Le Grand Cru won the 2009 Kelso Handicap when it was scheduled for turf but was run on the main track because of heavy rain. With the race now scheduled for dirt for the first time in its 30-year history, the connections of the 5-year-old horse decided to give him a chance to repeat in the one-mile race.
Le Grand Cru, who won at odds of 6-5 in a three-horse field on the mud last year, is a 12-1 outsider in a field of eight entered on Oct. 3. A grade III race last year after being switched off the turf, it resumes as a grade II event this time around while carrying a $250,000 purse.
Trained by Allen Jerkens for Judson Streicher in last year’s Kelso, Le Grand Cru is now owned by Michael Stinson and trained by Todd Pletcher. This will be his third start for Pletcher, who sent him out to finish fourth in both the July 3 Salvatore Mile (gr. III) at Monmouth and July 2 James Marvin Stakes at Saratoga.
The dark bay/brown horse has won once in eight starts in 2010, that coming in the April 30 Westchester Stakes (gr. III) at Belmont, also at one mile. The son of Dynaformer also won the Bold Ruler (gr. III) a year ago.
“He did not seem to handle the track at Monmouth, and he caught an off-track at Saratoga,” said Pletcher. “Hopefully, with the one-turn mile at Belmont, he’ll come back to his best race. We’ve got a tough horse to beat in Regal Ransom, but we’ve been pretty much focused on this race.”
John Velazquez will have the mount.
Godolphin Racing’s Regal Ransom was pegged as the 2-1 favorite after an impressive wire-to-wire optional claiming score Sept. 1 at Saratoga. He tired to finish fourth in the July 3 Suburban Handicap (gr. II) in his 4-year-old debut while coming back from an eight-month layoff.
Regal Ransom is seeking his first stakes win since the 2009 Super Derby (gr. II), in which he became the last horse to defeat Blame, carrier of a five-race win streak into $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational (gr. I) Oct. 2 at Belmont.
The Kelso will be the Distorted Humor colt’s first start at a mile since a second-place finish in the Gulf News UAE 2000 Guineas (UAE-III) in Dubai in February 2009, and a winning performance could earn him a shot at the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) Nov. 6.
A half brother to multiple grade I-winning filly Devil May Care, Regal Ransom has turned in a pair of bullet works since his last race, going a half-mile in :47.12 on Sept. 19 and five furlongs in :58.67 Sept. 26.
“A mile is a good distance for him to be at his best,” said Rick Mettee, assistant to trainer Saeed bin Suroor, who won the Kelso in 2006 with Ashkal Way and in 2008 with Tam Lin. “We’re really happy with him. The Kelso is going to be a tough race, but he tries hard every time.”
Under high weight of 119 pounds, including Alan Garcia, Regal Ransom will break from post 8.
Tizway, a consistent performer for trainer Jim Bond and owner William Clifton, is seeking his first stakes victory after having knocked heads with some of the nation’s top Thoroughbreds over the past two years. Most recently third behind Quality Road and Musket Man in the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) on Memorial Day, the 5-year-old son of Tiznow will be making only his third start of 2010, having won an optional claimer at Aqueduct in April.
“We missed some time over the summer with him because of foot problems, but now, physically, he seems to be doing very, very well,” said Bond of Tizway, who last fall was third to Summer Bird and Quality Road in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. “He’s not up there with the Quality Roads, but he’s a very good horse, and a mile might be his optimal distance.”
At 7-2 on the morning line, Tizway will leave from post 4 with Rajiv Maragh aboard.
Trainer Nick Zito will be represented by Robert LaPenta’s Cool Coal Man, last seen finishing second to Regal Ransom at Saratoga. Now 5, the son of Mineshaft will be making his first appearance at Belmont since an eighth-place finish in the 2009 Suburban Handicap behind Dry Martini.
Julien Leparoux rides Cool Coal Man, 4-1 on the morning line, from the rail.
Also in field is Mythical Power, who is cross-entered in the Jockey Club Gold Cup for Bob Baffert.
$250,000 Kelso Handicap (gr. II, Race 9, 5:15 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 Mile (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Cool Coal Man (KY), J R Leparoux, 116, N P Zito
2. Jersey Town (KY), R A Dominguez, 114, B Tagg
3. Convocation (KY), J Castellano, 115, J A Jerkens
4. Tizway (KY), R Maragh, 115, H J Bond
5. Le Grand Cru (KY), J R Velazquez, 114, T A Pletcher
6. Caixa Eletronica (KY), J Lezcano, 114, W Phipps
7. Mythical Power (KY), G K Gomez, 117, B Baffert
8. Regal Ransom (KY), A Garcia, 119, S bin Suroor