Clearly Now Hopes to Break Through in Belmont Sprint

Clearly Now wins 2013 Bold Ruler.
Photo: NYRA, Adam Coglianese
Clearly Now will go in search of his first graded stakes victory in more than seven months when he contests the Grade 3, $400,000 Belmont Sprint Championship at seven furlongs for older horses on Saturday at Belmont Park, as part of the inaugural Stars & Stripes Day card.


Since winning the Grade 3 Bold Ruler last fall at Belmont Park with a gaudy 109 Beyer Speed Figure, Clearly Now has yet to return to the winner's circle. In the Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap, the Horse Greeley colt appeared poised to make a winning move before clipping heels in the stretch and running on to finish fifth. The Brian Lynch trainee made his 2014 debut in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap on April 5 at Aqueduct Racetrack and finished a non-threatening third with no apparent trouble.


In his next start, the Grade 2 Churchill Downs on the Kentucky Derby undercard, Clearly Now was squeezed back at the start, leaving him at the back of the pack. Nearly overcoming the poor start, the 4-year-colt made a wide, sustained rally to finish third, 1 ¾ lengths behind Central Banker, who will also be contesting the Belmont Sprint Championship.


Clearly Now's most recent start came in the one-mile, Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap, in which he finished fifth.


"He seems well," said Lynch, who trains the colt for Up Hill Stable. "He's a lightly raced horse this year - he's only run three times - so we're hoping he could be sitting on one of his best races. It would sure help if he could start well and stay out of traffic. I thought he ran great in the Churchill Downs, closing on a speed-biased track, and one of his best races came at Belmont Park, so we know he likes the track. "


Clearly Now, the second choice on the morning line at 3-1, will be ridden by Jose Lezcano from post 3.


The morning-line favorite at 5-2, Central Banker is exiting a win in the Churchill Downs, a performance that earned him a career-best Beyer of 107. Trained by Al Stall for Klaravich Stables and William H. Lawrence, the 4-year-old colt has made only two starts in 2014, the other being a sixth-place finish in the Grade 1 Carter.


Central Banker was entered in the Met Mile, but was scratched before the race.


"He's been in New York since the weekend of the Belmont Stakes and he's been training well here," said Stall. "We're looking forward to running him seven-eighths as opposed to a mile and happy to not be running against [Met Mile winner] Palace Malice."


Corey Nakatani, who piloted Central Banker to victory in the Churchill Downs, will be back aboard and the pair will break from post 2.


Central Banker and others may have the luxury of dodging one of the best older horses in the country in Palace Malice; however, they will have to deal with the Linda Rice-trained Palace. A New York-bred owned by Antonino Miuccio, Palace was an impressive winner of the Grade 2 True North on June 6 at Belmont in his last start. The 5-year-old horse drew the outermost slot in the field of nine and sits at 7-2 on the morning line.


"The outside post leaves us a lot of options," said Rice. "He's pretty versatile. He's just like his father. I thought the True North was a spectacular race on his part. I had sent him home for an eight to 10 week vacation and only had him back for six weeks. I wasn't sure he'd make the race. He was still a little heavy and it was a true testament to what a great horse he is. I think he's ready for a good race this week."


Palace will be ridden by Cornelio Velasquez.


Salutos Amigos, 5-1 on the morning line, has proven to be a shrewd acquisition by trainer and part-owner David Jacobson. The 4-year-old son of Salute the Sarge has won three of four races since Jacobson took over training duties, with his one defeat coming in the True North, in which he finished a late-running third by 1 ¾ lengths.


Salutos Amigos, who drew post 7, will be ridden for the first time by Corey Lanerie on Saturday.


The Grade 1 Carter winner Dads Caps will look to add another graded stakes to his resume on Saturday. After winning the Carter by 1 ½ lengths, the Rudy Rodriguez pupil took a step back in the True North, finishing fifth by 11 ¾ lengths.


Dads Caps, 10-1 on the morning line, will be ridden by Irad Ortiz, Jr. from post 5.


Rounding out the field are Declan's Warrior, who finished eighth in the Met Mile in his last start; Moonlight Song, who defeated Palace in his most recent outing, the Gold and Roses on January 16 at Aqueduct; Mezzano, runner-up in the Donald LeVine Memorial at Parx in his most recent outing; and Big Screen, who finished second in the Grade 3 Poker on turf in his latest start.


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