The $250,000 True North Stakes (gr. II), scheduled to run June 10, has quietly become one of the nation's premier stakes sprints with a rich history of speedy, talented, and memorable winners.
This year's entrants include a pair of fan favorites attempting to turn back the clock and regain their best form.
Vincent Scuderi's homebred Dads Caps , who posted back-to-back victories in the 2014 and 2015 Carter Handicap (gr. I), is trained by Rudy Rodriguez. The 6-year-old son of Discreet Cat will be looking to rebound after going winless in his last five starts.
Meanwhile, Good Friends Stable's 7-year-old Private Zone, who among his many accomplishments boasts back-to-back wins in the Forego Stakes (gr. I) in 2014 and 2015, returns to racing after a stay at The Sanctuary Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation Center near Ocala, Fla. The gelded son of Macho Uno last finished fifth in the 2015 Cigar Mile (gr. I), his first start for trainer Brian Lynch.
As far as the True North is concerned, turning back the calendar to past editions can be a rather inspiring endeavor.
Last year Stonestreet Stables' ill-fated Rock Fall (by Speightstown , who won the True North in 2004) easily won his fifth straight start and first graded stakes victory in the True North in his debut for the Todd Pletcher barn.
"This is a special horse," jockey Javier Castellano said. "You can do whatever you want with him."
The bay colt would go on to win the Vanderbilt Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga Race Course when he nailed The Big Beast on the wire in an ultra-gutsy performance. Rock Fall, however, had to be euthanized after he suffered a catastrophic injury in an October workout at Keeneland.
Caixa Eletronica's sire, Arromanches, never won a stakes and stood for a mere $1,000 in Indiana. But that didn't stop the 7-year-old from staging a stirring 14-length rally to win the True North; he earned more than $1 million in 2012 alone for the team of owner Mike Repole and Pletcher.
"He's an old knocker," Repole said. "He can win at six furlongs, he can win at 1 1/8 miles, he can win a million-dollar race (Charles Town Classic), and he can win a $16,000 starter handicap. This is what horse racing is about. This is a throwback horse to the 1960s and '70s. How can you not root for this horse?"
Palace, a 5-year-old son of City Zip, was available via the claiming box for $20,000. But owner Miuccio and trainer Linda Rice were the smart ones. Coming into the True North, Rice got Palace to respond off a two-month layoff after he bled through Lasix. But the late-rallying New York-bred benefited from a wickedly hot pace to score the upset.
In the 2009 edition, Walter Downey's Fabulous Strike, a 6-year-old gelded son of Smart Strike, was forced into an unholy speed duel with an opening half-mile in a blistering 43.62.
"Fabulous Strike to catch and he's still going strong!" announcer Tom Durkin said as the winner shook loose in mid-stretch.
Jockey Ramon Dominguez kept enough in reserve to hold off a late-charging Benny the Bull, who had captured the True North a year earlier. Fabulous Strike reached the wire in an eye-popping 1:07.85 (the True North's second-fastest clocking).
Owner Seymour Cohen won the True North twice with victories 14 years apart. In 1999, John Hertler-trained Kashatreya carried Cohen's colors to give jockey Jean-Luc Samyn one of his three wins in the True North (tied for the most by a rider). Previously, Cohen's Cannon Shell had captured the 1985 edition for trainer Chester Ross and jockey Delcan Murphy.
Robert Nixon's Mr. Nickerson scored in the 1990 edition of the True North beneath jockey Chris Antley. The horse died later that year in the Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) at Belmont Park in the race in which Dayjur jumped a shadow near the finish line and handed the victory to the filly Safely Kept.
Hall of Fame jockey Angel Cordero Jr., who has a trio of wins in the event (along with Samyn and rider Robbie Davis), succeeded in three consecutive editions of the True North, from 1987-89. He was aboard Ogden Phipps' Dancing Spree in 1989 and Joseph Allen's High Bright in 1988.
In 1987 Cordero won aboard Lone Star Stable's Groovy (by Norcliffe), trained by Jose Martin. The pair raced six furlongs in a blazing 1:07.80 to establish a track record in the mud while recording the stakes' fastest clocking.
Belmont Park, Friday, June 10, 2016, Race 8
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1Holy Boss (KY) John R. Velazquez 124 Steven M. Asmussen 6/1 2 2Joking (KY) Manuel Franco 122 Charlton Baker 20/1 3 3Private Zone (ON) Martin A. Pedroza 124 Brian A. Lynch 8/5 4 4Dads Caps (KY) Irad Ortiz, Jr. 122 Gustavo Rodriguez 12/1 5 5Catalina Red (FL) Javier Castellano 122 Jorge Navarro 2/1 6 6Always Sunshine (FL) Frankie Pennington 124 Edward T. Allard 7/2
Belmont Park, Friday, June 10, 2016, Race 8