Violon Sacre tries Belmont Park for the first time in the Knickerbocker Handicap.

Violon Sacre tries Belmont Park for the first time in the Knickerbocker Handicap.

Barbara Weidl/EQUI-PHOTO

Knickerbocker: Violon Sacre Faces Salty Foes

Presious Passion, Interpatation among nine rivals in grade III Belmont turf tilt.

Violon Sacre, a two-time stakes winner in four United States turf starts this season, tries Belmont Park for the first time against some tough customers in the $100,000 Knickerbocker Handicap (gr. IIIT) Oct. 17.

The 1 1/8-mile Knickerbocker, to be contested on Belmont's inner turf course, also attracted grade I-winning millionaires Presious Passion and Interpatation, and grade II victors Wesley and Whatsthescript among the 10 entrants.

The Knickerbocker, which also includes 2009 winner Operation Red Dawn, is the eighth race on the Belmont card with a 4:43 p.m. EDT post time.

Bernard Weill's Violon Sacre overcame some early rankness and traffic issues to register a 1 1/2-length tally in the $250,000 PTHA President's Cup at Parx Racing at Philadelphia Park Sept. 18. Trained by Patrick Biancone, the Kentucky-bred 5-year-old son of Stravinsky began his career in France, where he was a stakes winner before transferring to the States this spring. He won the Battlefield Stakes in his second U.S. start July 10, then missed by a neck to Get Serious in the Oceanport Stakes (gr. IIIT) Aug. 1, both races coming at Monmouth Park.

“He’s a very nice horse and he seems to have acclimated to the United States very well,” said Biancone. “He’s run well, and his last win was a very good effort. His four starts here have been over firm courses but having run in Europe, he’s used to some cut in the ground as well.”

Violon Sacre has won nine of 16 starts in his career with earnings of $429,392. Pablo Fragoso, who rode the bay horse to both of his U.S. victories, gets the call once again. They will break from post 9 as the 5-2 morning line favorite.

Patricia Generazio's front-running Presious Passion, now 7, has been off form in two starts since finishing last in the Guangsha Dubai Sheema Classic (UAE-I) at Meydan March 27. Trained by Mary Hartman, the Royal Anthem gelding is a multiple grade I winner of more than $2.6 million in a 47-race career that includes 14 victories.

After winning Oak Tree's Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (gr. IT) at Santa Anita last fall, Presious Passion gave a memorable runner-up effort in the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT), leading past mid-stretch before yielding late to Conduit by a half-length. So far in 2010, he has one victory, that coming in the Mac Diarmida Stakes (gr. IIT) at Gulfstream Park in February. Regular rider Elvis Trujillo will be aboard in the Knickerbocker. Presious Passion is 7-2 on the morning line.

“We had given him a couple of weeks off on the farm in Colts Neck in New Jersey, and when he came back he seemed more like his old self,” Hartmann said, noting Presious Passion's fourth-place finish in an optional claiming event at Delaware Park Sept. 22. “The race in Delaware seemed to put his mind back in the game, and he’s been training forwardly since then.”

Though out of the money in five starts this year, 8-year-old Interpatation continues to swing at the heavyweights in New York. He is coming off four consecutive grade I starts for trainer Robert Barbara. His best showing in those races was a fourth in the Aug. 14 Sword Dancer Stakes (gr. IT) at Saratoga Aug. 1. Attempting to defend his title in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (gr. IT) at Belmont on yielding ground Oct. 2, Elliot Mavorah's gelded son of Langfuhr  finished seventh after setting the pace.

Interpatation, to be ridden by Ramon Dominguez at 12-1 on the early line, has won more than $1.1 million in a 56-race career.

Tom Stull's 6-year-old Whatsthescript ended a lengthy win drought when he outfought Wesley for neck victory in the 1 1/16-mile Keep the Promise Stakes on a good inner turf at Belmont Sept. 19. Gary Contessa now trains the son of Royal Applause who was a close third to Violon Sacre in the Battlefield this summer.

Operation Red Dawn, an 8-year-old from the Christophe Clement stable, drew off late to win last year's Knickerbocker by 1 1/2 lengths as the 5-2 favorite. He has lost four in a row since, three of them coming in 2010. The Miswaki gelding has been off for more than three months.

“He’s training well, and we are very hopeful,” Clement said.

Also in the field is is 6-year-old Baletti, winner of Belmont's Fort Marcy Stakes (gr. IIIT) as the favorite May 1 for Castletop Stable and trainer Angel Penna.

Baletti and Presious Passion are the 124-pound high weights.

Three are entered for the main track only: Barrier Reef, Discreet Treasure, and Marilyn's Guy.

$100,000 Knickerbocker Handicap (gr. IIIT), Race 8, 4:43 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (Inner Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. War Hoot (KY), J Lezcano, 117, C C Brown
2. Leading On (KY), M J Luzzi, 117, J A Dodgen
3. Presious Passion (FL), E Trujillo, 124, M Hartmann
4. Whatsthescript (IRE), J R Velazquez, 121, G C Contessa
5. Wesley (KY), J Castellano, 121, M A Hennig
6. Interpatation (KY), R A Dominguez, 121, R Barbara
7. Baletti (KY), D Cohen, 124, A J Penna, Jr.
8. Midnight Mischief (KY), C H Velasquez, 117, W I Mott
9. Violon Sacre (KY), P Fragoso, 121, P L Biancone
10. Operation Red Dawn (KY), R Maragh, 121, C Clement
Main Track Only
11. Barrier Reef (KY), no rider, 122, T Albertrani
12. Discreet Treasure (KY), J R Velazquez, 120, T A Pletcher
13. Marilyn's Guy (KY), no rider, 122, K P McLaughlin