That's Garrett Gomez getting on board Sun King, the 1-4 favorite in the $65,000 Albert the Great stakes at Belmont on Friday. Sun King's change of career to dead closer had served him well, and this was his first race since his agonizing, for me, loss at 6-1 to Silver Train in the Met Mile. Here he was prepping for the Whitney in what Zito thought was going to be an easy spot.
The problem was that it was only a four horse field, and one without too much speed. As a closer, Sun King has little control over his own fate. It's like when a baseball team needs its competitor to lose in order to have a chance to overtake it in the standings. He can run the race of his life, but for the most part he'll need the proper pace setup in order to have a chance (not to mention a clear path home). He didn't get it here, and he had little chance to catch Premium Tap, who showed no sign of tiring while getting the last 2 1/2 furlongs in 30.40 seconds.
But it was a perfectly fine effort by Sun King, and it should set him up for the Whitney well. He can certainly expect to find a bigger field and is likely to get a more contentious pace.
For Premium Tap, it was a win in his stakes debut. He is by Pleasant Tap, and he's out of a mare by the Wood winner and Belmont runner-up Thirty Six Red. He's inbred 3x4 to Stage Door Johnny, which you don't see every day. His third dam was a stakes winner on the grass in France, and the dam of turf champ Tight Spot (as well as the Hollywood Futurity winner Valiant Nature).
This is Fabulous Strike, the 4-5 winner of the Ziggy's Boy stakes, with a gentleman I can only presume, not knowing for sure, is his trainer Todd Beattie. He gave a good account of himself in the Woody Stephens after three consecutive wins, leading to the eighth pole of that seven furlong event. He cut back to what seems to be his preferred six here, and was three lengths safe of second choice Luxembourg in a nice rebound effort.
- Steve Crist in the Form picks up on the topic of the times and figs at Belmont on Tuesday in his subscription (and print) only column. He explains that if the variant for the first two races of the day were used for Out of Gwedda's win in the Tremont, his Beyer would have been only 59; it was adjusted to a still-low 72. Soaring By's race was judged by the same adjusted variant, and he got a 99, the fastest by a juvenile this year. But Crist asks: Could Soaring By really be that good and that much faster than the Tremont winner, or was the track perhaps speeding up again?
The latter actually seems unlikely, considering that the next two dirt races were the two slow state-bred races, followed by Strong Contender's slow Dwyer, for which he was given a 109. However, Crist questions the figure, which was based mostly on conjecture.
Strong Contender's race is the toughest to gauge, as the card's only dirt route at the end of a strange day. He had been widely pronounced a superstar without previously accomplishing much or running very fast. His supporters will view his 109 as legitimate proof of the flowering of a colt with great potential. Skeptics will say he capitalized on a duel between two sprinters who stopped cold in front of him, that his lofty figure is a guess on a difficult day, and that he will be a vulnerable favorite next time out.- Bill Turner will breeze Highland Cat early next week, and if all goes well, he'll likely point to a mile and a sixteenth maiden special on July 15.
The rigorous study of final time usually helps remove some of the mystery and ambiguity from comparative performances, but at Belmont last Tuesday it only deepened it. Out of Gwedda, Soaring By, and Strong Contender are all clearly talented horses, but exactly how talented remains to be seen - and could be the basis for some interesting wagers and opinions in the weeks ahead.