Now, the real balancing act begins for Awesome Feather and trainer Chad Brown.
The Mechanicville native finally was able to get the undefeated 2010 Juvenile Filly Eclipse Award winner back to breezing this week, with a three-furlong work at Belmont Park on Tuesday.
He’ll proceed cautiously to get her back to the races, perhaps during the early part of the Saratoga Race Course meet, after she was out of commission for most of the winter with a tendon problem in her left front leg.
Awesome Feather, who was purchased by Frank Stronach for $2.3 million at the Fasig-Tipton November sale, days after she won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, breezed in 36.78 at Belmont, her first published work of the year.
“She worked very well for her first time back, so we’ll march on,” Brown said by phone Friday morning. “I wanted to stretch her legs and wanted to do something to see how the tendon responds with a little pressure on it.
“In a perfect world, there would be no more problems, and we’d be ready by the early part of Saratoga. These kind of things need to be monitored closely. But so far, she looks like she’s recovered well, and she looks good to me.”
Having gotten over the initial hurdle, Brown will attempt to gradually get Awesome Feather into race shape while keeping her sound.
He said an important element in Awesome Feather’s comeback is the fact that Stronach is in no hurry to get her back to the races.
“Mr. Stronach has a lot of trust in me to give him the right information, and they’re not putting any pressure on me at all,” Brown said. “It’s a touchy thing. You’re walking a bit of a tightrope. There’s no specific schedule. We’re just going by feel.”
The Florida-bred Awesome Feather won five races at Calder before beating R Heat Lightning by 21⁄4 lengths in the Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs to wrap up a 6-for-6 2-year-old season and clinch the Eclipse Award for owner/breeder Jacks or Better Farm Inc.
She was immediately placed in the Fasig-Tipton sale in Lexington, Ky. and was the sale topper.
Stronach, who has known Brown since he was an assistant to Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel, transferred Awesome Feather from Stanley Gold’s barn.
She was sidelined with the tendon injury in early January, before the Eclipse Awards had even been held, casting doubt on her future.
“You never know,” Brown said. “I’ve seen horses come back from these and run fine. Then, there are others who don’t make it.
“When you’re dealing with a tendon, it’s serious. You have to handle them very carefully. We’re calling on all our experience, and it definitely requires a lot of attention, even moreso, considering her value.”
On Friday, trainer Graham Motion told the New York Racing Association that he and Team Valor International “are looking forward to running in the Belmont Stakes” with Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom.
The colt, second by a half-length to Shackleford in the Preakness, has been stabled at the Fair Hill training center in Maryland, and he will travel to Belmont Park the week of the June 11, depending on where Animal Kingdom will get his final breeze.
“We just made the decision that he will be coming to the Belmont,” Motion told NYRA. “He bounced out of the Preakness very well, and we are looking forward to running in the Belmont Stakes.”
Preakness winner Shackleford will ship to Belmont Park this weekend and continue to prepare as if he will run in the Belmont, but trainer Dale Romans said there’s no guarantee that Shackleford will make the race.
Among the others under consideration for the Belmont, which has a maximum field of 16, are Mucho Macho Man, Derby runner-up Nehro, Peter Pan winner Alternation, Gotham winner Stay Thirsty, Brilliant Speed, Harlan’s Hello, Isn’t He Perfect, Master of Hounds, Monzon, Prime Cut, Ruler On Ice and Santiva.
Trainer Bob Baffert may send Uncle Sam or Awesome Patriot, the first two finishers in Hollywood Park’s May 8 Alydar.
Met mile monday
A crowded, competitive field of 11 has been drawn for the one-mile 119th Grade I Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park on a busy Memorial Day Monday of stakes.
Horse-for-the-course Haynesfield, the New York-bred Horse of the Year after he won the Jockey Club Gold Cup, is the 7-2 morning-line favorite.
He’s 5-1-0 from seven career starts at Belmont, but is coming off a fourth there in the Westchester to Caixa Electronica, who is 8-1 for the Met Mile.
Besides Haynesfield, trainer Steve Asmussen also has entered Kensei, who hasn’t won since the 2009 Jim Dandy at Saratoga.
Trainer Todd Pletcher has three in the Met Mile — Caixa Electronica, Ibboyee and Dogwood Stable’s Aikenite, who is on a roll in 2011, with consecutive Grade II wins in the Commonwealth and Churchill Downs, both at seven furlongs.
“It seems like the layoff he got after the Breeders’ Cup last year really did him well,” Pletcher told NYRA. “He’s been more enthusiastic than ever, and he seems to be in really good form. If you had to pick his absolute best distance, it might be seven-eighths, but a one-turn mile is certainly within his scope.”
Soaring Empire drew the rail and is 6-1, as is his Gulfstream Park nemesis, Tackleberry, who will break from post No. 10.
Tackleberry began 2011 with a fourth to Soaring Empire in the Hal’s Hope, then rattled off three straight stakes wins, beginning with the Sunshine Millions Classic, before finishing fourth in the $1 million Charles Town Classic.
Tackleberry and Soaring Empire were 1-2, respectively, in both the Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship and Gulfstream Park Handicap.
“There should be a lot more pace here, and I think Belmont will suit him better with the sweeping turns,” said Soaring Empire’s trainer, Cam Gambolati.
The field also includes Tizway, who has been breezing at the Oklahoma Training Track in Saratoga for trainer James Bond.
Fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, Tizway was third behind Tackleberry and Soaring Empire in the GP Handicap and was third in the Charles Town Classic.
Grade I Carter Handicap winner Morning Line had been considered for the Met Mile, but will skip the race because of some minor foot tenderness, trainer Nick Zito told the Daily Racing Form.
The seven-horse field for the Grade II Sheepshead Bay today at Belmont Park features five who raced overseas last year, and another who raced in the U.S. last year after having made her career debut in Ireland in 2009.
Perhaps not coincidentally, three of the fillies and mares are trained by the French-born turf specialist Christophe Clement.
Godolphin Stable’s Hibaayeb, who finished 21⁄4 lengths behind Shared Account in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf, is the 2-1 morning-line favorite in the mile-and-three-eighths Sheepshead Bay.
She started her 2011 season last month with a third to Tapitsfly in an allowance at Gulfstream Park to shake off the winter rust.
“We knew 8 1⁄2 furlongs was going to be too short for her,” Godolphin assistant trainer Rick Mettee told the New York Racing Association. “She stalked the pace and got a little tired toward the end, which we knew she would coming off the layoff. She had a good winter down at Palm Meadows. The idea was get a race in her, and the Sheepshead Bay was a logical place to run her back.”
A Group 1 winner at Ascot as a 2-year-old who won the Group 2 Ribbledale there last year, Hibaayeb made her first start in the U.S. a winning one, in the Grade I Yellow Ribbon at Hollywood Park just prior to the Breeders’ Cup.
The 5-2 second choice is La Luna de Miel for Kentucky Derby-winning connections Motion and Team Valor International, and Clement’s trio includes Giants Play, Cheetah and Tarrip.
Giants Play, a 4-year-old daughter of Giant’s Causeway, has been no worse than fourth in her nine career starts.
Her two U.S. races were both thirds by 11⁄4 lengths to La Luna de Miel at Gulfstream, in February and March.
“She’s doing well and is the same as Cheetah, she’ll love the distance,” Clement’s assistant, Christophe Lorieul, told NYRA.
Cheetah won her U.S. debut at a mile and five-eighths in a race that was taken off the Keeneland turf in April, beating Dyna Waltz by 33⁄4 lengths. Dyna Waltz came back to win the Grade III Gallorette on Preakness Day at Pimlico.
“The filly that was second [Dyna Waltz] was also in England and had very good form,” Lorieul said. “We thought she was the filly to beat, and she ran very well.
“We’ll get Cheetah back on the turf here, and I don’t think it is much of a problem. She’s a filly that stays. She’ll go the distance no problem whatsoever.”
Clement’s other horse, the 5-year-old Tarrip, won her first two U.S. starts last year, but hasn’t won since, finishing third in five of her seven starts, and was fourth to La Luna de Miel in the Grade III Orchid, although by only 1 1⁄4 lengths.
Belle Watling, the 2010 Chilean Horse of the Year, will run as a coupled entry with Choice Play.
Both are trained by Patrick Biancone.
Belle Watling, undefeated in six starts last year, all in Chile, is 8-1-1 lifetime from 12 turf starts, but is winless in three U.S. starts at Gulfstream Park this year. She was fifth to Havre de Grace in the Grade I Apple Blossom.
More weekend stakes
On today’s stakes schedule, the 5-year-old mare Keertana, a stakes veteran who is 10-5-6 from 25 career starts, will take on nine male horses in the mile-and-a-half Grade III Louisville Handicap at Churchill Downs.
A winner of the Grade III Glens Falls at Saratoga last year, she’s the 2-1 second choice behind 9-5 German-bred Musketier, who has finished in the money in three graded stakes this year and won the Grade III Elkhorn at Keeneland in April.
Sidney’s Candy will return to the grass for the first time since finishing sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Mile when he faces six as the 8-5 favorite in the Grade II American Handicap at Hollywood Park.
In the other Grade I on Memorial Day, Eclair de Lune is the 123-pound highweight in the Gamely at Hollywood Park. She dead-heated for sixth in the BC Filly and Mare Turf and has finished off the board in the three stakes this year.
Sassy Image, the Broken Vow filly who beat Starlight Partners’ Hilda’s Passion in the Humana Distaff on Kentucky Derby Day, is entered in Monday’s Winning Colors at Churchill.
The Met Mile undercard includes the Grade II Sands Point for 3-year-old fillies at a mile and a sixteenth on the turf.
Winter Memories will concede six pounds to each of five rivals.
She broke her maiden first time out at Saratoga last year and was second in the BC Juvenile Fillies Turf. She opened her 3-year-old season with a win in the Grade III Appalachian at Keeneland last month.
“My filly made one run, and it looked like she was going to get there, but she had to make another run to get by Dos Lunas,” trainer Jimmy Toner told NYRA. “It shows the quality and determination she has.”
Brown has horses running in stakes at Monmouth Park the first three days of the meet, starting today.
Beachcombing is the 2-1 second choice behind 9-5 Crimson China in the Lamplighter for 3-year-olds, Sovereign Crisis will run in the Little Silver on Sunday and La Reine Lionne will step up to stakes competition for the first time in the Grade III Violet on Monday off an allowance win at Keeneland.
“I’m excited to get Beachcombing back on turf, and he seems to be training well in Saratoga, so we’ll try him in the stake,” Brown said.
Starlight Partners, co-managed by Schenectady native Don Lucarelli and Jack Wolf of Saratoga Springs, will have a presence in the Monmouth 3-year-old stakes.
Praetereo is 6-1 in the Lamplighter, and the filly Artisanal is 4-1 in the Little Silver.
Spa City Fever, a homebred of Adam Madkour of Saratoga Springs, is 6-1 in the Kingston at Belmont on Sunday against the likes of Banrock and Uncle T Seven, who is the 2-1 favorite with entrymate Pretty Boy Freud.
Brown said he’s looking forward to see how Maram performs as a broodmare now that she’s been retired.
Owner/breeder Karen Woods announced the retirement on May 5, two days before Maram was scheduled to run in the Beaugay at Belmont. The 5-year-old, who won the 2008 BC Juvenile Fillies Turf for Brown soon after he became a head trainer, has a suspensory tear.
An earner of just over $900,000, she finished her career off the board in the Ballston Spa and Diana at Saratoga last summer.
“Obviously, she was a huge part of our business the first year, winning the Breeders’ Cup,” Brown said. “She’s always going to be one of the most important horses I’ve ever trained.”
Around the tracks
Jockey Ramon Dominguez appeared to be uninjured following a spill in Friday’s sixth race at Belmont and was taken to North Shore University Hospital as a precaution. . . .
The 3-year-old C J Russell, a nice debut winner on the Kentucky Derby undercard, will come right back at Churchill Downs for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert and owner Mike Pegram in the ninth race on Sunday. . . .
Trainer Charlton Baker won his 1,000th career race when Boston Chief took the seventh at Finger Lakes last Saturday.
Of the 1,000, 858 came at Finger Lakes.
Here and there
The 10-year-old gelding Brass Hat was retired by owner-breeder Fred Bradley on Tuesday after amassing almost $2.2 million from 40 career starts.
His victories included the Donn and Massachusetts handicaps.
Brass Hat, trained by Bradley’s son, Buff, earned $1.2 million for finishing second to Electrocutionist in the 2006 Dubai World Cup, but was eventually disqualified and lost the purse money because of a medication violation.
The Bradleys vigorously tried to get the disqualification overturned, but failed.