Stronach Stables' Shaman Ghost will look to garner his third straight stakes win and continue his stellar 5-year-old campaign in headlining a field of six in the Grade 2, $750,000 Suburban Handicap as part of Saturday's Stars & Stripes Racing Festival at Belmont Park.
Shaman Ghost, trained by Jimmy Jerkens, has registered triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures in his last five races, including a personal-best 112 as the runner-up to Arrogate in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup to start his year on January 28.
After winning the Grade 1 Woodward and Grade 2 Brooklyn Invitational on Big Sandy as a 4-year-old, Shaman Ghost is coming off back-to-back victories in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap and the Grade 3 Pimlico Special Handicap on May 19, posting Figures of 108 and 106, respectively.
Last year, Shaman Ghost was fifth in the Suburban, though Jerkens said he is healthier entering this year's edition.
“He had an excuse last time; he came up with a bad cough pretty close to the race and didn't quite get over it,” Jerkens said.
With an 8-2-2 record in 16 career starts, Shaman Ghost has already amassed more than $3.7 million in career earnings. The champion Ontario bred drew the outside post with jockey Javier Castellano, where he will look to stalk expected pacesetter Matt King Coal.
“It looks like he's ready,” Jerkens said. “He's got good races at Belmont. I wish there was something to run with Linda's horse [Matt King Coal]. It looks like he'll be out there by himself but we'll just have to track along and hope we can run him down.”
Lady Sheila Stable's Matt King Coal went gate-to-wire in the 1 1/8-mile Mountainview on June 3 at Penn National, recording a career-high 102 Beyer, cracking triple digits for the first time in 10 career starts.
Trainer Linda Rice said the Florida bred should fare well in racing at the Suburban distance of 1 ¼ miles for the first time. Matt King Coal, who won his first two starts of the year before finishing second in the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic, will exit post 2 with Irad Ortiz, Jr. aboard.
“He's coming into the race well,” Rice said. “We know it's going to be a tough race but he's won a stakes at Laurel and Penn National. I like the distance and we don't have to ship, so we're going to take a shot at it.”
Matt King Coal won the Harrison E. Johnson Memorial at Laurel Park earlier this year and has won races ranging from a mile to 1 1/8 miles.
“I think he has it in him and I like him at a mile-and-a-quarter,” Rice said.
Keen Ice will make his first start in more than three months for trainer Todd Pletcher. The Kentucky-bred 5-year-old has been training at Belmont since finishing seventh in the Group 1 Dubai World Cup on March 25.
The veteran stakes winner last ran domestically in the Pegasus World Cup, rallying for fourth after a poor start in which he was 10th at the half-mile mark. The son of Curlin put in impressive works heading into the race, including a bullet five-furlong breeze in 1:00.85 Saturday on the training track.
“I thought he breezed great with a very strong gallop-out. It seems like he's in good form,” Pletcher said. “You'd hope he'd be fresh and I think the mile and a quarter will suit him. Hopefully he gets a good pace; that would help him a lot. We felt that even coming off a bit of a layoff, his best chance would be at a mile and a quarter.”
Keen Ice has won at the Suburban distance, including the 2015 Grade 1 Travers in which he bested Triple Crown winner American Pharoah after finishing third in that year's Belmont Stakes. He also was third in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic, run at the same distance.
“He's pretty much an old hand at this point,” Pletcher said. “We just hope he gets a good setup. He's acting like he's ready to run his race.”
Keen Ice will have the services of jockey Jose Ortiz from the inside post.
Watershed, winner of the Grade 3 Ben Ali on April 15 at Keeneland, has a pair of wins in four starts to start the year. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said the 5-year-old son of Bernardini is ready for his first race at Belmont since a fifth-place effort in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup on October 8.
“It's a tough race, but he's ready to go,” McLaughlin said. “The mile and a quarter should be great for him. It's not an easy spot, but he's doing great. We're hopeful.”
Hall of Famer Mike Smith will ride from post 4.
Sunny Ridge is looking for his first graded stakes win since the 2016 Grade 3 Withers for trainer Jason Servis. Owned by Dennis Drazin, the New Jersey homebred was third in last year's Grade 3 Haskell and was the runner-up to War Story in the Brooklyn Invitational on Belmont Stakes Day last month.
Manny Franco will be in the irons from post 3.
Rounding out the field is Follow Me Crev, who garnered second-place honors in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Gold Cup and the Grade 2 Californian in his last two starts for trainer Vladimir Cerin. Hall of Famer John Velazquez will have the call out of post 5.
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