Former Claimer Van Minister Closes for Hill Prince Win

Van Minister trailed the field as pacesetter Smoked Em set slow early fractions, then rallied through the stretch to nip even-money favorite Miesque's Approval at the wire to win Saturday's $109,300 Hill Prince Stakes at Belmont Park. On the soft turf course, Van Minister completed the 1 1/8 miles in 1:54.42 under jockey Mike Luzzi.

"I had confidence in him, and I rode him that way," said Luzzi. "At the end, he put his head down and really went. I believed in him, Carlos (Martin, trainer) believed in him. It was a good team effort."

Smoked Em cut out the early fractions, getting the opening half-mile in :51.69 while tracked by Miesque's Approval. Miesque's Approval moved to the lead on the second turn as Westcliffe moved up to challenge. Miesque's Approval turned back Westcliffe in the stretch before Van Minister ran him down in deep stretch to notch the half-length victory.

Miesque's Approval finished 1 1/2 lengths in front of Westcliffe, with Deeliteful Guy fourth and Smoked Em last of five in the scratch depleted field.

Our Sugar Bear Stable's Van Minister won a maiden claiming race two starts back, then finished second in a Belmont allowance race while making his turf debut. The Carlos Martin trainee earned $65,580 for the win, his second in nine career starts. The 3-year-old son of With Approval--Mrs. P Minister, by Proud Appeal, was purchased for $17,500 at the 2000 Keeneland September yearling sale. Frederick J. Seitz bred the winner in Kentucky.

"It got a little frustrating over the winter because we always wanted to try turf with him and we couldn't," said Martin. "He really ran a huge race in his last start. He was real wide and it was against older horses. He is just getting better and better. He's really improved on the turf. (NYRA Stakes Coordinator) Andrew Byrnes is one of the people that talked us into running here."

Sent off at 13-1, Van Minister returned $28.20, $7.60, and $2.50 and topped the $70.50 exacta. Miesque's Approval paid $2.90 and $2.10, Westcliffe was worth $2.40 to show. (Chart, Equibase)