Knickerbocker comes up tough at Belmont Park

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Jen Caldwell

October 7th, 2015

Saturday’s $200,000 Knickerbocker S. (G3) at Belmont Park came up pretty competitive, with the likes of Grade 1 victor V. E. Day and defending champion Legendary entered as part of the 11-horse field.

However, the biggest draw in the 1 1/8-mile inner turf contest is Mr Speaker for trainer Shug McGaughey. The dark bay colt really made a name for himself last year when upsetting the Belmont Derby Invitational (G1) at 23-1, though he had already broken through with a graded win on the main track two races before.

That main track victory actually came over Keeneland’s synthetic Polytrack when Mr Speaker captured the Lexington S. (G3) by four lengths. His only other main track appearances, both on dirt, resulted in unplaced runs in the Holy Bull S. (G2) and Travers S. (G1).

Mr Speaker has stuck to turf since his Travers foray, finishing fourth in Woodbine’s Sky Classic S. (Can-G2) and winning the Commonwealth Cup S. (G2) at Laurel Park in his past two efforts. Jose Ortiz was aboard for that latter race and retains the mount on Saturday in the Knickerbocker.

V. E. Day, on the other hand, will be trying turf for only the fifth time in his career. The Jimmy Jerkens-trained four-year-old had his best year in 2014, taking four straight races including a nose upset at 19-1 in the same Travers where Mr Speaker ran fifth.

Unfortunately, V. E. Day has not been able to find the winner’s circle since, though he has done better of late. The chestnut colt just missed by a quarter-length in the Brooklyn Invitational (G2) in early June and most recently finished second in the marathon 1 5/8-mile Temperence Hill Invitational, both at Belmont Park. If he can switch his current form to the turf, V. E. Day might be tough.

Legendary will be looking to both defend his title in the Knickerbocker and exact a bit of revenge on Mr Speaker Saturday. The duo met up last out in the Commonwealth Cup, with Legendary finishing second to his rival. It was the closest the six-year-old gelding has been to the winner’s circle since last year’s Knickerbocker score, which came under regular rider Sheldon Russell.

In addition to the aforementioned trio, there are a number of other win prospects in the Knickerbocker.

Middleburg has gone 2-2-1 from five starts this season, all on turf, including a last-out score in the Cliff Hanger S. (G3) to add a first stakes win to his resume. War Dancer was just a neck behind the winner when second in the Man o’ War S. (G1) over the spring and is exiting a fourth-placing, though well-beaten, in the Sword Dancer S. (G1). Lightly raced All Included is 6-4-0-1 on the turf in his eight-race career and was last seen finishing third in the Bernard Baruch H. (G2) on September 7.

On a quick sidenote, one of the definitions of Knickerbocker is “New Yorker,” but there are no New York-breds in Saturday’s race.

Mr Speaker photo courtesy of Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club