Benny the Bull makes his long-awaited return in the True North Stakes.

Benny the Bull makes his long-awaited return in the True North Stakes.

Coglianese Photos

Benny the Bull Gearing Up for True North

Champion going for his second straight True North score.

He was somewhat shadowed on Belmont Day last year by his stablemate Big Brown . But Benny the Bull may play a starring role this time around for trainer Rick Dutrow and the IEAH Stables, as the 6-year-old makes his long-awaited, somewhat surprising return in the $250,000 True North Stakes (gr. II) on June 6, a race he won last year en route to championship honors. Last year’s top sprinter will be the likely favorite in the field of six, breaking from the rail with his usual rider Edgar Prado.

For many, it’s a surprise the son of Lucky Lionel is even running at all. An earner of over $2.2 million from nine wins in 17 starts, Benny the Bull put together an impressive five-race win streak stretching back to November 2007, before suffering a potentially career-ending injury last summer. That streak included victories in the De Francis Memorial Dash (gr. I) and the Dubai Golden Shaheen (UAE-II) in addition to the True North, culminating in the Smile Sprint Handicap (gr. II) at Calder Race Course last July.

Following the win at Calder, the Florida-bred chipped an ankle and was subsequently retired. A few months later, though, after hearing a more positive prognosis, IEAH head Michael Ivarone apparently had a change of heart. While accepting his trophy at the Eclipse Awards in Miami in January, Ivarone announced that the horse would return to training and be pointed for a 2009 campaign.

“I like to space my horses’ races anyway, and when the deal fell through for him to be a stallion, we took our time bringing him back,” explained Dutrow.  “Every day with him is a happy day, and he’s been training well and steadily for his return.”

Despite the 10-month layoff for Benny the Bull, racing secretary P.J. Campo has the champ high-weighted at 123 pounds. Weighted just one pound less, the “other” grade I winner in the field, Fabulous Strike, should provide ample competition. Owned by Walter Downey and trained by Todd Beattie, Fabulous Strike is shipping in from Penn National, but it’s a road he’s been down before.

“I’ll ship him up the day of the race,” Beattie said.  “I don’t like shipping the day before because I think it gives them a restless night away from home.  He’s a real privilege to train.  He’s a warrior.”

The 6-year-old gelded son of Smart Strike has three Belmont wins on his resume, including the Vosburgh (gr. I) last fall in the slop.  A close second in both his starts this year--the General George (gr. II) and, most recently, the Carter Handicap (gr. I) at Aqueduct--millionaire Fabulous Strike should appreciate a return to six-furlong dashes, the distance proven most prolific for the Pennsylvania-bred’s front-running style.

“Those last two races were at seven furlongs, which is not his best distance. I’m looking forward to running him back at six furlongs, and Belmont is his favorite place," Beattie said.

Fabulous Strike is likely to have company on the lead, most notably from the Godolphin runner Two Step Salsa . A grade III winner on synthetic surfaces in California for trainer Julio Canani, the 4-year-old was subsequently purchased and transferred to trainer Saeed bin Suroor, for whom he’s captured back to back wins at Nad al Sheba, the most recent of these, the Godolphin Mile (UAE-II). Rested since that win back in March, the 4-year-old son of Petionville has been training forwardly at Belmont for his U.S. return.

$250,000 True North Stakes (gr. II, Race 6, 2:33 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 Mile (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Benny the Bull (FL), E S Prado, 123, R E Dutrow, Jr.
2. Silver Edition (KY), J R Leparoux, 114, D W Lukas
3. Two Step Salsa  (KY), G K Gomez, 119, S bin Suroor
4. Sixthirteen (VA), E Coa, 114, M E Hushion
5. Desert Key (KY), J R Velazquez, 115, J A Jerkens
6. Fabulous Strike (PA), R A Dominguez, 122, T M Beattie