Aaron and Marie Jones' Sunriver has found a home on the turf, taking a front-running victory in the $150,000 Bowling Green Handicap (gr. IIT) (VIDEO) at 1 3/8 miles on the Belmont Park inner turf course Sunday.
Under a snug hold by Garrett Gomez to the top of the stretch, the 4-year-old Sunriver responded when roused to hold Trippi's Storm safe by 1 1/4 lengths in a time of 2:12 3/5 on firm going. Silver Whistle was third, while 6-5 favorite Shakis never got involved, finishing in fourth, 6 1/2 lengths behind the winner.
The Todd Pletcher trained Saint Ballado colt set easy fractions of :24 2/5, :49, 1:12 4/5 and 1:36 3/5 and was never seriously threatened after shaking loose of Silver Whistle at the head of the lane. Trippi's Storm, stalking along the inside for Javier Castellano, rallied nicely after angling wide for the stretch run but had to settle for second, more than five lengths ahead of Silver Whistle.
“It takes a really good horse to transfer surfaces and run the way he has in his last two,” said Gomez, who took advantage of a rail set at 18 feet.
“He absolutely just skims over the top of the grass. He’s very spectacular over it. Hopefully, he just keeps going on. I think he can keep extending himself and getting better. He’s just a real nice horse.”
Pletcher said the colt's next race will be the Arlington Million (gr. IT) on Aug. 11.
Last year's Peter Pan (gr. II) winner and third-place finisher in both the Florida Derby (gr. I) and Belmont Stakes (gr. I), Sunriver went to the sidelines after a sixth-place finish in Saratoga's Jim Dandy (gr. II) nearly a year ago and was a disappointment in two starts on the dirt this season.
That was when Pletcher worked the dark bay on the Belmont turf June 3, and encouraged by what he saw, entered Sunriver in an optional claiming/allowance event at nine furlongs on the Belmont inner turf June 7. Sunriver responded with a front-running win by 4 1/2 lengths in a strong time of 1:46 4/5.
“We really weren’t intent on making the lead,” Pletcher said of Sunriver’s Bowling Green performance. "I thought the fractions were pretty legit for a race of that distance. It was a very good race for him. We’re obviously perplexed by his first two starts this year. Last year, he was go good on dirt. So, we were just figuring out what our options would be. When we worked him on grass, it was pretty obvious. He worked fantastic on it.”
The homebred Sunriver, out of the Mari's Book mare Goulash, improved to 5-2-3 in 13 lifetime starts with earnings of $526,400.
Sent off as the second choice, Sunriver paid $6.20, $4.80, and $3.80.
Trippi's Storm returned $11.40 and $5.70 in his stakes debut for trainer Stanley Hough.
Stronach Stables' Silver Whistle, ridden by Kent Desormeaux for trainer Bill Mott, was $4.20 to show.
Shakis finished a neck back in fourth, followed by Fishy Advice, Interpatation, Dreadnaught, and Barastraight.