Pletcher’s longshots can’t be ignored in Belmont Stakes

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NEW YORK (AP) Trainer Todd Pletcher, always dangerous in the Belmont Stakes, sends out a pair of long shots Saturday in the final leg of the Triple Crown.

The focus of attention will fall on two other horses – Tacitus, the 9-5 favorite, and War of Will, the Preakness winner and the close second choice at 2-1.

Bettors who ignore Pletcher do so at their peril.

Pletcher’s duo this year includes Spinoff, 15-1 after finishing 18th in the Kentucky Derby, and the lightly-raced Intrepid Heart at 10-1.

Pletcher owns three Belmont wins: the filly Rags to Riches (2007), Palace Malice (2013) and Tapwrit (2017).

None were favored in the wagering, ranging in price from 4-1 on Rags to Riches up to 13-1 for Palace Malice’s upset.

Even when he doesn’t win, Pletcher often lands a piece of the action. Since sending out his first Belmont runner in 2000, Pletcher has been second five times and three times finished third in the 1+ mile race.

Belmont Park is Pletcher’s base of operation, and he targets this race.

Like most trainers who develop 3-year-olds, Pletcher takes aim first at the Kentucky Derby. When that doesn’t pan out, Pletcher immediately turns his attention to the Belmont.

“It’s a race we really cherish,” Pletcher said. “It’s home for us. I think one of the advantages is most of our horses have trained five weeks at Belmont after the Derby. It helps, and it’s a race we really enjoy.”

Pletcher’s best Belmont hope this time probably rests with Intrepid Heart, running for only the fourth time. The gray colt stumbled at the start of his most recent outing, the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont, and ran third as the even-money favorite in his first career loss.

“We were disappointed in the outcome of the race for sure because going in he had a big chance to win,” Pletcher said.

He will make an equipment change, adding blinkers to narrow Intrepid Heart’s field of vision. Blinkers often help improve focus by screening distractions.

Intrepid Heart should be acclimated, having worn the blinkers in his last two workouts.

As for Spinoff, Pletcher blames the poor effort on the sloppy track on Derby Day.

“The horse has trained, to me, consistently with some of the horses we’ve run in the Belmont over the years that have performed well,” Pletcher said. “I’m hoping he catches a fast track and gets to prove how good he is, or is not.”

In the end, it comes to down to hoping the home-field advantage again comes into play for the seven-time Eclipse Award winner as Outstanding Trainer.

“I think you can make that argument from the standpoint of training on a mile and a half track,” Pletcher said. “Getting accustomed to that can be helpful.”

Higher Power wins $1M Pacific Classic

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DEL MAR, Calif. — With his top two horses elsewhere, John Sadler took a chance with a couple others in his barn.

Higher Power paid off.

The 4-year-old colt took command turning into the stretch and won the $1 million Pacific Classic by 5 1/4 lengths at Del Mar on Saturday, making Sadler the first trainer to win the Grade 1 race in consecutive years with different horses.

“The second time is just as sweet,” Sadler said.

In 2018, Accelerate ended Sadler’s 0-for-11 skid with a record 12 1/2-length victory in the West’s biggest race of the summer. Owner-brothers Kosta and Pete Hronis joined Sadler with consecutive victories.

“Winning it back to back is a tribute to John Sadler,” Kosta Hronis said.

Ridden by Flavien Prat, Higher Power ran 1 1/4 miles in 2:02.43 at the seaside track north of San Diego. Sent off at 9-1 odds, the colt paid $21.20, $9.40 and $7.40.

“When we entered the backside he really grabbed the bit and I was travelling really well,” Prat said. “Once the leader fell apart he really jumped into the bridle and did everything on his own, so I thought that was the right move.”

Draft Pick returned $17.40 and $10 at 13-1 odds. Mongolian Groom was another neck back in third and paid $7.20 to show at 18-1 odds.

Higher Power earned an automatic berth in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita this fall.

Seeking the Soul, the 2-1 favorite, finished seventh.

“He didn’t try at all,” jockey John Velazquez said. “No effort. I don’t get it.”

Sadler’s top two handicap horses, Gift Box and Catalina Cruiser, weren’t in the picture. Gift Box won’t run again until this fall and Catalina Cruiser is tabbed to run next in a sprint race.

Not seeing a dominant horse in the race, Sadler entered Higher Power. The colt responded with the first stakes win of his career.

“It developed pretty much the way we thought,” he said. “We thought there would be some speed on the inside and the plan was to stalk. It came out the way we thought it would.”

Sadler’s other entry, Campaign, finished fifth.

The victory, worth $600,000, increased Higher Power’s career earnings to $800,648, with five wins in 13 starts.

Sadler didn’t get Higher Power in his barn until spring. The colt was with another trainer for the first six starts of his career and then transferred to a different trainer.

In other stakes:

– Acclimate won the $250,000 Del Mar Handicap by a length under Florent Geroux. The 5-year-old brown gelding earned an automatic berth in the BC Turf.

Trained by Phil D’Amato, Acclimate ran 1 3/8 miles on turf in 2:12.71 and paid $16.60 to win at 7-1 odds.

– Cambier Parc shipped in from New York and won the $300,000 Del Mar Oaks by 1 1/4 lengths for trainer Chad Brown.

Ridden by Velazquez, the 3-year-old filly ran 1 1/8 miles on turf in 1:46.75. She paid $4.40 as the 6-5 favorite.

– Fighting Mad cruised to an eight-length victory in the $100,000 Torrey Pines Stakes.

Ridden by Joe Talamo, the 3-year-old filly ran one mile in 1:38.61. Fighting Mad paid $6.60 as the 2-1 favorite trained by Bob Baffert. She’s owned by Gary and Mary West, owners of Maximum Security, disqualified after finishing first in the Kentucky Derby.

– Mr Vargas won the $100,000 Green Flash Handicap by 2 1/4 lengths.

The 5-year-old gelding ran five furlongs on turf in 56.15 seconds under Talamo. Mr Vargas paid $8.40 to win for trainer Brian Koriner.

Horologist upsets Jaywalk in Monmouth Oaks

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OCEANPORT, N.J. — Horologist upset Jaywalk, last year’s juvenile filly champion, in the $162,500 Monmouth Oaks on Saturday.

As expected, 1-5 favorite Jaywalk set the pace until Horologist made a strong run along the rail on the final turn. She slipped by to win by three quarters of a length in the stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Monmouth Park.

Horologist, bred in New Jersey, won for the fifth time in 10 starts for trainer John Mazza. Mazza said he was confident his horse would run a “bang-up race,” but he didn’t know it would be enough to beat a “champion like Jaywalk.”

Angel Suarez was aboard for the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.44.

Jaywalk was coming off a nine-length win in the Delaware Oaks last month. She closed out last season by winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies to clinch the Eclipse Award.

Horologist – whose name refers to a maker or dealer of timepieces – paid 12.80, $3.40 and $2.10 as the 5-1 second choice in the five-horse field.

Jaywalk returned $2.10 and $2.10. Sweet Sami D paid $2.10 to show, and was followed by Lady Banba and Stay Smart.