Phipps Stable's homebred Mr Speaker, coming off a four-length win in the Lexington Stakes (gr. III), seeks an automatic invitation to the inaugural $1.25 million Belmont Derby Invitational (gr. IT) in the $200,000 Pennine Ridge at Belmont Park May 26.
The top two finishers in the 1 1/8-mile turf event for 3-year-olds will be guaranteed spots in the 1 1/4-mile Belmont Derby, formerly the Jamaica. The race is to be held July 5.
Mr Speaker is the 8-5 morning-line favorite for the Pennine Ridge, and has a 2-1-1 record in five starts on the grass, including a 2 3/4-length win in the Dania Beach Stakes (gr. IIIT) in December. He was also a troubled second in the Palm Beach Stakes (gr. IIIT) in March, with both starts coming at Gulfstream Park.
"We think he'll really like this turf course here with the wider turns," Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey said. "I don't think soft turf will help him, but hopefully this weather will straighten out and we won't have soft turf. I know it probably will have a little give in it, but he has done awfully well and his breezes here have been terrific. I'm not going to second guess anything and I'm just going to look forward to running him."
Mr Speaker's most recent win in the Lexington came over the Keeneland Polytrack April 19. Jose Lezcano will ride the favorite from post 4. The Pulpit colt carries co-highweight of 121 pounds, an assignment he shares with Coolmore partners' Gala Award.
The 9-5 second choice on the morning line, Gala Award will attempt to regain the winning thread after finishing sixth in the April 12 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) over Keeneland's Polytrack. Previously, he had broken his maiden by three-quarters of a length in January at Gulfstream before holding off Mr Speaker by a half-length in the Palm Beach.
Todd Pletcher trains Gala Award for Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith. Gala Award will leave post 2 with Hall of Famer John Velazquez aboard.
David Bienstock and Charles Winner's Flamboyant, a two-time winner in France, has made one start in North America, surging late to take the La Puente by a neck April 19 at Santa Anita Park. Last fall, he was third in a conditions race at Le Bouscat in October. Second in that race was Gailo Chop, who has developed into a two-time group III winner in France and is also targeting the Belmont Derby.
Joel Rosario will ride Flamboyant for the first time on Monday for trainer Patrick Gallagher. They drew the inside in a field of five 3-year-olds that also includes 8-1 Can'thelpbelieving, fifth in the Palm Beach and second in an entry-level allowance on April 24 at Keeneland. Completing the lineup is 12-1 Smooth Daddy, runner-up in an entry-level optional claimer on April 26 at Gulfstream.
$200,000 Pennine Ridge Stakes (Race 4, approximate post time 2:53 p.m. EDT), 3YOs, 1 1/8 miles (turf) PP, Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, Odds
1. Flamboyant (FR), J. Rosario, 119, P Gallagher, 3/1
2. Gala Award (KY), J. R. Velazquez, 121, T A Pletcher, 9/5
3. Can'thelpbelieving (IRE), A. Garcia, 115, H G Motion, 8/1
4. Mr Speaker (KY), J. Lezcano, 121, C R McGaughey III, 8/5
5. Smooth Daddy (KY), L. Saez, 115, T Albertrani, 12/1