Trainer Bill Mott has an excellent opportunity to get his Belmont Stakes weekend off to a great start at Belmont Park June 10 in the $100,000 Poker Stakes (gr. IIIT) and the $150,000 Brooklyn Handicap (gr. II).
Mott, who will not have a starter in the 2011 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) June 11, entered the winner of last year's race, Drosselmeyer , as well as Birdrun against just three rivals in the $150,000 Brooklyn (gr. II), a 1 1/2-mile main track test. In the $100,000 Poker Stakes (gr. IIIT) at one mile, he'll have multiple graded winner Courageous Cat against five foes.
The Poker, the ninth race on the Belmont program, is set to go off at 5:12 p.m. EDT. It is followed by the Brooklyn, which is the 10th event on the card at 5:45 p.m. EDT.
Drosselmeyer and and Birdrun ran one-two for Mott in the 10-furlong One Count Stakes May 15 at Belmont Park. For WinStar Farm's Drosselmeyer, it was the first victory for the 4-year-old son of Distorted Humor in three starts since he posted his 13-1 stunner in the 2010 Belmont. The chestnut colt defeated Fly Down by three-quarters of a length that day, rallying wide for jockey Mike Smith while notching his first stakes win.
Jose Lezcano has the mount for the Brooklyn after teaming successfully with Drosselmeyer in their initial encounter last time. Drosselmeyer held on for a neck victory over his stablemate Birdrun in the One Count after making an early move to get the lead along the inside.
“It was a given (the Brooklyn) would be a reasonable spot to run him in, and he’s coming off a win over the track,” said Mott of Drosselmeyer. “He obviously likes the track. They were very game (in the One Count).”
Drosslmeyer has won four of 12 races lifetime and has earned $843,170.
Birdrun, a 5-year-old son of Birdstone , is seeking his first graded stakes win for owner Preston Stables. The chestnut won the Carl G. Rose Classic at Calder last November, part of a 2010 campaign in which he won or placed in six of seven starts. Rajiv Maragh has the call.
The Brooklyn will be Birdrun’s first start beyond 1 ¼ miles.
“The distance is an unanswered question, and we’ll find out by running him,” said Mott.
Mott's duo faces a small group of opponents that includes Eldaafer, who appears to be rounding back into the form that saw him win last fall's Breeders' Cup Marathon (gr. III) at Churchill Downs for trainer Diane Alvarado. The 6-year-old A. P. Indy gelding rolled to a 4 1/2-length triumph in his Brooklyn tuneup in a starter allowance on the turf at Atlantic City April 30.
Owned by Alghuwayriyah Stable, Eldaafer has 10 wins in 27 lifetime starts and has banked $697,332.
Alma d'Oro and Afleet Again, fourth and fifth respectively, in the One Count, complete the field.
In the Poker, 5-year-old Courageous Cat makes his first start since running third in the Shadwell Turf Mile (gr. IT) at Keeneland Oct. 9.
Martin and Pam Wygod's homebred won the Hall of Fame Stakes (gr. IIT) at Saratoga as a 3-year-old, when he also ran second in the Breeders' Cup Turf Mile (gr. IT) at Santa Anita. The son of Storm Cat captured the Canadian Turf (gr. IIIT) at Gulfstream Park last year. Lezcano has the ride on Courageous Cat for the first time.
The one to beat in the Poker is IEAH Stables' multiple grade I winner Court Vision , who has not found his best form during the 2011 campaign.
Trained by Rick Dutrow Jr., the 6-year-old son of Gulch is coming off a ninth-place finish in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. IT) at Churchill Downs May 7. He was fourth as the choice in the Maker's Mark Mile (gr. IT) at Keeneland to begin his year three weeks before that. He has lost four in a row since taking the Woodbine Mile (Can-IT) last September.
Court Vision is an eight-time winner of more than $2.6 million in 28 lifetime races. Ramon Dominguez rides.
Right One and Beau Choix , the first two finishers in the one-mile Island Sun Stakes at Belmont May 12, are also entered. Riviera Cocktail, fifth in the Fort Marcy Stakes (gr. IIIT) last month, and Yield Bogey, in his first start of the year, complete the field.
$100,000 Poker Stakes (gr. III, Race 9, 5:12 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 Mile (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Courageous Cat (KY), J Lezcano, 116, W I Mott
2. Right One (FR), R Maragh, 116, C Clement
3. Beau Choix (KY), A Garcia, 116, B Tagg
4. Court Vision (KY), R A Dominguez, 118, R E Dutrow Jr.
5. Riviera Cocktail (KY), J R Velazquez, 116, K P McLaughlin
6. Yield Bogey (KY), E S Prado, 116, P J Kelly
$150,000 Brooklyn Handicap (gr. II, Race 10, 5:45 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/2 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Eldaafer (KY), J Valdivia, Jr., 118, D Alvarado
2. Drosselmeyer (KY), J Lezcano, 119, W I Mott
3. Afleet Again (KY), F Pennington, 115, R E Reid Jr.
4. Birdrun (FL), R Maragh, 118, W I Mott
5. Alma d'Oro (KY), J R Velazquez, 116, T A Pletcher
Blinkers Off: Afleet Again