Songbird ready to soar again on glittering undercard at Belmont
6.52pm (BST) Belmont Park
Ogden Phipps Stakes (Grade 1) 1m½f | dirt | 4yo+ f/m | ATR
The return of superstar filly Songbird (Jerry Hollendorfer/Mike Smith), a champion at both two and three, provides the major supporting highlight on a wonderful Belmont Stakes card featuring nearly $7.5million in prize-money.
With six Grade 1s among nine Graded stakes altogether, this final day of the three-day Belmont Stakes Festival offers America's best day's racing of the year outside the Breeders' Cup.
Songbird flies in from the West Coast to begin her four-year-old campaign against six rivals in the Ogden Phipps on her first start since an epic battle against the now-retired Beholder in last year's Breeders' Cup Distaff.
Although Songbird forfeited her unbeaten record by a nose that day, she did not damage her reputation one iota after a thrilling stretch-long battle against her exalted older rival.
A minor leg injury has delayed Songbird's reappearance, but she is sure to start a hot favourite to take her career record to 12 wins – seven of them at Grade 1 level – from 13 starts in this $750,000 event.
"She's bigger and stronger this year, but you still have to be able to make the transition, and I think she can make it," Hollendorfer told the Blood-Horse.
Smith added: "If the way she's looking and the way she's acting is any indication on how she's going to come back, I couldn't ask her to come back any better. She looks so good. I just can't brag enough about her.
"She's gotten older, and smarter, and she's just calmer about everything," he added. "I think there's a chance she could be even better. She's certainly bigger and stronger."
Songbird's main rival Carina Mia (Bill Mott/Julien Leparoux) won the Grade 1 Acorn on this card 12 months ago and has the benefit of a recent outing; less positively, she has been smashed out of sight by Songbird on more than one previous occasion.
Ladbrokes 1-3 Songbird, 6 Carina Mia, 10 Paid Up Subscriber, 16 Bar Of Gold, Highway Star, 40 bar.
Also on Saturday
10.37pm Belmont Park
Manhattan Stakes (Grade 1) 1m2f | turf | 4yo+ | ATR
Former Roger Charlton-trained five-year-old Time Test (Chad Brown/Javier Castellano) made the usual Juddmonte switch to the States in search of faster ground.
He was touched off on yielding ground in Grade 3 company on his debut for US champion trainer Chad Brown a month ago at this venue, but this time around he should get the surface he needs, in which case a first top-level success looks a distinct possibility in this $1m contest for the four-time Group-race winner.
According to Racing Post Ratings, he is at least 10lb clear of his rivals, who look much of a muchness.
Brown, who has won this in four of the last five years, also fields Beach Patrol (Florent Geroux) and Wake Forest (Irad Ortiz), both of them previous Grade 1 winners, and Divisidero (Buff Bradley/John Velazquez), who completed back-to-back victories in the Turf Classic on the Kentucky Derby card. German-trained Potemkin (Andreas Wohler/Eduardo Pedroza) has also won a Group, in Italy.
Ladbrokes 9-4 Time Test, 3 World Approval, 11-2 Divisidero, 13-2 Beach Patrol, 7 Sadler's Joy, 10 Potemkin, Wake Forest, 33 bar.
6.11pm Belmont Park
Acorn Stakes (Grade 1) 1m | dirt | 3yo fillies | ATR
Abel Tasman (Bob Baffert/Mike Smith) will start a strong favourite to become her trainer's fourth winner of this $700,000 event.
An enervating pace battle up front aided the filly's cause at Churchill Downs, where she rallied six wide from last place in the mud to claim America's most prestigious race for three-year-old fillies, where Salty (Mark Casse/Joel Rosario) got bumped a couple of times before finishing fifth.
Sweet Loretta (Todd Pletcher/Javier Castellano), a Grade 1 winner at two with a four-from-five career record, is another threat.
8.58pm Belmont Park
Longines Just A Game Stakes (Grade 1) 1m | turf | 4yo+ f/m | ATR
Grade 1 winners Dickinson (Kiaran McLaughlin/Paco Lopez) and last year's heroine Celestine (Christophe Clement/Jose Ortiz), both riding a three-race winning streak, clash here. Godolphin's Dickinson, who breaks from the rail, has won five out of six since being switched to turf, while Celestine was bought for $2.55m by Moyglare at Keeneland's November Breeding Stock Sale.
9.41pm Belmont Park
Metropolitan Hcap (Grade 1) 1m | dirt | 3yo+ | ATR
With prize-money of $1.2m, the race better known as the Met Mile is the richest of five Grade 1s on the Belmont Stakes undercard.
Topweight is Sharp Azteca (Jorge Navarro/Paco Lopez), a one-turn mile specialist who ran a fine race in defeat in the Godolphin Mile at Meydan on his most recent outing; he had Awesome Slew and Tommy Macho behind in the Gulfstream Park Handicap. Although he has yet to win a Grade 1, he has several Grade 1-level performances to his name.
West-coast visitor Mor Spirit (Bob Baffert/Mike Smith) looks a serious danger after seemingly finding his niche dropped back in trip with a couple of wide-margin victories in minor stakes company.