All eyes will be on Churchill Downs on May 1 for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and its supporting stakes card, but Belmont Park offers an attractive program as well with a pair of grade III turf events, the Fort Marcy and Beaugay.
Both $100,000 races are contested at 1 1/16 miles. The Fort Marcy, which goes as the ninth race at 5:17 p.m. EDT, features the return of the two most recent winners of the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (gr. IT), Grand Couturier and Interpatation. The Beaugay, for fillies and mares over the inner turf, immediately proceeds the Fort Marcy and is headed by morning line choice My Princess Jess, who is trying to repeat for trainer Barclay Tagg.
Grand Couturier, the morning line favorite at 3-1 in the nine-horse Fort Marcy, and Interpatation, who is 10-1, will cut back in distance against a contentious field as they commence their 2010 campaigns.
A two-time victor of the Sword Dancer (gr. IT) at Saratoga and hero of the 2008 Turf Classic, Grand Couturier finished second in the Red Smith Handicap (gr. IIT) at Aqueduct in his most recent effort last November.
Trainer Robert Ribaudo had hoped to give the 7-year-old son of Grand Lodge an allowance prep at Gulfstream Park over the winter, but was unable to get one to fill. The conditioner thought about having the veteran make his 2010 debut in an allowance race at Belmont next week before deciding to enter him in the Fort Marcy.
Ribaudo admits the Fort Marcy’s 1 1/16-mile distance over the Widener turf course is less than ideal for Grand Couturier, who has done his best running at 11 furlongs and longer.
“If there’s enough pace in front of him, that will help, but there are horses in the field who prefer this distance, and they don’t mind having a horse like him using this as a comeback race,” said Ribaudo.
Owned by Marc Keller, Grand Couturier drew post position 5 and will be ridden by Mike Luzzi for the first time.
If all goes well in the Fort Marcy, Grand Couturier could compete in the Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) at 10 furlongs on the Belmont Stakes undercard June 5.
“He’s 7 now, and it only gets tougher from here, with horses like Gio Ponti going to the Manhattan,” said Ribaudo.
Interpatation upset Gio Ponti in last year’s Turf Classic, contested over soft turf, in which Grand Couturier was placed third. Now 8, Interpatation will be making his first start since dead-heating for 14th in the Japan Cup (Jpn-I) in November.
“He doesn’t know he’s eight years old, he thinks he’s 2,” said Bobby Barbara, who trains Interpatation for Elliot Mavorah. “He came back good last year; this year, I think he’s come back even better.”
Fernando Jara picked up the mount aboard Interpatation, who will break from post 6.
Another graded stakes winner set to make his seasonal bow in the Fort Marcy is Operation Red Dawn, who earned his black-type victory when he captured the Knickerbocker (gr, IIIT) over the inner turf course at Belmont last October. Trained by Christophe Clement for owner Dion A. Recachina, he last seen finishing sixth after contesting the pace in Aqueduct's Red Smith. He is listed at 4-1 for his 8-year-old season.
Operation Red Dawn has finished in the money 20 times in 25 starts. He drew post four in the Fort Marcy. A supplemental nomination at the entry box, Operation Red Dawn will become reacquainted with jockey Edgar Prado, who last rode the gelding in January 2008.
Also hailing from the Clement stable is Calder Derby (gr. IIIT) winner Sal the Barber. The 4-year-old enters off a second in a Gulfstream optional claimer March 7, and could improve with that race under his belt.
Joe Bravo will ride Sal the Barber, who will leave from post position 7.
Baletti, the 7-2 second choice on the early line, will try to rebound off an eighth in the Mervin Muniz Jr. Handicap (gr. IIT) at the Fair Grounds on Louisiana Derby Day. The Castletop Stable representative won an optional claimer over eventual grade I winner Fluke at Belmont last May for trainer Angel Penna Jr.
In the Beaugay, Lael Stable's Princes Jess makes her first appearance since last October's First Lady Stakes (gr. IT) at Keeneland, where she finished fifth. The 5-year-old Stormy Atlantic mare came from off the pace to nab last year's Beaugay by nearly two lengths over a "good" course. She has lost four in a row since.
Princess Jess, who breaks from the far outside in the eight-horse field with Cornelio Velasquez aboard, is the 5-2 choice on the morning line.
Scolara, from the Bill Mott barn for Haras Santa Maria de Araras, ran fifth in last year's Beaugay. Listed at 7-2, she comes off a second-place showing by a neck as the 9-10 favorite in Tampa Bay Downs' Turf Distaff April 3.
Miss World returns to the site of her grade I upset in the Garden City Stakes last September for her 2010 debut for Clement. Bravo rides her for the first time.
$100,000 Beaugay Stakes (gr. IIIT, Race 8, 4:44 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 3 & Up, 1 1/16 Miles (Inner Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, ML Odds
1. Pumpkin Shell (KY), G Saez, 115, D G Donk, 20/1
2. Liberally (IRE), E Castro, 115, T Albertrani, 12/1
3. Scolara (FL), E S Prado, 115, W I Mott, 7/2
4. Chestoria (NY), D Cohen, 115W Badgett, Jr., 6/1
5. Strike the Bell (KY), M J Luzzi, 115, D G Donk10/1
6. Dynaslew (FL), E Coa, 115, S Benzel, 4/1
7. Miss World (KY), J Bravo, 117, C Clement, 5/1
8. My Princess Jess (FL), C H Velasquez, 117, B Tagg, 5/2
$100,000 Fort Marcy Stakes (gr. IIIT, Race 9, 5:17 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/16 Miles (Widener Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, ML Odds
1. Brother Nick (KY), C H Marquez, Jr., 116, J A Jerkens, 12/1
2. a-Florentino (JPN), E Castro, 118, K P McLaughlin, 12/1
3. Dynamoor (KY), E Coa, 116, J A Jerkens, 12/1
4. Operation Red Dawn (KY), E S Prado, 118, C Clement, 4/1
5. Grand Couturier (GB), M J Luzzi, 118, R Ribaudo, 3/1
6. Interpatation (KY), F Jara, 118, R Barbara, 10/1
7. Sal the Barber (KY), J Bravo, 118, C Clement, 6/1
8. Baletti (KY), C H Velasquez, 116, A J Penna Jr., 7/2
9. Storm Play (VA), D Cohen, 116, T A Pletcher, 8/1