Multiple graded stakes-placed Highland Sky will look to transfer his talents to the dirt in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup on Saturday at Belmont Park. The 4-year-old by Sky Mesa was also nominated to the Grade 2, $200,000 Knickerbocker over the inner turf on Monday as well as last Saturday's Grade 1, $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, but the colt's connections have opted to give the main track a try, said trainer Barclay Tagg Friday morning.
Listed at 20-1 on the morning line, Highland Sky will be ridden from post 2 by Rajiv Maragh, who was aboard for the colt's last start, a third-place finish in an optional-claiming contest at 1 1/16 miles on the grass on September 9.
"Our jockey thinks he moves just as well or better on the dirt, so we're going to try it," he said. "We were trying to make up our minds about going into a big turf race or a big dirt race, and this gave us a little more time. And, if anything drastic happens, then we can fall back on the Knickerbocker."
Highland Sky won his most recent stakes in April 2016 with a neck victory in the Woodhaven as a 3-year-old and finished second in both the Grade 3 Pennine Ridge that June and Grade 1 Belmont Derby in July. He was put on the shelf until last February, when he returned from a seven-month layoff to win an optional claimer and has faced allowance competition since, including a trio of third-place finishes from five starts in 2017.
"Well, it happened with Cigar," said Tagg. "They ran him on the turf again and again, and then they finally decided to run him on the dirt and he won 16 in a row. Now, I don't have that kind of goal, but we're going to give it a try. He's always done everything well. I think he's a very good horse. He's got a high cruising speed and he can run a long distance, just whether he can transfer it over to the dirt, I don't know. He works well on the dirt and everything like that, so we'll see what happens."
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Team Valor International and William L. Heiligbrodt's Vulcan's Forge is slated to run on the main track only in Monday's Grade 2 Knickerbocker. The 4-year-old by Giant's Causeway will remain if the 1 1/8-mile race comes off the inner turf, as he looks to extend his winning ways after posting a three-length upset over You're to Blame and Mo Town in a tough optional-claiming race on September 15.
That effort was only his second of the year after he debuted on the grass at Saratoga, and checked in for sixth following a wide trip. The colt, who ran ninth to close out his 2016 season in the Grade 3 Discovery on November 12 has been on the rebound, and trainer Todd Pletcher has options in case he doesn't draw in on Monday.
"I'd probably put him in an allowance race, but the forecast says it could rain," Pletcher said. "He ran well and seems to like Belmont so we'd be happy to have him in, or hopefully we'll get another allowance race in before the meet ends."
On Thursday, Vulcan's Forge turned in a four-furlong breeze in 48.48 seconds over the Belmont training track.
"It seems like he's come back well, and he'll probably benefit from having a race. This second race seems to suggest that he's rounding into form," he added. "I thought he breezed very well here, seems like he's moving forward."
Gary Barber and Madaket Stable's filly Adorable Miss is training towards next Saturday's $200,000 Pebbles at one mile on the turf. The daughter by Kitten's Joy boasts three wins from five starts, and looks to return to the winner's circle following her third-place finish in the Christiecat Stakes on September 8.
Also possible to run next Saturday is Zayat Stable's Mojovation, who is expected for the Grade 3, $150,000 Futurity at six furlongs. A winner in his career debut, the son of Quality Road returned in the Grade 1 Hopeful on closing day at Saratoga, and finished seventh.
"We're going to breeze Mo this weekend, and we'll see how he goes. He's possible," Pletcher said.
In addition to the aforementioned trio, the Pletcher barn, with 11 wins from 39 starts thus far at the meet, may send filly Pure Silver to next Sunday's six-furlong, Grade 3, $150,000 Matron for 2-year-olds. The daughter by Mission Impazible was undefeated through three including the Grade 2 Adirondack before finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Spinaway at Saratoga.
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The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) and NYU Winthrop Hospital's Breast Health Center will team up on Jockey Club Gold Cup Day to promote breast cancer awareness and encourage early detection with an array of fundraising activities on Saturday.
Past giveaways from all three tracks NYRA operates - Aqueduct, Saratoga and Belmont - will be available for purchase with a portion of proceeds donated to the NYU Winthrop Hospital. The sale will take place on the first floor Grandstand, by the Secretariat mural.
Donation bins to benefit the Breast Health Center will also be available throughout the grandstand. The work of NYU Winthrop Hospital will be recognized with a winner's circle and check presentation following Race 4, which has a local post time of 1:53 p.m.
Representatives from NYU Winthrop's Breast Health Center will be in attendance on Saturday, providing fans information about the Center and its offerings.
For more information about the Breast Health Center at NYU Winthrop, visit www.nyuwinthrop.org or call 1-866-WINTHROP.
Source: NYRA Communications