Thomas Targets Belmont Derby for Hard Love

Trainer Jonathan Thomas didn’t get the prep race he initially had in mind for Robert LaPenta, Augustin Stable, and Madaket Stables’ Hard Love, but said he still plans on running the talented son of Kitten’s Joy in the $1 million Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational, first leg of the Turf Triple series, on July 10 at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y.

Hard Love was entered in the Grade 2 Pennine Ridge Stakes on May 29 but scratched when inclement weather forced the event onto the main track. Thomas went to Plan B and ran Hard Love in a nine-furlong allowance optional claiming race against older horses on the turf in the Belmont Stakes Day finale on June 5.

Piloted by Manny Franco, Hard Love tracked the pace from second, battled to the outside of pacesetter Desert Peace in the stretch drive, and prevailed by a head.

“We felt like we had him ready for the Pennine Ridge,” Thomas said. “It was a bit of a gut punch having it come off the turf, so we were lucky the allowance race was in the book. We felt like we got a nice prep into him for the Belmont Derby. Based off what we’ve seen, it looks like the further the better. He is an efficient moving horse, and his pedigree suggests the further the better. He should appreciate the added distance.”

Thomas is targeting a second Belmont Derby victory having won in 2018 with the versatile Catholic Boy, who proceeded to win the Grade 1 Runhappy Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. that year.

“There are some similarities in his physique,” Thomas said. “He’s a big leggy colt and also a very genuine horse. He seems to show up every time. He’s a little more laid back in his disposition than Catholic Boy. But the biggest difference is that I am almost certain he’s not the same horse on the dirt. He’s a turf horse.”

Thomas said he was delighted to see Burning Bright notch a third lifetime victory in a 1 ¼-mile off-the-turf allowance optional claimer on May 30.

Owned and bred by George Strawbridge, Jr.’s Augustin Stable, the son of Empire Maker, out of 2008 Champion Grass Mare Forever Together, won the event by 7 ¼ lengths, recording an 89 Beyer Speed Figure.

Thomas did not rule out going back to turf with Burning Bright and mentioned the $150,000 Grand Couturier Stakes on July 5 at Belmont Park going 1 ½ miles and the $500,000 Grade 1 United Nations on July 17 at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J. as options.

Burning Bright’s lone start on grass was a well-beaten tenth on debut going 1 1/16 miles at Tampa Bay Downs last March.

“He breezed on the turf before his last race and I really liked what I saw,” Thomas said. “His first race on the grass was a toss-out. I’ve been looking forward to getting him on the grass. The main thing is getting the opportunity to stretch out. The further, the better.”

Thomas also eyes a return to grass for fellow Augustin Stables homebred Evoking, who won on debut by 4 ¼ lengths in an off-the-turf maiden special weight going six furlongs on May 29.

“We’ll keep our options open with Evoking,” Thomas said. “She is probably going to be better once we get her on the grass. I was very pleased with the effort.”

Thomas said McConnell Racing Stable’s War Terminator, a maiden winner in April at Aqueduct who had been pointing for Saturday’s $150,000 NYSSS Spectacular Bid, would get some time off following a minor issue.

“We like the horse quite a bit and the owners are exceptional people, but we need to back off on him unfortunately,” Thomas said.

While War Terminator will be out of action, Thomas will soon welcome LaPenta’s New York-bred stakes winner Nicky the Vest back to his stable. The son of second-crop sire Runhappy was a last-out winner of the Gander Stakes on February 15 at Aqueduct but was sidelined due to a knee chip discovered following a workout in late March.

“The recovery is going well,” said Thomas. “They’ve got him doing a lot of aqua therapy. I hope to get him back in a few weeks.”

The post Thomas Targets Belmont Derby for Hard Love appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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