By Gene Kershner
ELMONT -- Today’s feature race at Belmont Park is the 124th running of the Grade 2 Brooklyn Handicap to be run over one full lap over the 1 ½-mile track. The distance is the same as Saturday’s final jewel of the Triple Crown and will be a test run for I’ll Have Another’s jockey Mario Gutierrez, who also has three other mounts on the Friday card. 12 horses will line up (including one coupled entry) in an attempt to win a race, won in the past by greats such as Discovery, Whirlaway, Kelso and Forego, that is run at the Belmont distance.
Gutierrez will ride 9-Boxeur Des Rues for Team O’Neill and owner J. Paul Reddam, the same connections as the Triple Crown seeking colt. He will be starting out of post No. 10, one down from where he will start on Saturday, so he should have a good feeling for how the track plays into the first turn from an outside post.
The California-based Boxeur Des Rues (12-1) was shipped in to both Churchill and Pimlico for Gutierrez to ride on the Derby and Preakness undercards, albeit both races were on the turf. He finished 10th in both races. “This is a really good opportunity for Mario, and I think the horse has a chance to compete and do well,” O’Neill said of Boxeur des Rues, who is 12-1 on the morning line.
The main rivals in the Brooklyn are the defending champion 5-Birdrun (4-1) who finished second to upset winner Afleet Again in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Marathon and 10-Redeemed (5-2 morning line favorite). Rajiv Maragh will ride Birdrun who is 2-for-2 at the distance and comes in off a loss in the $90K non-graded Milesius to Redeemed. That race was run at 1 1/8-miles over Big Sandy.
Birdrun, who won last year’s race by nearly four lengths, is the son of Birdstone, upset winner over Smarty Jones in the 2004 Belmont Stakes, ending that year’s Triple Crown hopes. Redeemed may have his word cut out as he has never ran at the Belmont distance, and could be a vulnerable favorite.
Todd Pletcher, who does not have a mount in the Belmont Stakes since 2005, will try and complete the first half of the Brooklyn-Belmont double with 4-Eye On Jacob (5-1). The A.P. Indy (1992 Belmont champion) 6-year-old has also never run at the distance, but is bred to run all day long also sports a monster workout on June 3 so he looks to be very fit coming into the race.
2-Hailstone (15-1) is my long shot possibility with a second place finish at 1 ½ miles on the turf at Gulfstream Park that earned a 105 Beyer Speed Figure and he has not shied away from top competition in the past. He looks to be a horse that could be running late and pick up the pieces should the pace warrant.
The race should prove to be telling based on how Gutierrez adapts to the track configurations. We favor the defending champ, Birdrun, who is proven at the distance and the pedigree of Eye On Jacob. We will make a win bet flyer on Hailstone to try and build the bankroll for Belmont Day. Make sure you check back here at the Sports, Ink blog tomorrow afternoon (approximately 2:30 p.m.) where we will be live blogging from Belmont Park right up until the time the horses load for the Belmont Stakes.
Post Time Outlook: 1-Birdrun; 2-Eye On Jacob; 3-Hailstone