Top older horses face off at Belmont Park July 7 in the 127th renewal of the $350,000 Suburban Handicap (gr. II), one of the nation's oldest and most prestigious races. The 1 1/8-mile test features To Honor and Serve, Stay Thirsty , Mucho Macho Man , Caixa Eletronica, and more.
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott sends To Honor and Serve into the Suburban carrying high weight of 120 pounds in an eight-horse field. The 4-year-old son of Bernardini earned a career-best 109 Beyer speed figure in the May 28 Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) while finishing third with an eventful rail trip three lengths behind Shackleford and Caleb's Posse .
"In the 'Met Mile,' I think he was extremely compromised by his post position and -- not to take anything away from the first two finishers -- didn't have the smoothest of trips," Mott remarked. "He's extremely good at a mile, but he's classy enough to get 1 1/8 miles."
After starting his 2012 season with a 5 1/4-length romp in the one-mile Westchester Stakes (gr. III) at Belmont April 28, the 2011 Cigar Mile (gr. I) winner stretches back out to nine furlongs for the first time since taking the Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) last fall. He'll leave from the far outside under jockey Jose Lezcano this time.
Trickmeister and Stay Thirsty, the 1-2 finishers in the May 17 Vanlandingham overnight stakes at Belmont, both come into this race seeking their first graded scores of the season. Stay Thirsty, the 2011 winner of the Travers Stakes (gr. I) and Jim Dandy (gr. II), was making his first start of 2012 for Repole Stable and trainer Todd Pletcher in the 1 1/16-mile event last out. The 4-year-old son of Bernardini was sent off as the even-money favorite and tracked the pace set by Trickmeister, but lugged in coming down the stretch and couldn't catch the victor.
No worse than third in four lifetime starts at Belmont, Stay Thirsty tuned up for the Suburban with a five-
furlong breeze in 1:00.05 July 1.
"With this being his second race off a layoff, we're obviously looking for him to move forward," said Pletcher's assistant, Michael McCarthy. "He's been very sharp since the race, and we're hoping this will set us on our way to a very, very productive summer."
Javier Castellano will ride Stay Thirsty from post 2, directly inside Repole's True North Handicap (gr. II) winner Caixa Eletronica. The entry was listed as the 7-2 second choice on the morning line.
Trickmeister, a 5-year-old Proud Citizen runner, got the 1 3/4-length score in the Vanlandingham wire-to-wire for Pegasus Holding Group Stables and IEAH Stables. He has been beaten just once in seven starts. In his only other race of the season, he faded to sixth after setting the early pace in the 1 1/8-mile Donn Handicap (gr. I) won by Hymn Book at Gulfstream Park Feb. 11.
Hymn Book and Endorsement both come into the race out of the May 18 Pimlico Special (gr. III); Endorsement was third while Hymn Book finished fifth. The former, winner of the Texas Mile (gr. III) at Lone Star Park on April 28, seeks his first score at the Suburban distance since winning the 2010 Sunland Derby (gr. III) for trainer Eoin Harty and Casner Racing. Hymn Book seeks his first score since taking the Donn at odds of 6-1.
Also a winner at Gulfstream this year, Mucho Macho Man is after his third victory of 2012 in the Suburban. Trainer Kathy Ritvo sent the 4-year-old son of Macho Uno to take the Sunshine Millions Classic in January, then won the Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. II) with him in March. The big bay colt recently finished third as the favorite in the May 4 Alysheba Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill Downs. New jockey Mike Smith will be in the irons as he breaks from post 7.
Godolphin Racing's Buffum , a 4-year-old son of Bernardini out of the Storm Cat mare Storm Beauty, completes the field. The $1.2 million purchase from the 2009 Fasig-Tipton New York Saratoga Select Yearling Sale last rolled to an eight-length victory in a one-mile allowance event at Belmont May 28. It was his first start since a Sept. 11 optional claimer last season in which he was disqualified from first to second for impeding the progress of his foe at the quarter and eighth poles.
Trained by Tom Albertrani, he has only raced at 1 1/8 miles once before -- in the 2010 Remsen (gr. II) won by To Honor and Serve -- which he contested directly off his maiden win to a fifth-place finish.
"His first race back was huge coming off the layoff," Albertrani remarked. "He's trained very well since then, and we're hoping he can run the same race back."
After running in the Remsen, Buffum was immediately shipped to Dubai, where he was fifth in the UAE 2000 Guineas (UAE-III) in his 2011 debut, and then returned to finish fourth in the Bay Shore (gr. III) at Aqueduct Racetrack in April. He also took an allowance event going seven panels at Saratoga Race Course last summer by 10 lengths.
"The horse really never had a chance to settle in one place; there was a lot going on early in his career," said Albertrani. "He's been here at Belmont now since the spring; we'll see if he's able to compete at this level on Saturday."
The Suburban is the featured ninth race on a 10-race card, with an approximate post of 5:06 p.m. EDT. It is immediately preceded by the $100,000 Victory Ride Stakes (gr. III) for 3-year-old fillies sprinting six furlongs.
$350,000 Suburban Handicap (gr. II, Race 9, 5:06 p.m. EDT), 3 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles
PP., Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Endorsement (KY), M. Garcia, 116, E G Harty
2. a-Stay Thirsty (KY), J. Castellano, 117, T A Pletcher
3. a-Caixa Eletronica (KY), E. Castro, 117, T A Pletcher
4. Buffum (PA), R. Maragh, 115, T Albertrani
5. Hymn Book (KY), A. Garcia, 118, C R McGaughey III
6. Trickmeister (KY), R.A. Dominguez, 117, R E Dutrow, Jr.
7. Mucho Macho Man (FL), M. E. Smith, 118, K Ritvo
8. To Honor and Serve (KY), J. Lezcano, 120, W L Mott
a- Repole Stable entry.