The stalwarts of the New York-bred turf divisions will head postward on Sunday as Belmont Park hosts the $150,000 Ashley T. Cole and $150,000 John Hettinger. Both races will be contested at 1 1/8 miles on the inner turf, with the John Hettinger restricted to fillies and mares.
Six of the seven runners from the August 16 West Point at Saratoga have been entered back in the Ashley T. Cole, and the connections of the winner, Lubash, are hoping for a similar outcome on Sunday.
In the West Point, Lubash trailed the field in seventh before sweeping to the lead on the final turn and sustaining his run in the stretch to register a 1 3/4-length victory over Minnie Punt.
Lubash, who customarily raced on or just off the lead earlier in his career, also came from off the pace in his two other 2012 starts, a second to Compliance Officer in the Kingston for New York-breds on May 27 at Belmont and a fourth in the Grade 3 Red Bank on July 4 at Monmouth Park. He raced without blinkers in the Red Bank and the West Point.
"He's getting more mature and he's getting older," trainer Christophe Clement said of the Freud five-year-old's new running style. "We took the blinkers off because I think he was a little anxious, anyway. And it's kind of the way the jockey (Jose Lezcano) rides him. The bottom line is that the horse is a nice horse."
Clement hopes that the Ashley T. Cole will set up Lubash well for Belmont's $175,000 Mohawk on Showcase Day, October 20.
"He came out of the (West Point) in good order," Clement remarked. "We're running him back a little quick because that's the way the (New York-bred turf stakes) program is made. An extra week would have been nice, but he's doing well and looks good. He's been competitive in every start this year, and we expect him to be competitive again."
Lezcano will ride Lubash, the 2-1 morning-line favorite, once again in the Cole.
Last year, Compliance Officer, a $25,000 claim for La Marca Stable, swept the West Point, Ashley T. Cole, and Mohawk en route to being named New York-bred champion male turf horse, but will be unable to complete the sweep in 2012 as he was third in West Point. Prior to that race, he defeated Lubash by three- quarters of a length in the Kingston, his six-year-old debut, and was second to Clear Attempt in the Grade 3 Poker on July 4 at Belmont.
Seven of his 11 career wins have come at Belmont, and trainer Bruce Brown said the gelded son of Officer relishes the track's configuration.
"Belmont is his track. He loves it here, and he won at a mile and an eighth last year," Brown explained. "The (Cole) should shape up well for him. Hopefully he can get back on top.
"He doesn't do his best running around turns. At Belmont, with the wide, sweeping turns, he has more of a chance to relax around the turn and then make his big run down the stretch. He's more of a horse who likes to make the turn, straighten out, switch leads, and then put in his run. He likes to switch to that right lead and then take off in the stretch."
Javier Castellano has the assignment aboard Compliance Officer, who is the 5-2 morning-line second choice.
The Cole also attracted Minnie Punt, Majestic Raffy, Street Game and Abilio, respectively second, fourth, fifth, and sixth in the West Point, as well as Westside Corral and Hangover Kid.
Earlier on Belmont's Saturday program, the John Hettinger will serve as the sixth meeting between Gitchee Goomie and Hessonite, with each runner having won two of those prior five races.
The tandem first met in last October's Ticonderoga, with Hessonite, who was making her first start against older fillies and mares in a stakes, defeating runner-up Gitchee Goomie by 1 1/4 lengths.
Hessonite made her four-year-old debut in the Grade 3 Beaugay on May 5 at Belmont, finishing last of six. Gitchee Goomie, a five-year-old daughter of City Zip, was second in the Beaugay, then got the jump on Hessonite to defeat that rival by a half-length in Belmont's Mount Vernon on May 27. The outcome was the same in the Grade 3 Dr. James Penny Memorial Handicap on July 3 at Parx Racing, with Gitchee Goomie out-kicking Hessonite to prevail by a half-length once again.
Gitchee Goomie bypassed the Irish Linnet on July 27 at Saratoga, which Hessonite won easily by 4 1/4 lengths. The pair had their fifth and most recent showdown in Saratoga's Yaddo on August 17, with Hessonite making her usual late charge to prevail by 1 1/2 lengths as Gitchee Goomie raced evenly to finish fourth.
"We had kind of an eventful trip (in the Yaddo)," trainer Rick Violette said of Gitchee Goomie. "It wasn't her 'A' race. We were hemmed down along the inside, but she didn't deliver her usual run once she got room. It wasn't her usual acceleration as she kind of grinded to the wire. I'm glad to run her in another race. She has been so remarkably consistent that it's easy to get a little spoiled."
Gitchee Goomie, the 9-5 second choice, will keep Alan Garcia aboard.
With Gitchee Goomie maintaining a 3-1 edge over Hessonite this year, Hessonite's trainer, David Donk, said his filly still has the chance to "even the score" with Gitchee Goomie as she attempts to earn her second champion New York-bred female turf horse crown.
"They're two very good fillies, and maybe Gitchee Goomie didn't run her best the other day," Donk said. "Obviously, (Gitchee Goomie) must be doing well, or else Rick wouldn't be running her, but I wouldn't trade places with anybody coming into this race."
Hessonite, a chestnut daughter of Freud, was made the 6-5 morning-line favorite with Ramon Dominguez in the irons.
Go Unbridled won last year's Hettinger after it was transferred to the main track and will make her turf debut in the 2012 edition. The Unbridled Jet five-year-old mare enters Sunday's race off a 6 1/2-length win in the Saratoga Dew on August 27 at Saratoga.
"We were going to (try her on grass) one time," Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens explained. "We were dirt only (in last year's Hettinger), and we've worked her a few times on grass and she worked OK. You can't really tell until you run them, though."
Junior Alvarado retains the mount on Go Unbridled, who has been made 8-1 on the morning line.
The stakes action will get underway in the 2ND race, when five juvenile fillies line up in the $85,000 Meadow Star Stakes going a mile. Fully Living, a bay daughter of Unbridled's Song who ran fourth in the Grade 3 Schuylerville and third in the Grade 2 Adirondack Stakes in her past two, tops the field.