Bribon Heads Vanderbilt

Bribon takes the 2009 Met Mile

In its first year as a Grade 1, Sunday’s $250,000, six-furlong Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap has drawn a fiercely competitive field for its 26th renewal.


Heading the group is Derrick Smith’s Bribon, most recently victorious in the Grade 2 True North Handicap, also run at six furlongs, on the Belmont Stakes Day undercard June 5. The race pushed the French-bred gelding over the million dollar mark in earnings and was his first win of the year. In two other starts, he finished a disappointing fifth in the Grade 3, one-mile Westchester on April 30 at Belmont Park, and missed by a neck in the 1 1/8th –mile Barbados Gold Cup in March.


“It looks like he’s best as a middle-distance, closing sprinter kind of horse,” said trainer Todd Pletcher. “We thought that if he could sprint well, it would give us more options. We wanted to keep him separated from Quality Road in the Met Mile, so we decided to try the True North. After that, the Vanderbilt became the next logical spot.”


Bribon, a 7-year-old son of Mark of Esteem, had a breakout year in 2009, including wins in Grade 1 Metropolitan Mile and Westchester at Belmont when trained by Bobby Ribaudo. In the Vanderbilt, the 5-2 morning line favorite will get the services of Garrett Gomez from post 6.


Looking for his first Grade 1 win in the Vanderbilt is Big Drama, the 3-1 co-second-choice on the morning line, who finished sixth in a sloppy edition of the Grade 1 King’s Bishop on the Travers undercard last year in his only other Saratoga appearance. The race was the final start of an ambitious 3-year-old campaign in which he romped in the Red Legend at Charles Town and finished first in the Grade 2 Swale at Gulfstream, though he was disqualified and placed for interference in the stretch.


“He needed a break after the King’s Bishop,” said trainer David Fawkes. “It was a busy year for him. It was sloppy that day, but there were a bunch of factors there, but he wasn’t happy at the time and he needed a vacation.”


After nearly 10 months off, Big Drama was an easy winner in his comeback race, the Ponche Handicap at Calder Race Course on June 12 and bounced right back to take Calder’s Grade 2 Sprint Smile Handicap on July 10. Both races were at the six-furlong distance of the Vanderbilt.


“He came into his little prep race real easy and then after that he won the other race the way we wanted him to,” Fawkes said. “He’s done everything right to this point.”


Eibar Coa, aboard in the Sprint Smile Handicap, will ride from post 4.

Majesticperfection, a 4-year-old son of Harlan’s Holiday, shares second-choice billing with Big Drama. Third in his debut at Fair Grounds on January 24 the colt has not lost since, most recently taking the Iowa Sprint Handicap on June 25 at Prairie Meadows and leading at every call to win by 4 ¾ lengths. He earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 117 for the effort, currently the highest figure awarded on dirt for distances up to a mile.


Shaun Bridgmohan, who has ridden the colt in all but one of his five starts, has the return call from post 5.  


Returning to dirt after five starts on synthetic is Godolphin Racing’s Gayego, who looks for his first win since taking the Grade 1 Ancient Title stakes over the synthetic surface at Santa Anita on October 11. Prepping for that race, Gayego scored in a six-furlong optional claimer at Saratoga last August. He finished third in the Grade 1 Triple Bend Handicap at Hollywood Park on July 10, his first start since an eighth place finish in the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen at Meydan Racecourse on March 27.


“He’s in good form and we’re very happy with him,” said trainer Saeed bin Suroor. “He needed the race last time, and he’s coming back in the right race at the right distance. It’s a tough race, but we’re looking to see a good run from him this time.”


Alan Garcia will ride the 4-1 fourth choice from the rail.


Quantum Racing’s Mambo Meister, second to Big Drama in the Sprint Smile Handicap in his most recent start, will make only his second start sprinting on dirt in the Vanderbilt. The 5-year-old gelding made his debut in 2007 at 1 1/16th miles and raced at a mile or further in all of his subsequent starts until last month, winning stakes on both turf and dirt.


“We had always wanted to sprint him, and after he won the [Grade 3] Memorial Day Handicap [at 1 1/16th miles on the main track at Calder], there wasn’t much else to run him in, so we entered him in the Smile Sprint Handicap,” said trainer Phil Gleaves. “We elected to run him in the Vanderbilt to see where he fits in with the best sprinters. Hopefully, it will be a stepping-stone to the [Grade 1] Forego [September 4].”


Manoel Cruz has the call from post 2.

Completing the field in the Vanderbilt are Temecula Creek, winner of four straight allowance races dating back to April 10, and Smokey Fire, undefeated in his last three starts, and making his first start on dirt.


The field for the Grade 1, Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap:








Gayego (KY)

A Garcia


S bin Suroor



Mambo Meister (KY)

M R Cruz


P A Gleaves



Temecula Creek (FL)

C H Velasquez


R R Rodriguez



Big Drama (FL)

E Coa


D Fawkes



Majesticperfection (KY)

S Bridgmohan


S M Asmussen



Bribon (FR)

G K Gomez


T A Pletcher



Smokey Fire (ON)

J Castellano


S C Attard




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