The one-turn one-mile Kelso Handicap (gr. II) might be listed as a grade II event, but it brings together a grade I matchup Sept. 29 at Belmont Park. Part of a five-grade I “Super Saturday” program on Long Island which serves as a major steppingstone to the Nov. 2-3 Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Santa Anita Park, the race features Live Oak Plantation's To Honor and Serve and Michael Lauffer, W.D. Cubbedge, and Phillips Racing Partnership's Shackleford .
The Kelso, which has an approximate post of 3:30 p.m. EDT, drew a field of eight, including four from trainer Richard Dutrow, but the majority of action will be on the top two contenders. Both carry 121 pounds in the Kelso, spotting four to seven pounds to their rivals.
The connections of 8-5 favorite To Honor and Serve and 2-1 second choice Shackleford both have their eyes on the Breeders’ Cup, with To Honor and Serve potentially using the Kelso as a springboard for the Classic (gr. I). A run at the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) would seem in the cards for Shackleford.
Both horses are hoping to finish the season on high note before heading off to stud. To Honor and Serve will stand at Gainesway Farm and Shackleford will hold court at Darby Dan Farm upon retirement from racing.
Shackleford, winner of last year’s Preakness Stakes (gr. I) got his signature win as an older horse over the same track and distance as the Kelso on Memorial Day in the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I), topping Caleb's Posse by a nose. To Honor and Serve finished third, beaten three lengths in the Met Mile.
To Honor and Serve, a son of Bernardini —Pilfer, by Deputy Minister, roared back to win the nine-furlong Woodward Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga Race Course Sept. 1 after a fourth-place effort in the Suburban Handicap (gr. II) over Belmont’s main track July 7.
“I was wondering if coming back in four weeks (from the Woodward) was too much for him, but I’ve taken the option to enter and plan to run,” Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott said earlier this week. “Then it’s five weeks to the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The connections would like to give that a chance.”
A winner of last year’s Cigar Mile Handicap (gr. I), To Honor and Serve was in the thick of things at the eighth pole in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic before tiring late to finish seventh, although beaten just 31/2 lengths.
Mott sent To Honor and Serve out for a :47 half-mile drill Sept. 24, while Shackleford put in a five-furlong move of 1:00 4/5 the day before at Churchill Downs.
Shackleford, a son of Forestry —Oatsee, by Unbridled, won the seven-furlong Churchill Downs Stakes (gr. II) prior to the Met Mile and then ran an uncharacteristic eighth in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (gr. I) at Saratoga. A combination of a muddy track, drawing the rail, and running at six furlongs may have done the big chestnut in that afternoon.
Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Tapizar is next in the weights in the Kelso at 117 pounds. The homebred son of Tapit will be making just his second start over the “Big Sandy” layout at Belmont, having won a seven-furlong allowance/optional claiming affair last October. A winner of the San Fernando Stakes (gr. II) in January, Tapizar was an easy winner last time out while on the front end going 1 1/16 miles in the $200,000 West Virginia Governor’s Stakes at Mountaineer Casino Racetrack and Resort.
Dutrow’s superfecta of runners is headed by Dennis Narlinger’s Pacific Ocean and IEAH Stables, Pegasus Holdings Group Stables and Mark Frimmel’s Trickmeister.
Pacific Ocean, a son of Ghostzapper —Miss Salsa, by Unbridled, was fifth last time out in the seven-furlong Forego Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga. He won the James Marvin Stakes (gr. III) at the Spa earlier in the meeting and last year landed the six-furlong Vernon O. Underwood Stakes (gr. III) at Betfair Hollywood Park.
An on-the-pace type, Pacific Ocean will have company from Trickmeister who ran a blistering 1:39.86 for 1 1/16 miles going one turn around Belmont in the Vanlandingham Stakes in mid-May. Most recently he was fourth behind To Honor and Serve in the Woodward.
Charles Fipke’s homebred Jersey Town was third in last year’s Kelso, 11 lengths behind Uncle Mo . He’s winless in seven tries since taking the 2010 Cigar Mile.
$400,000 Kelso Handicap (gr. II, Race 6, 3:30 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 Mile
PP, Horse, Jockey, Wgt., Trainer
1, Isn’t He Perfect, M. Luzzi, 114, R E Dutrow Jr.
2, Golddigger’s Boy, J. Lezcano, 115, R. Preciado
3, Jersey Town, J. Castellano, 116, B. Tagg
4, Tapizar, C. Nakatani, 117, S. Asmussen
5, To Honor and Serve, J. Velazquez, 121, W. Mott
6, Shackleford, R. Dominguez, 121, D. Romans
7, Gallant Fields, J. Rosario, 114, R E Dutrow Jr.
8, Pacific Ocean, W. Garcia, 116, R E Dutrow Jr.
9, Trickmeister, C. Velasquez, 116, R E Dutrow Jr.