Coady Photography/Keeneland

Six at Poker's Table, All With a Shot

Three of the six are grade I winners for the grade III turf event June 18 at Belmont.

It may carry only grade III status, but Belmont Park's Poker Stakes (gr. IIIT)  carries a grade I line-up, even if only six passed the entry box. The one-mile Poker goes as race 4 on June 18 with an approximate post time of 3:04 p.m. ET.

Three of the runners have won at the grade I level within the last 12 months, and they'll square off against King Kreesa, last year's Poker winner, and two from trainer Chad Brown, who won four stakes last weekend on Long Island including the 1-2-3 finishers in the New York Stakes (gr. IIT).

The grade I winners—Grand Arch, Force the Pass, and Obviously—drew the inside posts.

Jim and Susan Hill's Grand Arch won last fall's Shadwell Turf Mile (gr. IT) at Keeneland and was third in Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT). The 7-year-old gelding's lone 2016 outing resulted in a third-place finish—beaten three-quarters of a length—by Takeover Target in a soggy Dixie Stakes (gr. IIT) on the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) undercard May 21. The earner of more than $1.8 million only has one Belmont turf start to his 25-race resume, a fifth-place finish last summer behind King Kreesa in the Forbidden Apple.

Colts Neck Stables' Force the Pass was a 10-1 winner of last summer's Belmont Derby Invitational (gr. IT) at 1 1/4 miles. Running on the lead this April in gulfstream Park's Appleton (gr. IIIT) at a mile, the 4-year-old Speightstown  colt was just caught late by Reporting Star. He makes his debut over Belmont's main turf course for trainer Allen Goldberg.

Obviously also makes his Belmont bow in the Poker. The multiple grade I winner won back to back Shoemaker Mile Stakes (gr. IT) in 2014 and 2015 at both Betfar Hollywood Park and Santa Anita. Two outings this winter in Southern California resulted in photo-finish defeats in grade II company, the latest in the Feb. 13 Arcadia at a mile. Phil D'Amato trains.

Brown trains Takeover Target, who also won the nine-furlong Hill Prince (gr. IIIT) at Belmont last fall in addition to the Dixie. The son of Harlan's Holiday is accomplished over both turf courses at Belmont and fired a bullet :471/5 half-mile over the course June 16.

Brown's other entrant—New York-bred Offering Plan—has only made eight starts, but three of those have come in graded company. He placed in the Pilgrim Stakes (gr. IIT) at 2 in 2014 and was a closing fifth at Del Mar last fall in the Hollywood Derby (gr. IT).

King Kreesa is one of the kings of the Belmont turf, compiling a 6-1-2 mark in 12 starts over the main turf course. The 7-year-old New York-bred owned by Gerald and Susan Kresa was second last time out on New York Showcase Day in the one-mile Kingston Stakes. King Kreesa won last year's Poker over Vyjack (Tepin's half brother) in 1:33.48.

Entries: Poker S. (G3T)

Belmont Park, Saturday, June 18, 2016, Race 4

  • Grade IIIT
  • 1m
  • Turf
  • $300,000
  • 4 yo's & up
  • 3:04 PM (local)
11Grand Arch (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateLuis Saez124Erin Cotterill7/2
22Force the Pass (KY)Jose L. Ortiz124Alan E. Goldberg5/1
33Obviously (IRE)Jose Lezcano116Philip D'Amato9/5
44Offering Plan (NY)Javier Castellano120Chad C. Brown6/1
55King Kreesa (NY)Irad Ortiz, Jr.122David G. Donk10/1
66Takeover Target (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateJoel Rosario124Chad C. Brown4/1