The silks of IEAH Stables will get an airing a few races before the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) when top sprinter Benny the Bull tackles the $250,000 True North Handicap (gr. II) at Belmont Park June 7. But unlike stablemate Big Brown, Benny the Bull is far from considered a lock for his upcoming test. He’ll have to turn back a blast from the past as 2006 Eclipse Award-winning sprinter Thor’s Echo returns to competition for the first time this year.
The “now horse” in the six-furlong True North’s field of eight, Benny the Bull seeks a fourth consecutive victory after reeling off scores in the March 29 Gulf News Dubai Golden Shaheen (UAE-I) and the Sunshine Millions Sprint this year. Those wins followed a career first for the 5-year-old son of Lucky Lionel, who took his initial grade I – the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash Stakes – last November after running fourth in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I).
Thor’s Echo did one better than Benny the Bull, winning the 2006 TVG Breeders’ Cup Sprint by a solid four lengths. But the 6-year-old son of Swiss Yodeler has not raced since running sixth in both starts of 2007 – the March 1 Marju Mahab Al Shimaal (UAE-III) and the Gulf News Dubai Golden Shaheen (UAE-I) for new owner Sheikh Rashid bin Mohd Al Maktoum. Trainer Doug O’Neill gave Thor’s Echo more than a year on the sidelines following those disappointing efforts, cleaning up a flaked ankle and working to regain previous form that included two grade I wins and two runner-up efforts in grade I races of 2006 alone.
Ready to gun down both horses is trainer Anthony Dutrow, who will saddle Michael Dubb’s Suave Jazz to his 30th career start. The 5-year-old Suave Prospect gelding comes off a tough beat in his first start of the season, the May 17 Maryland Sprint Handicap (gr. III), which he lost by a nose to Winning Move Stables’ Starforaday. Last year, Suave Jazz raced to consecutive victories in a Delaware allowance and in the Vincent A. Moscarelli Memorial Stakes. His chain of 12 first or second-place finishes included a runner-up effort in the 2007 edition of the True North, and he hasn’t finished off the board since 2006, when he ran fourth in a Saratoga claiming race. Following that effort, he turned in a string of five wins in allowance company for his connections.
Bruce Levine saddles a horse in the True North who has been knocking at the door in his past three starts – Stephen S. Atkins’ Man of Danger. The 6-year-old Tiger Ridge gelding was second to Lucky Island last time out in the May 10 Bold Ruler Handicap (gr. III), caught in the stretch after setting the pace. He ran second to Sir Greeley in the March 8 Toboggan Handicap (gr. III) at Aqueduct, and was second by a length to Lord Snowdon in January’s Paumonok Handicap. A two-time track record setter at Monmouth Park, where he went 5 ½ furlongs in 1:02.89 before eclipsing his own record in 1:02.70 two years ago, he got his last win in December of last year, when he wired a field of allowance runners.
One who could surprise in this race is Shadwell Stable’s Abraaj, a 5-year-old son of Carson City whose last race back off a nine-month layup May 2 resulted in a definitive six-length score over allowance company. The Kiaran McLaughlin trainee got some time on the sidelines following an eighth-place finish in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (gr. II). He looks to be back in form since returning to the track; prior to the Vanderbilt, he had never finished worse than fourth.
2007 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) contender Storm In May and H. Allen Jerkens trainee Saint Daimon both seek their first graded scores, while the John Hertler-trained Council Member looks to improve off a fourth-place finish behind Divine Park in the May 26 Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I)
$250,000 True North Handicap (gr. II, Race 6, approximate post 2:56 p.m.), six furlongs for older horses, dirt
PP, Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Saint Daimon, 113, Jeffrey Sanchez
2. Thor's Echo, 119, Garrett Gomez
3. Storm in May, 114, Javier Castellano
4. Abraaj, 115, Alan Garcia
5. Suave Jazz, 115, Ramon Dominguez
6. Council Member, 114, Jorge Chavez
7. Benny the Bull, 123, Edgar Prado
8. Man of Danger, 115, John Velazquez