Revived on Turf, Kicken Kris Heads Jamaica

(from Belmont report)
Grade I winner Kicken Kris, whose career turned with a switch to the turf, starts as the colt to beat in Belmont Park's $200,000 Jamaica Handicap (gr. IIT) at nine furlongs Sunday.

Nine 3-year-olds, four of them graded stakes winners, were entered in the 54th Jamaica. Colita was entered for the main track only.

In five races as a maiden on the dirt, Kicken Kris was beaten by a whopping 98ΒΌ lengths.

Trainer Michael Matz was understandably disappointed in his $400,000 yearling purchase. But he thought a surface switch might wake him up.

Five months after winning his turf debut at odds of 18-1, Kicken Kris made a strong case that he is the nation's top 3-year-old turf horse when he unleashed a potent finishing kick to win Arlington Park's Secretariat (gr. IT).

The Jamaica is the feature on a 10-race card that also includes the $100,000-added Schenectady for New York-bred fillies and mares at six furlongs.

Despite running three strong races on the turf, Kicken Kris was 31-1 in the July 12 Virginia Derby, his stakes debut. He ran what was the best race of his life that day, finishing second behind Silver Tree, but received little respect in the Secretariat, going off at 15-1.

"I guess he has kind of surprised everyone," said Matz, who trains Kicken Kris for Brushwood Stable. "He always trained well on dirt. He just never showed it in the afternoons. We were obviously disappointed with the first few races of his career, but I think he learned a lot from those dirt races. By the time he got to the turf, he had grown up and matured."

Kicken Kris drew post 7 as the Jamaica's co-high weight at 121 pounds. He will be cutting back a furlong to 1 1/8 mile.

The Irish-bred Joe Bear chased Kicken to no avail in the final 200 yards of the Secretariat. Trainer Philip Mitchell is hoping Joe Bear, who was making his first stateside start in the Secretariat, will improve off the effort.

"It was an impressive race from our horse," said Mitchell, who shipped the unheralded Running Stag over the Atlantic a few years ago to win the Brooklyn and Massachusetts Handicaps. "He's only going to improve off that race. We knew he was pretty smart. The beauty of it is he's got a fifth gear, and then a sixth gear. He accelerates and then kicks on."

Jockey David Flores, aboard Joe Bear for the Secretariat, will be in for the ride on Sunday.

"David learned a lot about him at Arlington," Mitchell said. "We had given him tapes of Joe Bear's wins for the race and said, 'Do what you want with him.' Flores wanted to sit in sixth, but he got into a little trouble and was 10th. He still put in a good run."

Normally, trainer Jimmy Toner wouldn't put a horse fresh off a maiden victory in a grade II stakes race. Toner, however, is quite high on Fortune Writers, a son of Kris S. who was beaten a mere head by Jamaica high weight Kicken Kris in a Gulfstream Park maiden race in March.

Fortune Writers has managed a 1-1-1 record from four starts on the grass and has been involved in a couple adversity-filled trips.

"I think this horse has a lot of quality and he's got seasoning," Toner said. "We were beaten a head by Kicken Kris, and had some tough trips over the spring. For now, I'd rather keep him at nine furlongs. I'll take a shot."

Claiborne Farm's Stroll goes out for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, who won this race in 2000 with King Cugat.

Stroll, co-high weight at 121 pounds, enters the Jamaica looking for his fourth straight victory and third stakes win. In July, he closed powerfully to win Monmouth's Lamplighter. A month later, he was an impressive winner of Saratoga's National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame Handicap (gr. IIT).

Jerry Bailey will ride Stroll, who is equally dangerous on the lead or from off the pace.

$200,000 Jamaica Handicap (gr. IIT), 3-year-olds, 1 1/8 mile on turf
1. Joe Bear, Phil Mitchell, David Flores, 117
2. Stone Cat, Malcolm Pierce, Jose Santos, 114
3. Stroll, Bill Mott, Jerry Bailey, 121
4. Fortune Writers, Jimmy Toner, Shaun Bridgmohan, 114
5. Y.V. Five, Carlos Morales, Pablo Fragoso, 112
6. Lismore Knight, Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez, 119
7. Kicken Kris, Michael Matz, Javier Castellano, 121
8. Sircharlesschnabel,Phil Serpe, Edgar Prado, 114
9. Sharp Impact , Kiaran McLaughlin, Richard Migliore, 116
Main track only
10. Colita, Todd Pletcher, No rider, 118