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Xcellence Breezes for Belmont Oaks (Video)

Xcellence prepares for Belmont Oaks (7-3-14).
Photo: Susie Raisher, NYRA
A trio of international horses took to the Belmont Park turf course shortly after 9 a.m. on Thursday in preparation for Stars & Stripes Day.

 

Xcellence, the 3-1 morning-line co-favorite for the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Oaks Invitational, breezed one mile around the dogs in 1:46.79 over the inner turf course, with Toast of New York and Pornichet, two of the top contenders for the Grade 1, $1.25 Belmont Derby Invitational, galloping over the surface.

 

Trained by Francois Doumen for Martin Schwartz, Xcellence started her breeze behind and to the outside of Predicting, who is trained by Jena Antonucci. Xcellence tucked in behind Predicting in upper stretch before angling outside and briefly poking her head in front of her workmate. Xcellence was kept under restraint late to finish on roughly even terms with Predicting.

 

Xcellence has finished third in a pair of Classic races in France, reporting home 3 ¾ lengths behind Avenir Certain in the Group 1 Poule d'Essai des Pouliches in May at Longchamp and 1 ¼ lengths behind that rival once again in the Grade 1 Prix de Diane in June at Chantilly. She was purchased by Schwartz following the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches and will be transferred to New York-based trainer Chad Brown after the Belmont Oaks.

 

"She went very easy," said Doumen. "I didn't want her to have a hard work, and because they opened the turf at 9 o'clock it was already getting hot, I didn't want her to have a strong work. It was not a test. I just wanted to take off the freshness. She hadn't done anything since she got here last Thursday."

 

Mike Buckley's Toast of New York, who is favored at 3-1 on the morning line for the Belmont Derby off his 2 ½-length win in the Group 2 UAE Derby at Meydan Race Course in March, had a leisurely gallop over the turf course.

 

"As you can see, we didn't go very fast," said trainer Jamie Osborne. "That was always the plan. We aren't going to work him hard when he's here prior to the race. I think he looks great. He's eating and drinking well. He seems to have taken the whole thing pretty well. We're happy."

 

Pornichet, who breezed six furlongs on the turf in 1:16.11 on Tuesday at Belmont, turned in a brisk gallop over the surface on Thursday. He is 10-1 on the morning line after finishing third by 1 ¾ lengths in the Group 1 Poule d'Essai des Poulains on May 11 at Longchamp.

 

"He did his main work on Tuesday morning, so this morning was what Gai likes to call 'stretch and extend,'" said Adrian Bott, assistant to owner/trainer Gai Waterhouse. "He's just out there, sort of having a look around. He wasn't asked to do too much, he was held together, and he was nice and relaxed and had a look around."

 

Pornichet was purchased privately by Waterhouse in June and will become the trainer's first starter in North America when he competes in the Belmont Derby.

 

"For the stable, it's a huge opportunity," said Bott. "It's a great thrill for Gai to have a first runner over here, particularly in a race on such a stage like this, in a Group 1 event. We're able to represent Australia and bring the connections over here. They're very excited down under."

 

 

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