A switch to the turf could help Christine's Outlaw claim his first stakes victory Saturday in the $100,000-added Poker Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Belmont Park. Trainer George Weaver witnessed firsthand how moving to the grass revived the careers of once leading dirt runners as an assistant to Todd Pletcher, who conditioned Texas Glitter and Balto Star.Texas Glitter became a top turf sprinter who banked nearly $600,000 while Balto Star, who is still in training, is closing in on the $1 million mark in turf earnings. He is a grade I winner on turf. "Turf racing can breathe new life into a horse's career," Weaver said. "It revives some of them." Nine older horses were entered in the one-mile Poker, the most notable being grade I-placed Millennium Dragon and the multiple stakes winning Burning Roma. Both were assigned top weight of 120 pounds.Christine's Outlaw raced in graded stakes company throughout his 3-year-old season last year but never broke through with a stakes victory. He did get close on a couple of occasions, however, finishing second in the Leonard Richards and Long Branch. His combined margin of defeat in both those races was a head.As a 4-year-old, Christine's Outlaw has gone 2-1-0 from five starts. He began the season with a big allowance victory at Gulfstream Park, but ran fifth in two subsequent stakes tries, the Skip Away and Commonwealth. The colt's so-so efforts on dirt prompted Weaver to enter in a third-level allowance race on the Widener Turf on June 5, Belmont Stakes Day. Christine's Outlaw vied for the lead at every point of call and missed by a neck in a strongly run race. Fifteen days later, he won his first turf race, galloping home a determined winner of a third-level allowance. "I think it's too early to tell whether he likes turf better than the dirt, but we've been very pleased with his last two races," said Weaver, who also entered longshot Pisces in the Poker. Jockey Shaun Bridgmohan has the mount. Quietly, Burning Roma has amassed more than $1.4 million in earnings while winning multiple stakes on turf and dirt. The 6-year-old Rubiano horse is shooting for his 14th career victory in the Poker. "You don't see too many horses like him," said Monmouth Park-based trainer Heather Giglio. "He is a stakes winner on turf and dirt and is still going strong at six. Actually, I'd say he's as good as ever this year. He's very sound and is just a neat horse to be around."Burning Roma, who is in his last season of racing, enters the Poker off a hard-fought victory in Monmouth's Red Bank (gr. IIIT) on May 29. A stalker, Burning Roma will be ridden by Jesus Castanon. Upon his retirement, Burning Roma will stand at the Nelson Jones Training Center in Ocala, Fla.Multiple Choice looks to have found his niche on the turf. Mired in a two-year losing streak, the gelding stepped up and won his turf debut last out in the Jaipur (gr. IIIT). Jimmy Jerkens, who will be at Colonial Downs saddling Artie Schiller in the Virginia Derby on Saturday, trains Multiple Choice."It felt pretty good getting him back in the winners' circle," Jerkens said. "He's trained really good since the Jaipur but this is a tougher spot and he's got to go another furlong."Multiple Choice goes with jockey Javier Castellano, who won this race last year with War Zone.
Millennium Dragon also has a shot while dropping out of the Manhattan (gr. IT) for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, whose barn has struggled at Belmont.$100,000-added Poker Handicap (gr. IIIT), 3 & up, 1 mile on turf
PP. HORSE, TRAINER, JOCKEY, WGT.
1. Megoman, Kiaran McLaughlin, Pablo Fragoso, 113
2. Christine's Outlaw, George Weaver, Shaun Bridgmohan, 113
3. Burning Roma, Heather Giglio, Jesus Castanon, 120
4. Chilly Rooster, Allen Jerkens, Shannon Uske, 114
5. Silver Tree, Bill Mott, Jose Santos, 117
6. Millennium Dragon, Kiaran McLaughlin, Mike Luzzi, 120
7. Multiple Choice, Jimmy Jerkens, Javier Castellano, 115
8. Pisces, George Weaver, Jean-Luc Samyn, 113
9. Provincetown, Patrick Biancone, Jorge Chavez, 112