Belmont Stakes 2024 Notes

Barksdale works for G1 Woody Stephens

Cypress Creek Equine’s Barksdale is set to make his stakes debut in the Grade 1, $500,000 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun, a seven-furlong sprint for sophomores on Belmont Stakes Day June 8 at Saratoga Race Course.

Trained by Will Walden, the Street Sense dark bay graduated on debut in October traveling two turns at Horseshoe Indianapolis but followed with a pair of distant off-the-board efforts at Churchill Downs to complete his juvenile campaign.

“He’s a big, long two-turn bred type horse and I think I was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole there,” Walden said. “He broke his maiden going two turns at Indiana and then we stretched him out in a tough allowance race – Bill Mott won it with a Constitution colt [Parchment Party] that was supposed to get on the Derby trail but had a setback; Catching Freedom was in there, and a few others that have turned out to be stakes quality. That being said – it didn’t turn out well. We wheeled him back quick in a one-turn mile and that also didn’t go well.”

Barksdale was subsequently gelded and has focused on sprint events this season, finished a pressing fifth in March at Turfway Park when entered for a $50,000 tag in an optional-claiming race won by the speedy Joe Shiesty, who blitzed to a 29-1 upset two starts later on turf in the William Walker on May 1 at Churchill Downs.

Barksdale has won both starts since in gate-to-wire fashion, taking a seven-furlong starter allowance on April 7 at Keeneland under Tyler Gaffalione and a 6 1/2-furlong optional-claimer at Aqueduct by four lengths with Dylan Davis at the helm on April 26 that registered a career-best 91 Beyer Speed Figure.

Walden said the Turfway effort set Barksdale up perfectly for his recent success.

“Joe Shiesty is extremely fast. That was an allowance optional race and because of his two efforts prior at Churchill, I put him in for the $50,000 to make him starter eligible,” Walden said. “That day at Turfway he didn’t break sharply and Joe Shiesty went 43 and 4 for the half-mile and Barksdale ran into that pace. I thought he ran pretty valiantly to hold on for fifth. He was really tired after that race and got a lot out of it and it set him up for Keeneland and the drop in class.”

Walden said Barksdale has responded well to being gelded and a patient approach from the gate.

“He’s a big, heavy horse and carried a ton of extra weight. I think that [being gelded] helped him physically and mentally,” Walden said. “We learned don’t ask him out of the gate, just let him do his thing. If you press the button too early, you won’t have anything to finish up with whereas if you break, he’ll place himself forwardly in the race on his own. He just has a lot of natural speed.”

Barksdale had his first work back on Thursday at Keeneland, covering a half-mile in 49.40 in company with graded stakes-winner Manny Wah.

Horse racing to begin at Belmont in June“We ran him back a little quicker than we typically would, and we usually give them 14 days after a race to work them, but I gave him 20 days,” Walden said. “The work was awesome. He worked in company with Manny Wah, who is a graded stakes winner here at Keeneland and I thought they both worked really well. He’ll have a five-eighths next week and then back down to a half in preparation for the Woody Stephens.

“He ran a big number last time and he ran a good number the time before that,” added Walden. “We’re excited about going back to seven-eighths and taking a shot against the big boys.”

Tyler Gaffalione will have the call on Barksdale in the Woody Stephens.

Walden could also be represented at the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival with Cypress Creek Equine’s Clear the Air in the Grade 1, $500,000 Jaipur presented by Resolute Racing on Belmont Stakes Day June 8 at Saratoga Race Course. The 5 1/2-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds and up offers a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint in November at Del Mar.

Clear the Air is entered in an allowance sprint Saturday at Churchill Downs but the 4-year-old Ransom the Moon colt has demonstrated an affinity for running well on short rest, winning a Turfway Park claimer [98 Beyer] on 15 day’s rest in December and a Keeneland turf allowance [92 Beyer] last out on April 21 on three week’s rest.

“As much as I don’t love wheeling back on quick rest this horse seems to thrive on it. He’s run a lot of big numbers off short rest,” Walden said. “It feels like he uses the first one as a tee up and then really brings it. I don’t know if that’s coincidence or if that works for him, but we’ll see how he runs here this weekend.”

Walden is also excited about a pair of talented turf fillies purchased at the Tattersalls December Mare Sale for Woodford Thoroughbreds in recent Grade 3 Soaring Softly winner Pipsy and Group 2-placed Olivia Maralda, who rallied to finish second in an allowance on April 20 in her stateside debut.

Pipsy, a Kodiac bay, was purchased for $929,489 after having won 2-of-3 starts for her former conditioner Ger Lyons in her native Ireland. She reared up at the break of the six-furlong Soaring Softly here in her U.S. debut and raced in last-of-10 before closing with an impressive turn of foot to best Kairyu by a half-length. The effort garnered an 82 Beyer.

Walden said Pipsy will look to stretch out next in the Listed $250,000 Tepin, a one-mile turf test for sophomore fillies on June 29 at Churchill Downs with an eye towards the one-mile Grade 3, $175,000 Lake George on July 20 at Saratoga Race Course.

“We’re just in a holding pattern right now but all signs point to her having come out of the race perfect and she’s back galloping at Keeneland,” Walden said. “The plan is probably to go to the Tepin at a mile on June 28 at CD. If she handles the stretch out, the Lake George is the plan after that. WE have to take it one race at a time and if she doesn’t stretch out then we’ll have to cut her back, but I feel confident she will [stretch out].”

Olivia Maralda, a $961,949 purchase and also by Kodiac, was a close second in the 2022 Group 2 Debutante at The Curragh for trainer M.D. O’Callaghan. She was campaigned last year by Roger Varian, winning the seven-furlong Surrey at Epsom.

In her stateside debut with Flavien Prat aboard, Olivia Maralda rallied from eight-of-11 to finish second just three-quarter lengths back of Misread and a head in front of next-out winner Sacred Wish.

“They went 46 and change for the half-mile and they were pretty spread out. The winner was five lengths off it and got a perfect trip,” Walden said. “We were proud of her effort that day. She had a lot of traffic in the lane and didn’t really get free until about 10 jumps before the wire and she made a big move to get up for second. That was first off a long layoff so I’m really excited about how she’s doing.”

Olivia Maralda is likely to make her next start in the Grade 1, $300,000 Gamely, a nine-furlong turf test for 3-year-olds and up on May 27 at Santa Anita Park.

“She’s been everywhere but she travels well – she’s a well-mannered filly,” Walden said. “It would really improve her residual value going forward to get that Grade 1 win or placing. She’s doing really good. She came out of the Keeneland race in good order and is training better now than she was going into it.”

Walden said Olivia Maralda’s calm demeanor is advantageous as she looks to stretch out in distance.

“Olivia Maralda is not a filly that’s going to lock onto the bit and be really aggressive,” Walden said. “She’s really bred to go short and has tactical speed to do so, but her mentality and the way she places herself in a race and relaxes really allows her to stretch out a little bit further than pedigree would suggest.”

Trainer Todd Pletcher Wins 5th Peter Pan Stakes. Winner Earns This Beyer Figure

Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher earned a record-extending fifth win in the Grade 3, $200,000 Peter Pan Saturday at Belmont at the Big A as Centennial Farms’ Antiquarian captured the prestigious nine-furlong event for sophomores by three-quarter lengths.

Pletcher, who also trained third-place finisher Protective, adds to a list of Peter Pan winners that includes Purge [2004], Sunriver [2006], Madefromlucky [2015] and Promise Keeper [2021]. It was the first graded score for Antiquarian, who pounced from just off the pace under Hall of Famer John Velazquez to sweep by The Wine Steward inside the final sixteenth and complete the course in 1:48.99.

NYRA will waive the entry and starting fees to the Belmont Stakes, excluding the supplemental fee, for the first three finishers of the Peter Pan.

Pletcher said both Antiquarian and Protective, who is still a maiden despite two graded stakes placings, exited their efforts in good order.

Antiquarian improved from an even sixth-place finish in the 1 3/16-mile Grade 2 Louisiana Derby in March at Fair Grounds Race Course where he broke through the gate before the start. Pletcher said he had worked with the son of Preservationist on his gate skills leading up to the Peter Pan.

“We did work on it, but it had never been an issue before that,” said Pletcher. “It hasn’t been an issue since then either. It obviously helped that he broke alertly yesterday – he kind of got sandwiched at the start, but he was able to get in a good position and a good rhythm. We were happy to see it.”

Pletcher said both Antiquarian and Protective are set to ship north to Saratoga Race Course’s Oklahoma training track sometime next week, with Antiquarian eyeing a start in the 10-furlong Grade 1, $2 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on June 8 at the Spa.

Pletcher said the added distance should benefit Antiquarian.

“He certainly acts like it,” said Pletcher. “We didn’t get him in until October, but he’s always done everything very professional.”

Pletcher added that Champion 2-Year-Old Colt Fierceness has already arrived at Saratoga to make his preparations for the Belmont Stakes and is training well after a distant off-the-board finish as the post-time favorite in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby on May 4.

Silver Knott Earns Massive Figure

Godolphin’s multiple graded/group stakes-winner Silver Knott was awarded a lofty 106 Beyer Speed Figure for his romp in Saturday’s Grade 2, $400,000 Man o’ War going 1 3/8 miles over good inner turf at the Big A.

Trained by Charlie Appleby, the Lope de Vega gelding doubled up on stakes scores after a prominent victory in the 1 1/2-mile Grade 2 Elkhorn on April 20 at Keeneland. He cut back slightly in the Man o’ War and rallied from six lengths off the pace under Flavien Prat to sweep past his pace-pressing stablemate Nations Pride in the lane and cross the wire 4 1/2 lengths in front of the rallying Ohana Honor in a final time of 2:13.80.

Both Silver Knott and Nations Pride shipped to Saratoga early Sunday morning to make their preparations for engagements at the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival slated for June 6-9.

Neecie Marie earns career-best 92 BSF in G3 Beaugay score

Michael Milam’s Neecie Marie made her seasonal debut a winning one with a visually-appealing last-to-first rush to best Grade 1-winner Whitebeam by a neck in Saturday’s Grade 3, $175,000 Beaugay at Belmont at the Big A.

Trained by Butch Reid, Jr. and piloted by Hall of Famer Joel Rosario, the 4-year-old Cross Traffic bay entered the 1 1/16-mile outer turf test for older fillies and mares from a nearly six-month layoff since her fifth-place finish in the Grade 3 Mrs. Revere in November at Churchill Downs.

Neecie Marie was content to track from last-of-5 in the early running Saturday as last year’s Grade 1 Diana-winner Whitebeam and the in-form Spirit And Glory – who entered with two listed stakes wins in her last three outings – dueled on the front end. Neecie Marie still had seven lengths to make up from the top of the lane, but closed steadily with a four-wide move to overtake Whitebeam in the shadow of the wire with Spirit And Glory another head back in third.

Reid, Jr. scratched Neecie Marie from the one-mile Dahlia on April 20 at Laurel Park in favor of the longer Beaugay, which was originally scheduled to be run last weekend.

“We’d had a couple spots picked out along the way but to finally get her over there and get one in her was the whole objective, and it was an added bonus to get the money,” Reid, Jr. said. “For a moment, I thought a good third would be nice but Joel wasn’t thinking that way. He did a great job, and it was a masterful ride to get her up in time – just a tremendous job.”

The Pennsylvania-bred Neecie Marie posted two solid runner-up efforts to the Charlie Appleby-trained favorite Eternal Hope over this course last fall when a neck in arrears in the 11-furlong Grade 3 Jockey Club Oaks Invitational and a half-length back in the nine-furlong Grade 2 Sands Point.

Reid, Jr. said he is convinced that Neecie Marie is a better horse than last year.

“She came back well and we’re really happy with her,” Reid, Jr. said. “She’s a bigger stronger filly this year than she was last year and we’re hoping for another really big year with her.”

Turf course at AqueductNeecie Marie is now under consideration for the Grade 1, $750,000 New York presented by Rivers Casino, a 1 3/16-mile turf test for older fillies and mares on June 7 as part of the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival at Saratoga Race Course.

“It’s possible, but I hadn’t really looked past yesterday,” Reid, Jr. said. “We’re going to be involved in that Belmont Stakes weekend and maybe we’ll bring her along for the ride.”

Neecie Marie, a modest $25,000 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Eastern Fall Yearling Sale purchase, has banked $361,950 through a 10-5-2-0 ledger.

LC Racing’s Ninetyprcentmaddie narrowly missed making the grade with a rallying neck defeat to Joey Freshwater in Saturday’s six-furlong Grade 3, $175,000 Runhappy here.

The 4-year-old Weigelia gelding won the six-furlong off-the-turf Carle Place here in October with Irad Ortiz, Jr. up, closing from last-of-four to win by a neck. Ortiz, Jr. looked to replicate that trip yesterday, angling five-wide off the turn and closed with every stride but could not reel in his rival.

The Pennsylvania-bred registered a career-best 90 Beyer in the Runhappy, matching the figure earned with a runner-up result last out in the state-bred Page McKenney Handicap on April 22 at Parx.

Reid, Jr. said the five-time winner, who last year won the City of Brotherly Love at Parx and was a close second in Laurel Park’s Federico Tesio around two turns, has found his home in one-turn tests.

“I’m very happy with his race. He only made his yearly debut less than three weeks ago, so I was really happy with his effort,” Reid, Jr. said. “He looked good, acted good and he’s a much more mature horse now that we’ve settled in to strictly sprinting.

“We tried him long last year and he had success, but it looks to me like he wants to be a closing sprinter,” Reid, Jr. added. “He just missed yesterday. It was a great ride by Irad – he got a little trapped at the three-eighths pole and Irad thought if he got through clean he might have won the race. But that’s OK, he came back great and we’ll be looking for another spot.”

That next spot could come with Ortiz, Jr. at the helm as part of a rematch with Joey Freshwater in the Grade 2, $350,000 True North presented by F. W. Webb, a 6 1/2-furlong sprint for older horses on June 8 Belmont Stakes Day at Saratoga Race Course.

“Going 6 1/2-furlongs might be the best distance for him,” Reid, Jr. said. “Irad fits him perfect – nice and relaxed in the early part and then he comes rolling for you.”

Maximus Meridius, trained by co-owned by Reid, Jr. with LC Racing and Cash is King, is exiting a pair of runner-up efforts at Aqueduct having completed the exacta in the seven-furlong Grade 3 Bay Shore in April and the six-furlong Listed Gold Fever on May 5 when 2 1/2-lengths back of the victorious Doncho.

“He came out of it fine. He’s another horse that’s just learning,” Reid, Jr. said. “I think he’s got better with each start. We’re looking for middle distances for him, seven-eighths to a flat mile. He’s been back to the track and training well.”

Reid, Jr. did not dismiss tackling Doncho once more in the seven-furlong Grade 1, $500,000 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun on June 8 at Saratoga Race Course.

“It’s not an impossibility,” Reid, Jr. said. “I think the distance is good and we’re looking to have a fun weekend up at Saratoga. It’s our favorite spot and the owners really enjoy it, so maybe we’ll have a small entourage up there.”

Michael Milam and LC Racing’s Uncle Heavy was initially slated to take part in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes but is now confirmed for Saturday’s Grade 1 Preakness at Pimlico Race Course.

The Social Inclusion colt was a nose winner of the nine-furlong Grade 3 Withers here on February 3 but endured a troubled trip last out when a distant fifth in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial presented by Resorts World Casino on April 6 at the Big A.

Uncle Heavy has worked back three times at Parx, including a half-mile effort handily in 47.34 seconds Saturday.

“I was a little shocked at the time of his breeze yesterday and the kid said he felt like he was just floating over the ground,” Reid, Jr. said. “He ate up last night and he looked great this morning. I’m very happy with him and really excited about how he’s going into the Preakness.

“We realize we’re taking a shot but this horse has never been better and if ever there was a time to take a shot this is it,” he added. “He’s coming up to his best race and he’ll need to bring his best in that field, but we think he’s capable and the distance will not be a problem with him.”

Bred in Pennsylvania by Reid, Jr.’s sister-in-law Barbara Reid, Uncle Heavy has banked $323,580 through a 5-3-0-0 record.