Saturday again offers best of both breeds

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Ted Black

June 9th, 2016

While thoroughbred racing fans will be eagerly watching the Belmont Stakes and lucrative supporting undercard on Saturday afternoon, harness racing enthusiasts will not venture far from the track on Saturday night thanks to a stellar program at Mohawk Raceway in Canada that evening.

Saturday afternoon's Grade I, $1.5 millon Belmont Stakes may seem anticlimactic now since Exaggerator foiled Nyquist's bid for a Triple Crown in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico three weeks ago, but the demanding, one-mile and one-half classic still attracted 13 sophomores seeking their share of the spotlight. Preakness winner and Derby runner-up Exaggerator has been installed as the 9-5 favorite, but horses with his late-running style are not always successful in the Belmont.

In fact, those looking to play against Exaggerator will have ample options. Governor Malibu is improving with every start and has the rail following a good, second-place effort in the Peter Pan over the track. Both Cherry Wine and Stradivari ran well in the Preakness, while Lani has tried the Derby and the Preakness. Suddenbreakingnews was actually closing best of all in the Derby and then bypassed the Preakness, while Creator will look to uncork his late bid from post 13.

The Belmont Stakes is the final Grade I event on a card filled with graded stakes. One race earlier the best older turf horses will clash in the Grade I Manhattan at one-mile and one-quarter, with a stellar cast that includes defending champion Slumber, Wake Forest, Big Blue Kitten, Divisidero and the well-traveled Flintshire.

One race earlier it will be some of the best older dirt horses in the Grade I Metropolitan Handicap, also known as the Met Mile. Frosted, who spent much of last year chasing American Pharoah, is joined by Upstart, Stanford, Tamarkuz and Marking. Stanford won the Grade II, $1.25 million Charles Town Classic in his most recent outing and S'Marvelous exited that race to capture the Moutainview at Penn National last Saturday.

One race earlier it is the fillies and mares on display in the Just A Game and one race before that the three-year-old spirnters will take center stage in the Woody Stephens, named for the Hall of Fame conditioner who saddled five consecutive Belmont Stakes winners from 1982-86, including Caveat and Conquistador Cielo. Justin Squared and Tom's Ready will be among the faves.

The three prior races include the Grade I Ogden Phipps for fillies and mares on the dirt, the Brooklyn Handicap for older males on the main track and the Grade I Acorn Stakes for three-year-old fillies featuring Maryland-bred Cathryn Sophia, sharp winner of the Kentucky Oaks.

That same evening at Mohawk Raceway in Canada, a bevy of elimination events will take center stage as the various pacers look to secure berths in next week's lucrative finals. Granted, there may be some overlays in the elims, but watching them and taking notes to prepare for the finals is perhaps more important this week than seeking to dive in too deep at the windows.

Races two and three are the elims for the Fan Hanover for three-year-old filly pacers, with Pure Country highlighting the first elim and Darlinonthebeach and L A Delight featured in the second. Then two races later it's the first of two North America Cup elims with Check Six, Lyons Snyder and Control The Moment among the contenders in the first split, while Boston Red Rocks and Big Top Hanover will garner plenty of support in the second.

There will also be three divisions of the Roses Are Red eliminations slated as the 6th, 9th and 10th races on the card. Divine Caroline, Sandbetweenyourtoes, Sassa Hanover, Anndrovette and Devil Child top the first split, Yagonnakissmeornot, Lady Shadow and Empress Deo are featured in the second, while Venus Delight, Katie Said, Colors A Virgin, Solar Sister and Bettor Be Steppin highlight a solid third split.

That same evening Rosecroft Raceway will offer its final live card of the spring meet. Arpeggio Hanover (USHWA) and Concert Artist (Rosecroft) were honored as the track's respective horse of the meet winners on Tuesday, but the driving and training titles could come down to the final race on the card this Saturday. Jonathan Roberts won five races Tuesday to claim a two-win advantage over Russell Foster in the driver's standings heading into the finale this weekend.