Suburban features key player in older horse division
After serving as a premiere event for many decades, the Suburban Handicap was downgraded from Grade 1 to Grade 2 status in 2009. The move came as a no surprise following consecutive wins by a trio of unheralded horses -- Political Force, Frost Giant and Dry Martini.
However, the 1 ¼-mile race at Belmont Park still remains relevant. The last 12 runnings have featured a pair of eventual Horse of the Year recipients, Mineshaft (2003) and Invasor (2006), along with Breeders' Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man (2012) and two-time Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational hero Flat Out, winner of the 2011 and 2013 editions.
Saturday’s Suburban is important due to the presence of Tonalist, the leading North American older horse presently in training.
Injuries and regressions have exacted a severe toll on an older horse division that appeared formidable entering 2015. Shared Belief sustained a season-ending injury in April and Horse of the Year California Chrome is taking a European sojourn, with the grassy Arlington Million in August the next target if he recovers from a foot abscess.
Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Bayern did not go on, finishing last in both starts this year, and Grade 1 victor Wicked Strong has also taken a step back at age four. Palace Malice looked ready to make a major impact before a foot problem derailed his progress this spring and he's been missing from the worktab since May 5.
Constitution got hurt and Danza was forced to the sidelines during the winter. Race Day and Protonico, multiple graded stakes winners this year, are at least back working for Todd Pletcher after missing the Met Mile and Stephen Foster, respectively, in recent months.
Expectations were also high for Hoppertunity and Lea, Grade 1 winners who are now looking to snap losing streaks. Hard Aces earned his first graded stakes victory edging Hoppertunity in last Saturday’s Gold Cup at Santa Anita and Noble Bird did the same when defeating Lea by a neck in the Stephen Foster.
Tonalist can assert his superiority and restore some luster to the older horse division in the six-horse Suburban.
The Christophe Clement-trained colt will be a heavy favorite against Brooklyn winner Coach Inge and Effinex, who was eased as the 3-1 second choice in the Brooklyn. In addition to Coach Inge, Pletcher will send out Mylute, a convincing allowance winner last out who will be seeking his first stakes tally.
Tonalist’s form towers over the competition. All four of his stakes victories have come at Belmont Park, including the 2014 Belmont Stakes, and the bay son of Tapit opened this season with an excellent score in the May 2 Westchester, overcoming a slow start to record a powerful 3 ¾-length decision.
He exits a respectable second in the Met Mile to Honor Code, a classy one-turn specialist, and Tonalist has registered superb BRIS Speed ratings of 106 and 105 this year.
With the Breeders’ Cup Classic taking place at Keeneland, Tonalist must still prove himself outside of New York, but that’s a future concern. Saturday’s Suburban provides a prime opportunity for Tonalist to continue building momentum as we head into the second-half of the racing calendar.
Tonalist photo courtesy of Adam Coglianese Photography