Aron Wellman of Eclipse Thoroughbreds confirmed June 2 that Todd Pletcher trainee Matterhorn will run in the June 7 Belmont Stakes (gr. I), with New Jersey-based jockey Joe Bravo to get the mount.
Matterhorn, a Tapit colt who comes off a fourth in the May 10 Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) behind Belmont Stakes rival Tonalist, put in a good breeze in company with Pletcher-trained Belmont contender Commissioner on June 1 over the Belmont Park training track. That move and a belief that the bay runner will relish the 1 1/2-mile distance gave his connections the confidence to proceed in the final leg of the Triple Crown.
"I was on hand at Belmont for his work yesterday with Commissioner and it was an impressive move," Wellman said. "He put in a really, really strong gallop-out and gave us a good indication that the mile and a half could really be to his liking.
"The distance is really the primary reason we're giving this horse a shot; there's so few opportunities to run a horse at a mile and a half and this looks to be a prime spot. Of course, it's a stellar linup set to compete on Saturday and he has not shown as of yet that he's capable of making a major impression against that caliber, but we do believe the mile and a half distance is the ultimate equalizer."
Matterhorn, who was purchased by Eclipse Thoroughbreds from Coolmore partners after the Peter Pan, broke his maiden in his career debt for his one victory in four starts. He was bred in Kentucky by Town & Country Farm Corp. and 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.
The decision to give Matterhorn a shot at the Belmont gives Eclipse Thoroughbreds a starter after their previous contender in Triple Crown races, Arkansas Derby (gr. I) winner Danza, was withdrawn from Belmont consideration and sent to Ocala, Fla., for some R&R following a May 18 work at the New York oval. Danza ran third in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) after getting slammed in traffic trouble multiple times in the May 3 contest.
"Any time you've got to send a horse to the sidelines and miss any race—let alone a classic—that's disappointing and a tough pill to swallow," Wellman said. "But at the same time, Danza had a tremendous first part of the season and provided our partners with some huge thrills. When he gave us the indication after he breezed at Belmont that he wasn't quite himself, we needed to do what was in the horse's best interest and give him some time.
"We were actually in negotiations to acquire Matterhorn before we realized Danza was not a prospect for the Belmont, so while it may appear on the surface that Danza went to the sidelines and we acquired a free agent sort of to fill that gap, that's not the case at all. We were interested in acquiring him as a stand-alone purchase with the Blemont Stakes in mind, and he's passed all the tests so far."
Matterhorn will be Joe Bravo's third Belmont mount, and his first since the 1998 edition of the race, when he finished last on Basic Trainee.