With the New York City area being deluged with rain, the Widener Turf Course at Belmont Park is sure to be waterlogged and plenty soft for the $250,000 Kelso Handicap (gr. IIT) Sept. 28. The conditions of the course may give a leg up to some of the runners who prefer that footing.
One such horse could be Barry Schwartz’s Stalingrad, who missed by just a neck on Saratoga’s yielding turf course Aug. 3 in the Fourstardave Handicap (gr. IIT). Trainer Michael Hushion is hoping the late-blooming 4-year-old son of Glitterman will have an edge against his five rivals for the one-mile event in less than ideal conditions. Hushion is also hoping Stalingrad will enjoy the cutback in distance and turn in a better performance than he did over the Belmont turf two starts ago when he finished last in the 10-furlong Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT).
“He was too fresh in the Manhattan,” said Hushion. “He never settled and didn’t have any chance. Some time in the future we might try to run him long again. Once he started running good, he put it together. I think it’s a combination of the turf and maturity. He was a bit of a goofy kid.”
It took Stalingrad six tries and more than a year to break his maiden. But once he did the Kentucky-bred gelding reeled off four consecutive scores before disappointing in the Manhattan. He led into the stretch before being collared in the final strides by Red Giant in the Fourstardave.
Channing Hill will get the mount on Stalingrad, who is out of the Dynaformer mare Formeredith.
One of the capable horses Stalingrad will have to beat is Edward Evans’ Giant Wrecker, who has been unlucky in his past two starts. The 6-year-old son of Giant's Causeway set the pace and led in the final yards of the Aug. 3 Oceanport (gr. IIIT) before losing by a nose to Silver Tree. About one month later he returned to the Monmouth Park grass and was beaten less than a length by Buffalo Man and Icy Atlantic while finishing third in the Red Bank Stakes (gr. IIIT).
Trainer Tony Dutrow, who took over conditioning duties from Mark Hennig earlier this year, hopes this race will be the breakthrough for Giant Wrecker, who seeks his first graded stakes victory since taking the Canadian Turf Handicap (Can-IIIT) last season.
“His races this year have been outstanding,” said Dutrow. “We think that a mile is probably his best distance, and we’re hoping he gets the kind of turf that will be to his liking on Sunday. Softer turf is not his favorite, but we don’t have a lot of reasons to think it will hurt him.”
Also a potential factor is Dion Recachina’s Operation Red Dawn. The 6-year-old Miswaki horse is 0-for-5 in graded stakes events, but has finished in the money in all but one of them. The Christophe Clement trainee enters off back-to-back third-place finishes in New York. He was beaten by Kip Deville in the Poker Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Belmont July 13 and then fell 1 1/2 lengths short of Shakis in the Bernard Baruch (gr. IIT) last month at Saratoga.
Operation Red Dawn has never been worse than third in nine trips over the Belmont grass, with four wins to show for it. Ramon Dominguez gets the return call.
If the race moves to dirt, Zayat Stables’ Forefathers should get a lot of attention, despite finishing ninth in the Aug. 30 Forego (gr. I) at Saratoga. The 4-year-old Gone West colt won by more than six lengths two starts ago on the Belmont dirt in a one mile optional claimer. It is unlikely Forefathers will start on a soft turf course, since he has not tried the grass since his racing debut two years ago in England. Kent Desormeaux rides for Bill Mott.
The other two graded turf races scheduled for Sept. 28 – the Miss Grillo (gr. IIIT) and Pilgrim (gr. IIIT) – were rescheduled for Oct. 1 due to the weather.
$250,000 Kelso Handicap (gr. IIT, Race 9, 5:15 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 Mile (Turf)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Media Play (FL), 114, John R. Velazquez
2. Forefathers (KY), 114, Kent J. Desormeaux
3. Tam Lin (GB), 116, Javier Castellano
4. Giant Wrecker (KY), 115, Cornelio H. Velasquez
5. Operation Red Dawn (KY), 114, Ramon A. Dominguez
6. Stalingrad (KY), 114, Channing Hill