There was a time when the Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park was a must schedule for many of the best older horses in America. Names like Buckpasser, Dr. Fager, Key to the Mint, Forego, Foolish Pleasure, Winter’s Tale, Temperence Hill, Fit to Fight, Vanlandingham, Broad Brush, Easy Goer, and Skip Away continued the long and storied honor roll of the race first run in 1884. As the middle leg of the New York Handicap Triple, in between the Met Mile and Brooklyn, it proved to be one of the most prestigious races of the summer. Things changed though; even with the occasional appearance of such stars as Mineshaft and Invasor, the stature of the race went on a steady decline to the point where it could hardly be called a key race any longer. The Handicap Triple is all but forgotten. After wins by Political Force and Frost Giant, the Suburban was dropped to grade 2 status in 2009. A Dry Martini victory that year did nothing to boost the importance of the once mighty race. A sign of the times, NYRA decided to change the distance from the long-standing 1 ¼ miles down to nine furlongs. The decision may not have been one that pleases race fans looking for sturdy distance runners like years past, but it has paid immediate dividends as far as the quality of race. Strong winners in Haynesfield and Flat Out signaled horsemen’s approval of the new distance for their charges, and now the 2012 edition could be the strongest renewal of the Suburban Handicap in many years.
An excellent field of older males will be hoping to use next Saturday’s 127th running of the $350,000 Suburban Handicap as a kick-start to what their connections hope will propel them towards a divisional championship. So far there are six horses who have indicated they will run in the July 7 race, and each of them brings a lot to the Belmont Park table.
To Honor and Serve may be coming off a tough 3rd place defeat to Shackleford and Caleb’s Posse in the Grade 1 Met Mile on Memorial Day, but the attractive son of Bernardini is still considered to have a big upside and his first race at more than a mile since last fall will be a good test. Before the Met, the Bill Mott trained multiple graded stakes winner was coming off overpowering victories in the 2011 Cigar Mile, and more recently the Westchester Handicap. To Honor and Seve is not the only headliner sired by Bernardini expected to contest the Suburban. Last year, Stay Thirsty accounted for the Grade 1 Travers, the Grade 2 Jim Dandy and the Grade 3 Gotham in New York on his way to racking up more than $1.3 million in earnings for owner Mike Repole. Stay Thirsty returned to the races on May 17 for trainer Todd Pletcher when he chased the talented speedster Trickmeister in the Vanlandingham Stakes in a solid prep race for bigger things to come. Next on the Suburban hit parade is the loveable giant, Mucho Macho Man. Trained by the inspirational Kathy Ritvo, the big fella had a three-race win streak snapped when he finished 3rd to Successful Dan and Fort Larned in the Alysheba at Churchill Downs. Before that though, he announced himself as a major force in the handicap division with impressive wins in the Sunshine Millions Classic and the Gulfstream Park Handicap. Others expected for the Suburban include the 2012 Grade 1 Donn Handicap winner, Hymn Book for trainer Shug McGaughey, Buffum, another son of Bernardini, and an explosive eight-length winner at Belmont in his 2012 debut which earned him a 105 Beyer, and last but not least, is the still lightly raced four-year-old Rogue Romance, who followed up a sharp allowance score with a deceptively strong fourth place finish in the recent Grade 1 Stephen Foster on June 16, when he was bothered both early and late in the race that he was only beaten by two lengths to heavyweights Ron the Greek and Wise Dan.