Multiple graded stakes winner Last Gunfighter is back for revenge July 5 against 10 others in the $500,000 Suburban Handicap (gr. II), one of five graded stakes on the inaugural Stars & Stripes Festival card at Belmont Park.
A 5-year-old homebred son of First Samurai , John D. Gunther's Last Gunfighter missed the 2013 edition of the Suburban by 2 1/2 lengths to now-retired multiple grade I winner Flat Out after being bet down to 7-5 odds. He closed out his 2013 campaign with a solid win in the Hawthorne Gold Cup (gr. III) going the Suburban distance of 1 1/4 miles, and returned this year to nose out Valid in the 1 1/8-mile Mountainview Handicap in May at Penn National.
"He's coming into the race well," said trainer Chad Brown, who also has entered the late-running New York-bred Zivo in the Suburban. "He's training well (and) he was second in the race last year."
The 120-pound highweight under Javier Castellano, Last Gunfighter drew post position 5 and was listed as the 7-2 second choice on the morning line while in search of his third straight stakes score.
Favored at 3-1 is Godolphin's Romansh, most recently a game third behind Palace Malice and Goldencents in the June 7 Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I). Winner of the Discovery Handicap (gr. III) last year and the Excelsior (gr. III) March 22, Romansh will be returning to 1 1/4 miles for the first time since a fifth in the 2013 Travers (gr. I). He carries 115; Jose Ortiz gets the mount from post 6.
Stretched out to 1 1/2 miles last time out, Stuart Janney's Norumbega posted a 10-1 upset of the June 7 Brooklyn Invitational (gr. II), finishing a neck ahead of favored Micromanage and earning his first stakes victory.
"We were pleased with his race in the Brooklyn and he seems to have done very well since then," said Norumbega's Hall of Fame trainer, Shug McGaughey. "I don't know about turning back to a mile and a quarter, but he seems to be training pretty sharp right now. I think he'll show up with a good effort."
Norumbega, 6-1 on the morning line, will leave post 4 under Joel Rosario and 117 pounds.
The Todd Pletcher-trained Micromanage has been no worse than third in six of his past seven starts, including a 4 1/4-length victory over Norumbega in the Skip Away (gr. III) in March at Gulfstream Park. He then was third as the odds-on choice in the Drosselmeyer at the Suburban distance prior to his narrow loss in the Brooklyn.
"His last three starts were consistently good, with the Skip Away being the best," Pletcher said of the 4-year-old son of Medaglia d'Oro . "We felt based on his pedigree he would improve with age. He's really found his rhythm and hopefully can continue the course."
Hall of Famer John Velazquez will ride the Repole Stable color-bearer, 9-2 on the morning line, from the rail.
"He isn't particularly fond of the inside, but with the configuration of the start (on the turn), getting the rail should be a favorable draw," Pletcher added.
Making his New York debut will be Prayer for Relief , whose best efforts in five starts this year have been a second in the Pimlico Special (gr. III) and a third in the Louisiana Handicap. Most recently, the son of Jump Start was eighth in the Stephen Foster (gr. I).
"It's a solid group of horses and I think he fits," said Dale Romans, who trains Prayer for Relief for Zayat Stables. "Whoever wins will have to run one of his best races, and if Prayer for Relief does that, I think he'll be very competitive."
Rounding out the field are the Argentinian import Ever Rider, fourth in the Brooklyn; Stormin Monarcho, who comes in off a pair of allowance wins at Delaware Park; Vyjack, ninth in the Met Mile; Mylute, fourth in the Stephen Foster, and Moreno, 12th in the Met Mile.
$500,000 Suburban Handicap (gr. II, Race 8, approximate post time 5:08 p.m. EDT), 4YOs & Up, 1 1/4 miles (dirt)
PP, Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, Odds
1. Micromanage (KY), J. R. Velazquez, 117, T A Pletcher, 9-2
2. Ever Rider (ARG), L. Saez, 114, M C. Munoz, 20-1
3. Zivo (NY), J. Lezcano, 116, C C Brown, 20-1
4. Norumbega (KY), J. Rosario, 117, C R McGaughey III, 6-1
5. Last Gunfighter (KY), J. Castellano, 120, C C Brown, 7-2
6. Romansh (KY), J. L. Ortiz, 115, T Albertrani, 3-1
7. Prayer for Relief (KY), C. S. Nakatani, 116, D L Romans, 15-1
8. Stormin Monarcho (KY), C. J. Lanerie, 114, D Jacobson, 12-1
9. Vyjack (KY), I. Ortiz, Jr., 115, R R Rodriguez, 20-1
10. Mylute (KY), R. Maragh, 114, T M Amoss, 15-1
11. Moreno (KY), J. Alvarado, 117, E J Guillot, 8-1