Practical Joke, Nonna Mela headline Belmont juvenile stakes

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Jen Caldwell

October 5th, 2016

Practical Joke has his work cut out for him as the Into Mischief colt takes on five rivals in the $500,000 Champagne Stakes (G1) as part of Belmont Park’s second Super Saturday of preps for horses heading to the Breeders’ Cup.

The Chad Brown trainee broke his maiden by five lengths and then took the Hopeful Stakes (G1) by a neck last out on September 5. Both of those starts came at Saratoga under Jose Ortiz, but Joel Rosario is taking the reins on Practical Joke for this one.

Syndergaard could make Practical Joke work for the win on Saturday. The Todd Pletcher trainee is also unbeaten in two starts, taking his maiden by three lengths and the Funny Cide Stakes by 10 lengths, both against fellow New York-breds. For that latter contest the Majesticperfection chestnut earned a 99 BRIS Speed rating, easily outstripping Practical Joke’s 90 from the Hopeful.

John Velazquez retains the mount on Syndergaard.

The remaining four Champagne runners are making their stakes bows in this spot. Thirst for Victory just broke his maiden by three lengths on August 13 at Saratoga for Pletcher while Favorable Outcome did the same thing by six lengths on August 20 for Brown.

Lookin at Blessing and Big Gray Rocket also bring wins into the race, earning their first scores for Nick Zito and Bob Baffert, respectively.

Earlier on the card, six juvenile fillies will go the same one-mile distance in the $400,000 Frizette Stakes (G1).

Nonna Mela dominated by six lengths in the Adirondack Stakes (G2) at Saratoga last out on August 16. The Pletcher trainee missed in her first start, finishing third on June 3, but returned a month later for a 7 1/4-length score against fellow maidens. Both those races came at Monmouth Park, and the dark bay daughter of Arch headed to the Spa for her stakes bow in the Adirondack.

"It was better than we expected," Pletcher said about the Adirondack. "She seemed to take care of a solid field pretty easily. I was impressed by the way she did it, impressed by the way she settled off one horse and really kicked on strongly, so we were really pleased with the way she ran.

"She's been training really well. I think she'll handle the step up in distance. She's trained as though she wants to run further. She's got three races under her belt and training well, so we're looking forward to it."

Nonna Mela got a jockey change to Javier Castellano for the 6 1/2-furlong Adirondack and keeps him in the saddle as she attempts to stretch out even farther here.

Nonna Mela may be the only stakes winner in the Frizette, but Yellow Agate proves slightly better in terms of BRIS Speed numbers. Nonna Mela was awarded a 91 BRIS Speed rating for her Adirondack victory on August 19, but Yellow Agate earned a 93 BRIS Speed figure for taking her debut at Belmont Park on September 11.

Trainer Christophe Clement saddled the Gemologist filly in that six-furlong contest and has tabbed Manuel Franco to return to the irons for Yellow Agate’s stakes bow.

"She had a nice work (5f in 1:01.55 on September 29) the other day in company to get her to relax a little bit and make sure we're OK, especially going a mile," assistant trainer Christophe Lorieul said. "She had a very good work. We know it's a big step going from a maiden win, but she's doing well and it's that time of the year where you can take a shot. If she runs good, our options are open."

Libby’s Tail and Star Super are the only other runners in the Frizette with prior stakes experience. Libby’s Tail finished fourth as the 3-2 favorite in the Adirondack last out following a 1 1/2-length debut win for trainer Rudy Rodriguez, while conditioner Dale Capuano sent Star Super out to a rallying third-place run in the Sorority Stakes at Monmouth Park.

"We were a little disappointed last time, I thought she could have finished better," Rodriguez said of Libby’s Tail. "We wanted to stretch her out and see if we could get lucky here. I hope the mile distance sets up well.

“We figured maybe she didn't like Saratoga, but she was training good. She liked running at Belmont before, so it'll be interesting to see her run again."

Regular riders Irad Oritz Jr. and Trevor McCarthy have the return calls on Libby’s Tail and Star Super, respectively.

Sky Gesture and Colorful Charades each just broke her maiden in August at Saratoga. The former got it done by 1 3/4 front-running lengths while the latter posted a half-length triumph on the front end. Mike Smith will be aboard Sky Gesture and Velazquez holding the reins of Colorful Charade as they make their stakes debut in this spot.

Practical Joke and Nonna Mela photos courtesy of NYRA/Chelsea Durand/Adam Coglianese Photography