West Point Thoroughbreds' Twilight Eclipse looks to make it a double June 6 in the $1 million Knob Creek Manhattan Stakes (gr. IT) at Belmont Park, coming off his first grade I win in the May 9 Man o' War Handicap (gr. IT).
The 6-year-old Purim gelding faces a more formidable field as the lukewarm 7-2 favorite for the 1 1/4-mile Manhattan than the five he beat in the 1 3/8-mile Man o' War, including the one-two finishers from the May 2 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes (gr. IT) and the second- and third-place finishers from the Man o' War. He will leave post 2 for trainer Tom Albertrani under Javier Castellano and an impost of 122 pounds.
"We're coming back and trying to go two-for-two in grade ones with Twilight Eclipse. That's the hope and the plan," Albertrani said. "He came out of that last race in top form and has had a nice couple of works since. He looks so much stronger this year. This is the best I've really seen him look as far as his weight and his muscle tone. Maybe he's just a late-maturing horse."
Twilight Eclipse gamely just got up at the wire in the Man o' War, but that hasn't caused any sleepless nights for Albertrani.
"He may be at a disadvantage with the cut back in distance, but I am still very confident after watching this horse train since the Man o' War, because I see all of the signs from him that he's at the top of his game," he said.
Woodford winner Finnegans Wake collected his first grade I score in that event after taking three grade II events at the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015 on the West Coast. Victor Espinoza rides the 6-year-old Powerscourt runner, the 4-1 second choice on the morning line, for trainer Peter Miller from the 3 hole.
"He's in his moment right now," said Southern California-based Miller, who will not be at Belmont on Saturday. "This is a very tough race, but it is very similar to the race he just won with many of the same horses in it."
Finnegans Wake won the 1 1/8-mile Woodford Reserve by a head over Sky Captain, who drifted out and was disqualified to fourth. Moved up to second was Jack Milton , a 5-year-old War Front runner who enters this spot as the 124-pound highweight from the outside post 11 under Corey Nakatani while racing with General a Rod as part of a 1-2 punch for trainer Todd Pletcher.
While grass specialist Jack Milton won the Maker's 46 Mile (gr. IT) over the Keeneland lawn two starts back for owner Gary Barber, General a Rod will make his turf debut.
"We're going to give it a try and go for a big purse," said Pletcher, who will send General a Rod from post 10 under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez.
When the 4-year-old son of Roman Ruler worked four furlongs in :48 3/5 on the inner turf course on May 23, which was the identical bullet time of Jack Milton's breeze that day, he punched his ticket into the race.
"It made sense from a pedigree standpoint and we liked the way he breezed on the grass, so that's when the decision was made," said Pletcher, who is taking blinkers off General a Rod and worked him with Jack Milton again on the grass earlier in the week.
"I thought both horses went really well. I'm pleased with how both of them are coming up to the race," Pletcher said while giving the double thumbs up. "They're showing me all of the signs you want to see."
War Dancer , trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, was second by just a neck after setting the pace in the Man o' War. The 5-year-old son of War Front will make another run at his first grade I and departs post 4 under Jose Lezcano while carrying 116.
Hyper was third throughout in the Man o' War and leaves the inside under Julien Leparoux and 114 pounds for trainer Chad Brown. Brown has Ken and Sarah Ramsey's dual grade I winner Big Blue Kitten in this spot as well, leaving the 5 hole under Joe Bravo and 118 pounds. Big Blue Kitten won the May 2 Fort Marcy Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Belmont in his 2015 debut. The 7-year-old son of Kitten's Joy was at his best in the summer of 2013, taking the Sword Dancer Invitational Stakes (gr. IT) and the United Nations (gr. IT).
Slumber rounds out Brown's trio of runners in the Manhattan, coming off a fifth in the May 2 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes (gr. IT) at Churchill Downs. The British-bred 7-year-old by Cacique has not won in stakes company in the U.S. despite 10 tries, but has knocked on the door in several events. Irad Ortiz Jr. has the mount from post 7 as part of a 114-pound assignment.
Albertrani trainee Biz The Nurse, fourth in the Dixiana Elkhorn Stakes (gr. IIT) last time out at Keeneland April 18, completes the field along with Legendary, fifth in the May 16 Longines Dixie Stakes (gr. IIT), and Magic Artist, who will be making his first American start after racing his entire career in Germany and Italy.
Belmont Park, Saturday, June 06, 2015, Race 10
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1Hyper (KY) Julien R. Leparoux 114 Chad C. Brown - 2 2Twilight Eclipse (KY) Javier Castellano 122 Thomas Albertrani - 3 3Finnegans Wake (KY) Victor Espinoza 122 Peter Miller - 4 4War Dancer (KY) Jose Lezcano 116 William I. Mott - 5 5Big Blue Kitten (KY) Joe Bravo 118 Chad C. Brown - 6 6Legendary (GB) Edgar S. Prado 118 Niall Saville - 7 7Slumber (GB) Irad Ortiz, Jr. 114 Chad C. Brown - 8 8Biz The Nurse (IRE) Joel Rosario 114 Thomas Albertrani - 9 9Magic Artist (IRE) Cristian Demuro 116 Wolfgang Figge - 10 10General a Rod (KY) John R. Velazquez 114 Todd A. Pletcher - 11 11Jack Milton (KY) Corey S. Nakatani 124 Todd A. Pletcher -
Belmont Park, Saturday, June 06, 2015, Race 10