Fort Larned, Hymn Book drill for Jockey Club Gold Cup

Fort Larned, Hymn Book drill for Jockey Club Gold Cup

At Belmont Park on Sunday, Grade 1 Whitney Invitational Handicap winner Fort Larned turned in his final serious work for Saturday's Grade 1, $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational, covering five furlongs in 1:01 shortly after 6:30 a.m. (EDT).

Exercise rider Kate Merritt was aboard for the move, which tied for the fourth-fastest of 11 at the distance over the main track listed as good.

"He did exactly what we wanted him to do, and went very well," said Peggy Dunleavy, assistant to trainer Ian Wilkes. "He was very professional, and did it the right way."

The four-year-old Fort Larned heads into the 1 1/4-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup having put together impressive back-to-back victories in the August 4 Whitney and the Grade 3 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker on June 30, recording BRIS Speed ratings of 109 and 106, respectively.

Maintaining that form has been a primary focus, Dunleavy said.

"Keeping him happy is the key," she said. "It's an easy ship from Saratoga to here, and we're keeping the same basic routine. He likes this track, to be quite honest. He's a pretty easy horse to be around."

Wilkes, who was at Belmont Saturday to saddle Island Bound to an unplaced finish in the Grade 2 Gallant Bloom Handicap, departed for Kentucky Sunday morning and will return on Thursday, Dunleavy added.

Jockey Club Gold Cup contender Hymn Book fired a bullet Sunday morning, to the delight of Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey.

The Grade 1 Donn Handicap hero zipped a half-mile in :46 4/5, tying for the fastest of 18 at the distance over the good main track.

"I wanted to do something more with Hymn Book because he hasn't raced in two months," McGaughey said of the Stuart S. Janney colorbearer, most recently fourth to Fort Larned in the Whitney.

"I'm very pleased with both of them," the trainer added, including turf star Point of Entry, who is bound for Saturday's Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational.

Little Mike, Point of Entry on course for Joe Hirsch

Trainer Dale Romans, who has already has established a personal record for single-season North American earnings in 2012, has confirmed Little Mike and Finnegans Wake for Saturday's Grade 1, $600,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational and Dullahan primed for the Grade 1, $400,000 Jamaica Handicap on October 6.

The Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational will be the first start at 1 1/2 miles for both the five-year-old Little Mike and three-year-old Finnegans Wake, with the latter also set to take on older horses for the first time.

Owned by Priscilla Vaccarezza, Little Mike will attempt to carry his speed an additional quarter mile after leading the Grade 1, 1 1/4-mile Arlington Million from gate to wire on August 18. The gelding posted a 1:03 2/5 five-furlong breeze on Saturday at Churchill.

"(The distance is) a question mark," Romans said. "It always is whenever you try something for the first time, but he's done everything we've asked him to do. Pace is the race. That's the key with him."

Both Finnegans Wake, second in the Grade 1 Secretariat on August 18 at Arlington Park, and Dullahan, winner of the Grade 1 Pacific Classic over older horses on August 26 at Del Mar, race for Donegal Racing and turned in Saturday breezes at Churchill Downs. Finnegans Wake went six furlongs in 1:15 4/5, with Dullahan going five furlongs in 1:02 1/5.

Romans considered running Dullahan in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic before opting to send Finnegans Wake to the race. Instead, Dullahan will compete in the Jamaica, a 1 1/8-mile turf race for three-year-olds, one week later.

"It was less about timing (to the Breeders' Cup in November) for Dullahan than it was about giving Finnegans Wake the chance to try a mile and a half," Romans said of the decision. "I think (Finnegans Wake is) going to relish the distance."

Dullahan, a three-time Grade 1 winner on Polytrack, will be making his first start on grass in the Jamaica since finishing second in the Grade 3 Palm Beach in March.

"By sending Dullahan to the Jamaica, he still gets to try the turf while getting to stay against straight three-year-olds," Romans noted.

The main threat to Romans' duo in the Joe Hirsch is Point of Entry, a winner of four straight who comes off back-to-back Grade 1 wins in the Man o' War and Sword Dancer Invitational.

On Sunday, the Shug McGaughey trainee covered a half-mile in :50 in a visually impressive breeze around the "dogs" over Belmont's good turf course.
"I was especially happy with the way he finished up," McGaughey said of the Dynaformer colt.

Trainer Chad Brown's dynamic pair of Dream Peace and Zagora tuned up for Saturday's Grade 1 Flower Bowl Invitational by firing a bullet on the lawn. The stablemates negotiated five grassy furlongs in an identical 1:01 2/5.

French Group 2 winner Dream Peace exits a strong second to Winter Memories in the Grade 1 Diana on July 28. Zagora, a flat third when trying to defend her title in the Diana, came right back to set a course record in the Grade 2 Ballston Spa on August 25.

Shackleford fires bullet ahead of Kelso; The Lumber Guy returns in Vosburgh

Classic winner Shackleford breezed five furlongs in a bullet 1:00 4/5 at his Churchill Downs base on Sunday, pleasing trainer Dale Romans in his last major move ahead of Saturday's Grade 2 Kelso Handicap at Belmont.

Shackleford will be returning to the scene of his victory in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap, which was contested over the Kelso's one-mile distance in May. The flashy chestnut has raced only once since, finishing eighth in the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap on August 5 at Saratoga. He originally was pointed toward Saratoga's Grade 1 Forego on September 1 but bypassed the race after developing a cough.

Shackleford's time ranked as the best of 18 works at the distance by a full second. The second-best clocking of 1:01 4/5 was turned in by Grade 2 veteran Joyful Victory.

"It was as good of a work as he's ever had, and we did the right thing by skipping the Forego," said Romans, who trains the chestnut for Michael Lauffer, W.D. Cubbedge and the Phillips Racing Partnership. "We're looking for a big effort from him."

In other Super Saturday news, trainer Michael Hushion reports that Grade 2-winning sophomore The Lumber Guy is set for the Grade 1 Vosburgh Invitational, which will be his first start in 4 1/2 months and first foray against his elders.

After winning the Grade 2 Jerome in April at Aqueduct, The Lumber Guy faded to sixth in Belmont's Grade 2 Peter Pan in May, prompting Hushion and owner Barry Schwartz to freshen the New York-bred.

The Lumber Guy, who worked five furlongs in a bullet :58 2/5, handily, on Thursday, will be cutting back from 1 1/8 miles to six furlongs in the Vosburgh.
"My opinion is that he fits (in the Vosburgh)," Hushion said. "I don't know how it will set up, but I think he'll be close to the pace. I don't know if he'll be the pace or not. He's very sharp right now. We'll see how fast and how far he can run. They're nice horses, but I don't know if the Breeders' Cup winner is in (the Vosburgh)."

Hall of Famer John Velazquez will ride The Lumber Guy, Hushion added.

The Steve Asmussen barn, which sent out Dust and Diamonds to score in Saturday's Grade 2 Gallant Bloom Handicap, will attempt to land another Belmont graded sprint stakes next week with Zayat Stables' Justin Phillip in the Vosburgh.

On Sunday, Justin Phillip breezed four furlongs over Belmont's good main track in :49 4/5 as he prepares for his first start since finishing second by a neck in the Vanderbilt.

In his two prior starts, Justin Phillip he was third, beaten 1 3/4 lengths, in the Mr. Prospector in July at Monmouth Park and runner-up by three-quarters of a length in the Grade 2 True North Handicap in June at Belmont.

"He's been performing right there and has been getting beat right on the jump, not quite getting there," said Toby Sheets, Asmussen's Belmont-based assistant. "We just need luck to go our way a little bit. (Saturday) would be an awesome day for that."

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