Knickerbocker could have Breeders’ Cup Mile implications

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October 7th, 2016

Although not nearly as deep as Saturday’s $1 million Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) at Keeneland, Monday’s $200,000 Knickerbocker (G3) at Belmont Park could itself yield a contender for the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1).

Trainer Brian Lynch has that itinerary in mind for Heart to Heart, who returns from his summer vacation in this well-matched 1 1/8-mile affair. The former Canadian champion had compiled a three-race winning spree last fall and winter, wiring the River City (G3) over this trip at Churchill Downs and likewise dictating every step of the way in Gulfstream’s Ft Lauderdale (G2) and Canadian Turf (G3). Second when trying to give the classy Miss Temple City seven pounds in the Maker’s 46 Mile (G1) at Keeneland, Heart to Heart was last seen tiring to fourth in the June 4 Shoemaker Mile (G1) at Santa Anita.

The son of English Channel might be vulnerable in this spot. Aside from the facts that he’s coming back at nine furlongs off a layoff, as the 124-pound co-highweight, and hoping to use this as a prep, Heart to Heart is likely to have a pace rival in Tale of Fancy. A Charles Fipke homebred trained by Barclay Tagg, Tale of Fancy cleared his first two allowance conditions in front-running fashion this summer. So far, he’s shaped as a need-to-lead type, presenting a head-on clash with control freak Heart to Heart.

Perhaps the Knickerbocker will finally be Jay Gatsby’s turn. The Giant’s Causeway half-brother to War Front comes off two tough beats at Saratoga for Jimmy Jerkens. Rallying wide (pictured) off a modest pace to miss by a nose in the Lure, Jay Gatsby was then a buffeted second, beaten a neck, in the Bernard Baruch (G2). Considering that Baruch hero Ring Weekend is a Grade 1 winner eligible to pick up more black-type in Saturday’s Shadwell, and Baruch third Take the Stand is a Grade 2-winning Fair Grounds course record-setter, Jay Gatsby is plenty good enough to win this. His bad luck now ironically becomes his advantage, since Jay Gatsby gets in with just 117 pounds, seven fewer than the co-highweights.

Heart to Heart has three fellow co-highweights in Blacktype, Can’thelpbelieving, and Takeover Target. The Christophe Clement-trained Blacktype hasn’t lost since checking in third to Jay Gatsby in a Belmont allowance back in June. His current three-race spree is highlighted by the Oceanport (G3) on Haskell Day and the Commonwealth Turf Cup (G2) in course-record time at Laurel last out. Graham Motion’s honest Can’thelpbelieving, who wasn’t quite getting there in major stakes going longer, enjoyed a cutback to 1 1/8 miles and earned his first graded win in Monmouth’s Cliff Hanger (G3).

Takeover Target spearheads the trio from the Chad Brown barn. Galvanized by the addition of blinkers, and a “good” course, to deny comebacker Ring Weekend in the Dixie (G2) on Preakness Day, Takeover Target hasn’t run up to that level in the interim. If the firm ground was a contributing factor in his non-threatening fourths in the Poker (G3) and Baruch, he’ll have to hope that Saturday’s forecast rain comes down in buckets, and leaves its mark on the inner turf.

Stablemate March has appeal in his second start of his belated 2016 campaign. Although only fourth in his turf debut at Belmont in last fall’s English Channel, the Brown pupil took a leap forward when a near-miss runner-up in the Hollywood Derby (G1). March wasn’t seen again until Saratoga, but nearly won first up in a one-mile allowance, and gets an extra furlong here. Mr Maybe, whose late-season 2015 progress had stalled this year, snapped his losing skid in the 1 5/8-mile John’s Call at the Spa. He hopes to keep it going on the half-mile drop in trip.

Millionaire War Dancer has found new life since turning back in distance, and the Bill Mott veteran asserted his substantial class edge in the PTHA President’s Cup at Parx in his latest. His 0-4 mark at Belmont, including a seventh in last year's Knickerbocker, isn't as concerning if you recall he almost stole in the 2015 Man o' War (G1).

Photos courtesy Coglianese Photography

Heart to Heart photo by Lauren King

Jay Gatsby (missing to Shining Copper) photo via NYRA/Susie Raisher