Additional reporting by Ron Mitchell
Trainer Todd Pletcher sent two 3-year-olds he is pointing toward the upcoming Belmont Stakes (gr. I) to the Belmont Park training track the morning of June 1 as Commissioner and Matterhorn breezed four furlongs in company in :49.90.
"I thought they worked very well; it was a good, well-executed breeze," Pletcher said. "Both horses seemed very comfortable and relaxed, and galloped out well."
Matterhorn, on the outside, had Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez in the irons, while Commissioner was ridden by Javier Castellano on the inside path. Other contenders Pletcher put through their pre-race paces over the training track included Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) contender Palace Malice, winner of the 2013 Belmont, and 2013 Longines Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) winner Princess of Sylmar, headed to the Ogden Phipps (gr. I). Both races are run on the June 7 Belmont Stakes card.
A recent purchase by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners from Coolmore and partners, Matterhorn is being considered for the Belmont as somewhat of a late consideration. He'll need a rider should he run in the 1 1/2-mile classic, with Velazquez already committed to Ride On Curlin. Eclipse Thoroughbreds president Aron Wellman said a decision on whether the Tapit colt will run should be announced June 2, along with a jock assignment should it be necessary.
Matterhorn broke his maiden in his career debt for his one victory in four starts, and most recently was fourth in the May 10 Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) won by Belmont Stakes-bound Tonalist. Bred in Kentucky by Town & Country Farm Corp., he was purchased by Coolmore bloodstock adviser Demi O'Byrne for $625,000 at the 2013 Fasig-Tipton Florida March sale of 2-year-olds in training.
"I thought he breezed well enough to consider it," Pletcher said of starting Matterhorn in the Belmont. "We'll see how he comes out of it and get with Aron Wellman tomorrow and we'll make a final decision, but I did like the breeze."
If they go postward in the Belmont, Commissioner and Matterhorn will be seeking to upend California Chrome's bid to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
A WinStar Farm homebred son of A.P. Indy, Commissioner comes into the Belmont off a second to Tonalist in the 1 1/8-mile Peter Pan. He has compiled a 2-2-1 record from seven starts and earned $235,767.
"In the case of Commissioner and Matterhorn, they're both horses that just ran a mile and an eighth over the track here," Pletcher said. "I think they're both horses that have a lot of natural stamina so our main focus is just trying to keep them happy and make sure we do enough work with them without overdoing it.
"I've actually always felt like both horses would be suited to the mile-and-a-half distance; it's kind of a no-brainer with Commissioner being a son of A.P. Indy out of a Touch Gold mare, two horses that have won the Belmont themselves. His style has been such that we just always felt like the longer, the better. With Matterhorn, he's a big, scopy horse that just kind of keeps going and going, so we've felt the same way about him for awhile as well."
Palace Malice's work in company with allowance winner Celebrator was caught in :47.78 by NYRA clockers after the duo had to briefly delay the move due to a loose horse trained by Linda Rice.
"It's one of the benefits of having radio on your riders, because if that work gets under way then there's no way to undo it," Pletcher said. "Fortunately we were able to stop it before it really got started, start over, and let the loose horse get off the racetrack. Had we not had the radios on, at least the gallop out was going to be compromised."
Pletcher couldn't be happier with last year's Belmont Stakes winner, a son of Curlin who has won three graded stakes in a row and comes off a 9 3/4-length victory in the May 11 Westchester Stakes (gr. III) for Dogwood Stable.
"It was a typical impressive breeze from him; the horse is doing unbelievable," he said.
Princess of Sylmar, who clocked a half-mile on the training track in :49 1/5 in company with Divine Energy, also earned a positive report from her trainer. Ed Stanco's 4-year-old Majestic Warrior filly is set for a tough test against last year's 3-year-old champion, Beholder, and multiple grade I winner Close Hatches in the Ogden Phipps.
"She seems to be in great form, very relaxed and happy and doing well," Pletcher said. "We're excited about the race."
Also among Pletcher's heavy slate of workers were Unlimited Budget, bound for the Longines Just a Game (gr. IT), and Knob Creek Manhattan (gr. IT) contender Boisterous. The two worked four furlongs in company in :47.91 on the inner Belmont turf.
Listen to Todd Pletcher's thoughts:
Princess of Sylmar: