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Belmont card makes the grade

Lots of star power in Breeders’ preps

Associated Press / October 1, 2011

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For those interested in a sneak preview of the Breeders’ Cup in five weeks, check out Belmont Park today.

A cavalcade of stars featuring 3-year-olds Stay Thirsty and Uncle Mo along with Horse of the Year contending filly Havre de Grace headline a card that includes six graded stakes races - five of them Grade 1’s - in a span of three hours.

Across the country, Santa Anita will be holding its own Breeders’ Cup previews, headlined by Blind Luck making her final tuneup for the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic when she runs in the Lady’s Secret Stakes, one of the card’s four Grade 1 races. The winner of each of the $250,000 races will earn an automatic berth in the Breeders’ Cup.

Blind Luck, last year’s 3-year-old filly champion, has never finished out of the money in 21 career starts for trainer and co-owner Jerry Hollendorfer.

But the main events will be at Belmont.

The trio of thoroughbreds will compete in different races at Belmont, but could end up going against each other in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, the showcase race of the Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs Nov. 4-5. On the line could be Horse of the Year honors.

“This is such a pivotal weekend,’’ said Todd Pletcher, who sends out Stay Thirsty in the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup and Uncle Mo in the $200,000 Kelso Handicap. “At this stage it seems like it’s pretty wide open but you run these final preps and there could be some things that become a lot more clear.’’

Havre de Grace is the overwhelming 3-5 favorite in the $350,000 Beldame, which drew a field of five fillies and mares. The 4-year-old Havre de Grace has won four of five starts this year, including a rousing victory over the boys in the Woodward at Saratoga on Sept. 3. Her lone loss was by a nose to rival Blind Luck in the Delaware Handicap on July 16.

Trainer Larry Jones says Havre de Grace is one fabulous racehorse.

“You run into lots of things but this is the first time I have ever in my life felt like I had the total package all in one horse,’’ said Jones, who trained top horses Hard Spun, Proud Spell, and Eight Belles. “This horse can just do whatever and she shows it and she makes me look smart because she makes me look like I can train a horse when it’s her. I promise you, she is just some kind of animal.’’

Stay Thirsty and Uncle Mo are pretty special, too. And Mike Repole, who owns both colts, isn’t shy about talking them up. He was counting on a “Repole double’’ at Saratoga Aug. 27, but Uncle Mo was beaten by a nose in the King’s Bishop in the race before Stay Thirsty’s victory in the Travers.

Repole is feeling pretty confident again.

“If Stay Thirsty wins the Gold Cup, I think we just may have the 3-year-old champion,’’ said Repole of his colt whose résumé includes a runner-up finish in the Belmont followed by wins in the Jim Dandy and the Travers.

As for Uncle Mo, Repole believes the colt is back to last season’s 2-year-old championship form after missing the Triple Crown races with a liver disease. His effort in the King’s Bishop was compelling evidence.

“Mo looks as good as he ever has,’’ said Repole. “He won the Champagne at Belmont [last year], and I think he’s going to put on a nice little show for us.’’

Stay Thirsty is the second choice behind 7-5 favorite Flat Out in the 1 1/4-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup. Stay Thirsty, with Javier Castellano aboard, is 8-5 in a seven-horse field. The 5-year-old Flat Out won the Suburban Handicap at Belmont July 2.

In the other races at Belmont:

■ Big Drama heads a field of nine sprinters in the six-furlong, $350,000 Vosburgh Invitational. Also entered are graded-stakes winners Eurorears, Trappe Shot, Justin Phillip and Calibrachoa.

■Cape Blanco, winner of the Man o’ War and the Arlington Million, is the favorite in the 1 1/2-mile, $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational. His chief rival looks to be last year’s Joe Hirsch winner Winchester.

■Beverly D winner Stacelita tops the eight-horse field in the 1 1/4-mile, $500,000 Flower Bowl Invitational on the turf.

The winners of all six races earn automatic berths into corresponding Breeders’ Cup races as part of the event’s “Win and You’re In’’ program.