At 12 furlongs, the Belmont Park main track is the largest dirt oval in North American racing, and its vast expanse can be disorienting. Mario Gutierrez will get one chance to race the full distance of the oval in the Brooklyn Handicap on Friday.
The Brooklyn, to be run as the last of 10 races, is the first half of the NYRA Brooklyn-Belmont double.
The Brooklyn has been won in the past by greats such as Discovery, Whirlaway, Kelso and Forego. Trainer Doug O’Neill hopes the ride aboard Boxeur des Rues and three other mounts on the Friday card, along with one Main Track Only mount, will have Gutierrez primed for his big assignment the following day.
“We brought this horse with that intent,” O’Neill said of Boxeur des Rues, who, like I’ll Have Another, is owned by J. Paul Reddam. “Three or four days ago, he didn’t train as well as I’d like, and we went on a mad dash to have Paul invest in a horse for it. That didn’t work out too well.”
Boxeur des Rues, tenth in each of his past two starts – the Grade I Turf Classic on Kentucky Derby Day and the Grade II Dixie on Preakness Day – turned out to have a minor bruise inside his right front foot. O’Neill said the son of Smart Strike is “looking fantastic” now.
“This is a really good opportunity for Mario, and I think the horse has a chance to compete and do well,” O’Neill said. Boxeur des Rues is 12-1 on the morning line.
Tying the legendary Forego for most appearances in the Brooklyn will be Eldaafer in his fourth straight edition. Forego won it from 1974 to 1976 and finished second in 1977.
Eldaafer won the 2009 Brooklyn and then finished third in 2010 and fourth last year. Proving he is more than a one-trick pony, Eldaafer won the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Marathon as well.
Owners Jim Atwell and Kevin Jacobsen purchased Eldaafer privately last August and after a sixth-place finish in the Marathon at Churchill Downs, took him out of the barn of trainer Diane Alvarado and raced him on the West Coast, where they are based.
After little success, they returned Eldaafer to Alvarado, and he has appeared to return to form in her care. In his most recent work, Sunday at Monmouth Park, he breezed four furlongs in :47.20 (1/111).
“He was on cruise control,” said Alvarado, who is thrilled to have her best horse back in the barn. “I got him in Florida and just backed off him and let him walk. He was tired. We gave him some time. In the past two weeks, I’ve been really happy, and he’s moving forward at the right time.
“I’m very happy to have him back,” she said. “I wished them best of luck out there, but it was tough to have your best horse walk out of the barn. I’m happy to have him peaking at the right time. He’s really training on this track; Sunday, he worked lights out.”
Eldaafer, 12-1 on the morning line, leaves from post position 4 with Paco Lopez aboard.
Favored on the morning line at 5-2 is highweight Redeemed, a recent 9 3/4-length winner in the Milesius overnight stakes May 3 at Belmont. The son of Include was third in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap this year at Gulfstream; won the Grade III Discovery last year at Aqueduct and also took the Oklahoma Derby, defeating Alternation, now one of the top older horses in the country. He will carry 121 pounds, including Ramon Dominguez, from post position 11.
Birdrun, the 4-1 second choice on the morning line, returns to the Brooklyn after winning the race last year by 3 3/4 lengths in a gate-to-wire score. The 6-year-old son of 2004 Belmont Stakes winner Birdstone, trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, has not won since -- although he did finish second last November in the Grade II Breeders’ Cup Marathon.
Also on Friday’s card is the Grade III Jaipur at seven furlongs, in which Right One will seek to defend his title in the 29th running of the turf race for 3-year-olds and up.
--Edited NYRA release