Mr. Buff On The Muscle Ahead Of His Bid To Repeat In Empire Classic

Chester and Mary Broman’s Mr. Buff will look to defend his title in the nine-furlong $175,000 Empire Classic, the feature event on Saturday’s 11-race Empire Showcase Day card at Belmont Park, offering eight stakes races worth $1.2 million.

Trained by John Kimmel, the 6-year-old Friend Or Foe chestnut sports a record of 39-14-7-4 with purse earnings in excess of $1.1 million. He enters the Empire Classic from a pair of off-the-board efforts in graded races, including a last-out fifth in the Grade 1 Whitney on Aug. 1 at Saratoga.

The 17.2 hands tall Mr. Buff has breezed consistently on Big Sandy under regular rider Junior Alvarado in preparation for his title defense.

“He’s giving me every indication that he’s doing well,” said Kimmel. “He’s training well and breezing well. Junior gets on him for all his breezes and says he feels terrific. I can’t say anything negative about the way he’s coming into the race.

“He’s had a nice little break,” added Kimmel. “There weren’t any New York-bred races for him at the Saratoga meet and this was the first restricted race he was eligible for that he fit.”

The eight-time stakes winner spent his winter at Aqueduct, capturing the Alex M. Robb against state-breds in December and the open Jazil in January ahead of a 20-length score over state-breds in the Haynesfield at one mile on the Big A main that matched a career-best 106 Beyer Speed Figure.

Kimmel said he is hopeful Mr. Buff will return to winning ways on Saturday.

“He’s trying to repeat,” said Kimmel. “He’s had a good little break coming into it and plenty of preparation breezes. Hopefully it will be enough and he can come out and do his thing.”

Whisper Hill Farm’s Frost Me, a Frosted gray bred in the Empire State by Gallagher’s Stud, will be among the favorites in Saturday’s $150,000 Maid of the Mist at one-mile on Big Sandy for juvenile fillies.

Frost Me earned a 54 Beyer for a debut score at 1 1/16-miles in an off-the-turf maiden allowance tilt on Oct. 12 over a sloppy Belmont main. With Jose Ortiz up, Frost Me was an in-hand 2 ¾-length winner over the more experienced Maid of the Mist-rival Cara’s Dreamer.

“It’s a little out of my normal routine to run a horse back on a short turnaround like that, but considering the competition it’s probably a pretty winnable spot for her,” said Kimmel. “Jose Ortiz said to me that in her first race she was very green and looking around a lot and that there was a lot more in the tank.

“She’s come out of the race in good order and she’s eating well and happy going back and forth to the track,” added Kimmel. “She’s not giving me any signals that the last race knocked her for a loop. We’ll take a shot.”

Despite being entered on turf for her debut, Kimmel said he is confident Frost Me can handle any surface.

“I think she can run on anything. I was just looking for a long race and that’s why I entered her on the grass,” said Kimmel. “She has a lot of stamina. She just does not get tired. She may not be the quickest thing, but she has a lot of stamina.”

Kimmel will also be represented on Empire Showcase Day by John McClutchy’s Arrowheart in the day’s opening race, a 1 1/16-mile turf maiden for state-bred juveniles.

After running third on the Saratoga turf at second asking on Sept. 4, Arrowheart was again third last out under Benjamin Hernandez in a one-mile turf maiden on Sept. 26 at Belmont captured by Breadman, who is entered in Saturday’s Sleepy Hollow for trainer John Terranova.

“Breadman is a nice horse. He was by far the best that day and my horse got in a little tight in certain spots in that race,” said Kimmel. “Maybe he can work out a little better trip, he has the experience now of two starts on the grass. He’s in the one-hole, so he’ll have to figure out an inside out trip.”

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