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Clement Holds Strong Poker Hand

Za Approval wins 2013 Knickerbocker.
Photo: NYRA, Adam Coglianese
Trainer Christophe Clement has a strong hand for the Grade 3, $300,000 Poker, to be run on Memorial Day, and the Grade 2, $200,000 Sheepshead Bay, to be run on the preceding Saturday. In the Poker, Clement is likely send out Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Mile runner-up Za Approval, who is winless through two starts in 2014 but has won two graded stakes at the distance in addition to his strong showing in last year's Breeders' Cup. He was fourth in both the Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe in March at Santa Anita and the Grade 1 Maker's 46 Mile on April 11 at Keeneland.


"As long as the ground is not too soft, Za Approval will run [in the Poker]," said Clement. "He loves it firm. I ran him a little bit unfit in California first time out [in 2014] and he went off form in Kentucky, though I'm not exactly sure why. He came back here and seems to be doing well."


Meanwhile, Clement is likely to saddle Irish Mission and Orion Moon in the Sheepshead Bay. The former will be making only her second start for the trainer and nearly became a Grade 1 winner last year against males in the Northern Dancer at Woodbine, while the latter most recently missed by a neck in the Grade 3 Beaugay.


"Irish Mission ran in the Beaugay but she'll be better going long, so it'll be fun," said Clement. "Orion Moon might have a go [at the Sheepshead Bay]; she had an easy work this morning and looked OK. We were thinking about the [Grade 1] Just A Game, but she's not a mile type of filly. The next race would be a Grade 3 in New Jersey in late June, but she might make that race anyway, so we've got to think about it."


*           *           *


Za Approval is likely to headline the Grade 3, $300,000 Poker on Memorial Day at Belmont Park. The talented miler finished second to two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan in last year's Breeders' Cup Mile, but has yet to find the winner's circle since last year's Grade 3 Knickerbocker at Belmont. 

The wickedly fast Peace and Justice, trained by John Shirreffs, is on track to head east for the race. The War Front colt has a penchant for running as fast and as far as he can in his races, and has shown a particular affinity for races at one mile, as he's won three of five starts at the distance.

Last year's third-place finisher in the Poker, Big Screen, is also likely to be among this year's field. The 5-year-old son of Speightstown has made 19 career starts, only three of which have been over turf. Late in 2013, he made a case for himself being a turf miler by taking the Who's To Pay at Belmont over next-out winner Bad Debt.

Other probable for the race include Jack Milton, Plainview, Sinatra and

Vinny Goodtimes.





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