Sorry, fans of the Big A. The spring meet on the outer course has drawn to a close, and this weekend New York racing resumes ten miles northeast, at Belmont Park.
Anchoring Saturday's card there is the Elusive Quality Stakes, a $150,000 event challenging older horses to run a distance and configuration rare at North American tracks: a one-turn, seven-furlong trip on grass. The race takes its name from Elusive Quality, in honour of his frontrunning tour de force score in the 1998 Poker Handicap (G3) at Belmont. Trained by Bill Mott and owned by Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum, the son of Gone West won nine times in 20 career starts, including four victories at Belmont Park. Still standing stud at Darley, Elusive Quality's progeny have included Breeders' Cup Turf winner Raven's Pass, Golden Slipper (G1) winner Sepoy, and dual Classic winner Smarty Jones.
A Lot digs in to deny the classy Green Mask in the 2016 Elusive Quality Stakes.
2017 marks just the fourth running of the Elusive Quality Stakes. In all instances it has been carded for seven furlongs on grass. However, the first running in 2014 was washed to the main; Integrity won a four-horse battle. The next year, Mosler shortened up to seven furlongs and galloped home two lengths clear. Last year, A Lot held by a nose over a gaining Green Mask, with the previous year's winner Mosler third.
Selections are made for turf only. Morning lines were not available at original publish time. Updated Thursday, April 27 to add morning lines.
Belmont Park: Saturday, April 29
Race 8: Elusive Quality Stakes, four-year-olds and up, seven furlongs on the Widener turf, post time 5:13pm EDT
This year's renewal of the Elusive Quality drew seven, plus two main-track only entrants. The weather calls for sunny days through Saturday, so expect this race to stay on the grass.
NEVER GONE SOUTH tries grass for the first time in the Elusive Quality. Admittedly, the bottom side of NEVER GONE SOUTH's breeding is quite dirt-oriented; his dam, a half to classy dirt horse Peace Rules, only won on dirt. However, damsire Perfect Soul excelled on grass, and has produced solid grass runners. His sire, Munnings, also has a 12% progeny win rate first time on grass -- not stellar, but not bad either. Munnings is also as good a seven-furlong sire as there is out there, and NEVER GONE SOUTH has relished seven panels on dirt. Unlike with several of the horses in this field, the distance is known to suit him. The pace in the race should also suit NEVER GONE SOUTH. He is a forward yet ratable sort. Without any one-way speed in this race, NEVER GONE SOUTH is fast enough to take initiative if no one else does, but versatile enough to bide his time and run at them later if that ends up prudent.
New York-bred DISCO PARTNER has been holding his own in turf sprint stakes and classy allowances against open company, and the level of this race fits him just right. He has not raced since October of last year, but has shown the ability to fire first off the lay. DISCO PARTNER also got a barn move over the winter to Christophe Clement, a 23% victor with runners laid off 90 days or longer. The course and distance suit: he has been in the exacta in five of seven tries over the Belmont grass, and also has a seven-furlong turf win to his name. A bit of pace in front of him would suit DISCO PARTNER best, but he also has some races in which he was able to close into a slower pace.
Woodbine invader CALGARY CAT also merits a look. Though he has never gone seven furlongs on the turf, he won a tough edition of the Nearctic (G2) going six furlongs on grass last year, and finished a well-closing fourth in the six and a half furlong Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (G1) last out. He has enough form to suggest that the extended turf sprint distance will suit. CALGARY CAT is perhaps a little more pace-dependent than DISCO PARTNER, as his best finishes do come with a bit of pace in front of him, but he reliably fires. And, though CALGARY CAT has not raced since last November, trainer Kevin Attard knows how to get a horse ready off the lay -- a 22% winner, with positive ROI, with runners laid off 90 days or longer.
#4 NEVER GONE SOUTH (15/1)
#5 DISCO PARTNER (2/1)
#8 CALGARY CAT (5/2)
Longshot: #7 GREAT WIDE OPEN (20/1) showed nothing in his only US start, a well-beaten tenth place finish in the Bonapaw Stakes at Fair Grounds in December. However, being slow early took him off his better style; his classier victories in Ireland came on or near the pace. With no one-way speed and a better break, GREAT WIDE OPEN could establish himself as the one to catch. He also stretches out here. The Bonapaw Stakes only covers five and a half furlongs, and there he faced turf dash fireballs like Green Mask and Hogy. Looking back to his European form, the seven furlongs of the Elusive Quality fits GREAT WIDE OPEN's form far better than a frantic five and a half. With the added distance, and certain to be a long price, GREAT WIDE OPEN could be the front-end spoiler.
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