Centennial Farms’ Rocketry, a popular and decisive allowance winner last out,will get a test of both class and endurance as he makes his return to graded-stakes competition in the Grade 2, $400,000 Belmont Gold Cup Invitational Friday at Belmont Park.
The fifth running of the two-mile Gold Cup Invitational, for 4-year-olds and up on the grass, is among five stakes, four graded, worth $1.65 million in purses on Day 2 of the three-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival. It is the second-richest on an 11-race card topped by the Grade 2, $600,000 New York for older females, also on turf.
Rocketry, a 4-year-old son of multiple graded-stakes winner Hard Spun, exits a three-length win as the favorite in a 1 ¼-mile second-level optional claiming allowance over a Belmont turf course rated good April 27. It marked his first win since an entry-level allowance last July at Saratoga Race Course.
“He’s doing good. He seems like he came back from the race good,” trainer Jimmy Jerkens said. “Two miles is two miles, but he acts like if any horse is able to do it, it’s him – the way his style is and just the way he’s been since the beginning. He’d fall way back early in his races, and horses that are usually that deliberate usually like to go a long way.”
Rocketry has gone as far as 1 3/8 miles twice, winning both times. He broke his maiden at the distance last June at Belmont prior to his triumph at Saratoga. In his only previous graded-stakes tries, he was fourth in the Grade 3 Saranac and sixth in the Grade 3 Hill Prince, both at 1 1/8 miles, last fall.
“We weren’t really looking at this race because it’s an invitational, but they called [Centennial’s] Don Little to invite him to the race if he had any interest in it. Once we found that out we said, ‘Might as well,’” Jerkens said. “It’s a big purse and not too many horses want to go that far. I’m not absolutely sure ours does either, but he seems to be relaxed enough in the early part of his races to where he can get in a nice rhythm for two miles.”
Jerkens was concerned Rocketry might have been a bit too relaxed in his most recent effort, his first under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, who will return to ride from outside Post 10 at 117 pounds. They trailed the field through a half-mile before coming with a steady, five-wide run to take the lead in upper stretch and edge clear.
“It was a long steady run and Johnny was very impressed by it,” Jerkens said. “Usually when you ask horses to kick in like that and they’re losing ground at the same time, they’ll get to the leaders and start to hang a little bit. Then, maybe you can get a little bit more out of them at the very end, but he said his run was just sustained.
“He turns off on his own. It’s almost like, ‘Come on,’” he added. “He really almost got detached from the field the first quarter of a mile in his last race. I was a little worried about that but then when he decided to run and said, ‘Ok, it’s time to go,’ he sustained it. He had a pretty good long run so that gives you pretty good hope for a race like this.”
Edmond and Sharon Hudon’s Nessy, narrowly beaten in a pair of graded turf marathons at Gulfstream Park over the winter, is coming off a one-length victory in the Grade 3 San Juan Capistrano run at about 1 ¾ miles April 22 over the turf course at Santa Anita.
The 6-year-old gelding has shown an affinity for the longer distances, winning a 1 ½-mile allowance and running second in the 1 5/8-mile John’s Call at Saratoga and finishing second in the Grade 3 Sycamore last fall at Keeneland.
This year, the Ian Wilkes trainee was second in the Grade 3 W.L. McKnight and third in the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida at Gulfstream, beaten a total of two lengths. Hall of Famer Mike Smith, aboard for the last start, gets the return call from Post 6 at co-highweight of 121 pounds.
“Nessy’s really gotten into a nice niche, a nice rhythm,” Wilkes said. “And he’s developing. The farther they go, the better he gets.”
Bloom Racing Stable and Allen Racing’s Run Time owns a win at the two-mile distance, that coming in the H. Allen Jerkens Memorial December 30 at Gulfstream Park where he settled near the rear of the field before coming with a determined run to get up by a head. Jockey Luis Saez, up for a December 6allowance win at Gulfstream, rides from Post 7 at 115 pounds.
The Gold Cup Invitational will have a European flavor with three horses coming in from overseas – Call to Mind, Funny Kid and Prince of Arran. Call to Mind, bred and owned by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, is group-stakes placed in France and England and owns a win at 1 ¾ miles in the Goodwood Revival March Stakes last August for trainer William Haggas.
Funny Kid, a Wertheimer Et Frere homebred trained by Christophe Ferland, takes a two-race win streak into the Gold Cup Invitational. Worse than third only twice in 18 career starts, the 5-year-old son of 1999 Belmont Stakes winner Lemon Drop Kid won a two-mile allowance at Lingfield March 30 and the Group 3 Prix de Barbeville April 29, contested over 1 15/16 miles at Longchamp.
Rabbah Bloodstock’s English homebred Prince of Arran has made six career starts at two miles, winning the Range Rover Sport Handicap February 15 at Meydan – his most recent victory – and running second in the Group 3 Longines Sagaro Stakes last May.
Completing the field are 2017 Laurel Turf Cup winner Canessar, sixth in the Grade 2 Elkhorn April 21 off a six-month layoff in his lone start this year; Postulation, winner of the Grade 3 American St. Leger last August who ran sixth in the Grade 1 Man o’ War May 12 at Belmont; Cooptado, a Group 1 winner in Singapore in 2015 exiting a seventh-place finish in the Grade 3 Louisville Handicap May 19; and recent Keeneland allowance winner Focus Group, making his graded-stakes debut for trainer Chad Brown.
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