf, having won his maiden and the Pilgrim here last fall. A son of Honor Grades, Crown Point will be making his first start in more than three months after finishing a troubled third in the February 27th Dave Feldman at Gulfstream.
"I thought the Feldman was his best race," trainer David Donk said. "If you take a look at the race from the three-eighths pole, he's got no shot to do anything. He was flying at the end. He had a few minor issues after the race. I gave him a little break and have been pointing to the Colonial Turf Cup."
Originally, Donk intended on using the Hill Prince as a prep for the June 25 Colonial Turf Cup but after watching the colt train, has changed his mind.
"He has blown me away," Donk said. "He is training better than ever. He looked great in his last work."
On May 28, Crown Point worked a half-mile over Belmont's training track in :47 2/5, handily. Jockey Jose Espinoza has the mount.
Tinseltown is riding a two-race win streak into the Hill Prince for trainer Jimmy Jerkens and defeated the eventual Jersey Derby winner Touched by Madness in the May 20 Home of the Free here.
The field for Friday's Hill Prince:
1--Rey de Café, Javier Castellano, 123
2--Tinseltown, Jose Santos, 118
3--Crown Point, Jose Espinoza, 120
4--Chief Commander, Gary Stevens, 116
5--Prince Rahy, Eibar Coa, 116
6--Tadreeb, John Velazquez, 116
7--Defer, Jerry Bailey, 118
8--Becrux, Richard Migliore, 118
9--Classic Campaign, Cornelio Velasquez, 116
10 -- Interpretation, Edgar Prado, 120
11--Better Than Bonds, Mike Smith, 118