Icy Atlantic and Commendation, who have faced the best 3-year-old turf horses in the East, will attract plenty of attention in the wagering when they square off against seven rivals in the $100,000 Lexington (gr. IIIT) Sunday at Belmont Park.
The Lexington, a 10-furlong stake for 3-year-olds on the inner turf, also drew Triple Crown campaigner Eddington, who was entered for main track only by trainer Mark Hennig.
If the Lexington is moved to the main track because of inclement weather, it will be contested at 1 1/8 mile.
At the time of Icy Atlantic's first career victory, achieved against ordinary maidens at Aqueduct in February, few would have predicted that he would enter the second half of the season a legitimate stakes horse. But since switching to the turf in April, the Stormy Atlantic
colt has become almost unstoppable.
He won his first two starts on the grass, easily taking an Aqueduct allowance and Monmouth's Jersey Derby (gr. IIIT). In his last start, Icy Atlantic fell a nose short of holding off the multiple stakes winning Timo in Delaware Park's Kent Breeders' Cup (gr. IIIT) after forced to play the pacesetter's role.
"He showed signs of some talent on the dirt, but it was very spotty," said Todd Pletcher, Belmont Park's leading trainer with less than a week to go in the spring/summer meet. "We left him at Aqueduct over the winter to explore our dirt options and I felt like it would be an easier venue to run against three-year-olds rather than bring him to Gulfstream.
"Knowing his pedigree, we felt that getting him on the grass could be his calling. He's a different horse now. He made the lead the other day at Delaware, but I don't think that is his preferred running style. It was a paceless race and we kind of found ourselves there. Hopefully there will be somebody we can follow along on Sunday. We're knocking on the door and hopefully with a little more experience, we'll be up there with the best in the division."
Pletcher also entered longshot Tomorrows Champ, a New York-bred who steps into this tough assignment off a restricted maiden victory four weeks ago.
The David Donk-trained Second Performance has taken gigantic strides forward over the last six weeks, winning his maiden and the restricted Macdiarmida in a 23-day span. The time appears right to step into graded stakes waters.
Donk attributes some of Second Performance's recent improvement to adding blinkers, which he equipped the colt with in May.
"He was always fidgety in the gate and in the paddock," Donk said. "I put them on him one morning and they settled him."
Second Performance, one of only two horses in the field owning a victory at 10 furlongs (Inducement is the other) will be ridden by jockey Richard Migliore, who won this race a year ago with Sharp Impact.
Commendatation, a Capote colt is the fourth foal out of the dam Felicita, who has also produced Eventail and Take Charge Lady.
Commendation, sold for $315,000 as a yearling in 2002. Although he enters Sunday's stake winless in six starts this year, he has faced the best in his division on numerous occasions, knocking heads with The Cliff's Edge, Kitten's Joy and Timo. Commendation will try to turn the tables on Icy Atlantic after finishing second to him in the Jersey Derby and third to him in the Kent.
Graham Motion trains Commendation, whose record is 3-1-2 from 12 starts. Jockey Edgar Prado has the mount. $100,000 Lexington Stakes (gr. IIIT), 3-year-olds, 1 1/4 mile on turf
PP. HORSE, TRAINER, JOCKEY, WGT.
1. Second Performance, David Donk, Richard Migliore, 118
2. Commendation, Graham Motion, Edgar Prado, 118
3. Big Booster, John Kimmel, Jorge Chavez, 114
4. Agent Danseur, Robert Klesaris, Mike Luzzi, 114
5. Icy Atlantic, Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez, 122
6. Inducement, Bill Mott, Heberto Castillo Jr., 114
7. Victory Circle, Phil Serpe, Shaun Bridgmohan, 114
8. Mustanfar, Kiaran McLaughlin, Jose Santos, 114
9. Tomorrows Champ, Todd Pletcher, Pablo Fragoso, 114 Main Track Only
10. Eddington, Mark Hennig, Richard Migliore, 114