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Rick Samuels

Incognito Looking for Recognition in Belmont

Sheikh Mohammed hopes to continue with success he's had with progeny of A.P. Indy.

His past performances don't jump out at you the way his pedigree does; what he has achieved after six races doesn't come close to his potential.

And so, traveling under the radar, what better name could an up and coming colt have than Incognito?

And what better way for Sheikh Mohammed's operation to put recent European drug positives behind it than to jump up and win a classic like the June 8 Belmont Stakes (gr. I)?

Incognito represents everything Sheikh Mohammed's stable tries to achieve through breeding the top bloodlines available. Incognito is by 1992 Belmont Stakes winner and Horse of the Year A.P. Indy and out of Octave, winner of the 2007 Coaching Club American Oaks and Mother Goose Stakes (both gr. I) and earner of better than $1.6 million.

The gray/roan Incognito was bred in Kentucky by Darley and raced in Darley's maroon silks until being switched to the Godolphin blue colors before the Belmont, a significant shift within Sheikh Mohammed's organization.

"The horses that wear the Godolphin silks are graded stakes horses and hopefully grade I stakes horses," said Jimmy Bell, president of Darley's U.S. division. "This is Sheikh Mohammed's elite racing team, and we hope to take horses through the Darley system that distinguish themselves enough to place them in these types of races representing Godolphin."

Incognito started once last year at 2 and needed three races this season to break his maiden in March going a mile at Aqueduct Racetrack. In an April 13 heat back at the Big A, Incognito clipped heels in mid-stretch, nearly going down before being repeatedly bumped around like a pinball. Instead of folding his tent, however, the colt bulled his way through horses and won by a nose.

Incognito tried stakes company for the first time in the May 11 Peter Pan (gr. II) at Belmont Park, shying away from mud being kicked back into his face over the sloppy going and turning off before the switch came back on. After finishing second, he galloped out like a house on fire after the wire.

A jump up into the Belmont Stakes wouldn't be the move everyone would make after that effort, but there are plenty of extenuating circumstances.

"The good news is we're all in uncharted waters with the Belmont," noted Bell. "We know his mother and his father and that gives us confidence in making a move that's not the natural next step. But we feel he is a true 1 1/2-mile horse.

"He made up 12-14 lengths and galloped out in the Peter Pan like, 'Whoa, where did that come from?' He's training great and he's a beautiful individual. The penny has just been a little late in dropping but you can see the progression with him. He's grown up and gotten tough and wants to fight, and that is important to us."

Helping the decision is the past success Sheikh Mohammed has enjoyed with A.P. Indy progeny. Homebred Tempera won the 2001 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) and was named champion in her division that year. Then, in 2006, Bernardini  (A.P. IndyCara Rafaela) came along to win the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) and Travers Stakes (gr. I) before finishing second in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) and being named champion 3-year-old male that year. He has since gone on to begin a promising stud career at Darley, formerly Jonabell, the farm started by Jimmy Bell's family.

"Sheikh Mohammed has gotten any number of good colts and fillies by A.P. Indy. It's a good, solid line to be lucky with," noted Bell. "Now Bernardini has come along to carry on that legacy."

It is up to Incognito to show whether the Belmont is a bridge too far or an inspired piece of confidence on the part of his connections. But the big stage is where Sheikh Mohammed wants to appear with his stars.

"He loves to compete in the U.S. in the important races," Bell said of the Darley owner. "While this may be a bit of a stretch for the horse, it would not be a total surprise to win. That's the spirit of Sheikh Mohammed that he's willing to have a go at something like this. It is not without thought that we've ended up here."

Recent history of the Belmont shows that it is rarely the lowest-priced horse that wears the blanket of carnations in the winner's circle and it is not a race won by speed figure excellence. So given a clean trip clear of kickback, it is as probable as not that Incognito's pedigree will carry him a long way down the stretch late on the afternoon of June 8.