O'Brien's lad chats up four-horse Belmont Park stakes contingent

O'Brien's lad chats up four-horse Belmont Park stakes contingent
Photo: Healy Photography
Champion European trainer Aidan O'Brien's four-horse Stars & Stripes contingent cleared quarantine late Thursday morning and jogged over Belmont Park's main track shortly before the close of training.
The quartet, led by last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf winner Mendelssohn in town for his third straight dirt assignment in Saturday's Grade 3, $300,000 Dwyer, visited the paddock before walking to the mile chute and lightly jogging 1 ¼ miles.
O'Brien, who won the 2016 Grade 1, $1.2 Belmont Derby Invitational with Deauville, will be represented in this year's renewal by Hunting Horn. The Irish-bred Athena, who will be making a six-day turnaround following a third-place finish in the Group 1 Pretty Polly on July 1 at the Curragh, will carry the barn's banner in the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Oaks Invitational. 
Mendelssohn will be joined in the one-mile Dwyer by Group 2 winner Seahenge, who most recently finished a late-running seventh in the Grade 3 Pat Day Mile on Kentucky Derby Day.
"All four of them traveled well," said T.J. Comerford, O'Brien's traveling head lad. "They're all in good shape. They actually look really well. They were all out at the track this morning looking like a million dollars."
Mendelssohn, a $3 million yearling purchase by Scat Daddy, won the Group 2 UAE Derby in March by an eye-catching 18 ½ lengths, but had a disastrous experience last time out in the Kentucky Derby on May 5 at Churchill Downs, being bumped severely leaving the gate over the sloppy and sealed track. He was ultimately eased under jockey Ryan Moore to finish a distant 20th, crossing the wire 73 ¼ lengths behind the winner, Justify.
Installed as the 8-5 morning-line favorite, Mendelssohn drew post 6 in his first race shorter than 1 3/16 miles since winning the 32red Patton on March 9 at Dundalk in Ireland. Moore has the return call. 
"I think this track will suit him better, him and Seahenge," Comerford said. "Seahenge ran really good at Churchill and Mendelssohn got in a bit of a bugger at the start. I suppose those things happen, but the way he did it in Dubai, if he could come with something like that, it's close.
"He's had a good year up to the Kentucky Derby, but the Kentucky Derby is the Kentucky Derby," he added. "Those are the things you meet along the way. He's in good shape. He's eating up every night so we're happy with them."
At 15-1 on the morning line, Seahenge, third to Mendelssohn in the Patton and fifth to his stablemate in the UAE Derby, will be ridden from the rail by Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano.
"I was impressed by the way Seahenge ran at Churchill," said Comerford. "They were coming to the end of the race, he was only getting going. Him running on the dirt, he kind of fluffed the start at Dubai. He reared up at the gate and got left so he didn't get into it. But the whole way around, he's gaining ground. Every race, he seems to improve a bit more. If you can just get the start right with him, I'm sure he won't be far away."
Hunting Horn, an Irish-bred colt by Camelot, posted a 4 ½-length victory last time out in the 1 ¼-mile Group 3 Hampton Court on June 21 at Royal Ascot. Prior to that, he finished a close sixth in the Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club on June 3 at Chantilly in France. Moore will be aboard Hunting Horn, the co-second choice at 7-2. The pair will leave from post 4.
"Hunting Horn is in great shape," Comerford said. "He's very fresh and well. He had a good win at Ascot, he won really nicely. Also I suppose his form is very good now because when he broke his maiden, the horse that finished second to him, Latrobe, won the Irish Derby. So, the form is there. He's a decent horse, Hunting Horn, and he seems to be progressing."
Athena, by Camelot, will be making the eighth start of her sophomore season on Saturday. She broke her maiden at 1 ¼ miles on May 31 at Fairyhouse Racecourse in Ireland and followed up with a fourth-place finish in the Group 2 Ribblesdale before earning Group 1 placing in the Pretty Polly. Moore will ride the 9-2 third-choice from post 6.
"We're used to [shipping]," said Comerford. "She went to Royal Ascot and then she went to the Curragh. She ran in the Ribblesdale [at Ascot] over a mile and a half, probably a little bit far for her, but a mile and a quarter looks ideal for her. She finished third in that Group 1 at the Curragh over the weekend. It's good form. Anytime you finish third in a Group 1 and come here, it's good. She's got a good chance. It is a bit soon, but she's come out of it. She shows no signs of it."

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