Daniel McConnell's Prince Lucky will go for his third consecutive graded stakes win and fourth straight victory overall in challenging an eight-horse field in the Grade 3, $200,000 Westchester for 4-year-olds and up on Saturday at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y.
The 90th running of the Westchester, contested at one mile, is one of three graded stakes on Saturday's 12-race Belmont card on Kentucky Derby Day, along with the Grade 2, $200,000 Sheepshead Bay and the Grade 3, $150,000 Fort Marcy.
Prince Lucky shipped up from his Florida training base at Palm Beach Downs, where he will attempt to build on back-to-back triple digit Beyer Speed Figures after a 4 ¾-length score as the 1-5 favorite in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Mile on March 30. That effort came after he earned a 106 Beyer with a six-length romp in the Grade 3 Hal's Hope on February 23 at the same track, marking an impressive return off an eight-month layoff for trainer Todd Pletcher.
“He's shipped up here in good form. Watching his races at Gulfstream this winter, he's really established himself,” said Pletcher assistant Byron Hughes. “He's shown good energy since he's been up here and we look forward to him running a big race.”
The 4-year-old will return to Belmont for the first time since winning the Easy Goer on Belmont Stakes Day, June 9. A Pennsylvania-bred son of Corinthian owned and bred by Daniel McConnell, Prince Lucky is 3-for-4 since being gelded in April 2018.
Prince Lucky, 6-0-2 in 10 career starts, will see Joe Bravo pick up the mount, drawing post 8.
Calumet Farm's Bandua, making just his second career start on dirt, will be going for his first North American win since arriving last year from Ireland. The 4-year-old son of The Factor earned a personal-best 99 Beyer in his seasonal bow with a runner-up effort to Synchrony on the turf in the Grade 3 Fair Grounds Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on February 16.
Trainer Jack Sisterson moved Bandua to the main track for the first time last out, resulting in a fourth-place finish in the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on March 23. Cutting back in distance, the Kentucky-bred will get his first opportunity to compete on Belmont's Big Sandy.
“His last race was his first time on dirt. He was breezing great at Fair Grounds and I was pleased with the way he ran that day,” Sisterson said. “We shipped him up to Keeneland and his energetic and workmanlike works were transferred from Fair Grounds to there. He has a huge stride and high cruising speed and we're excited to get him over the one turn configuration at Belmont. He won't be on the lead, but he should be right behind whoever wants to go up front.”
Should Bandua continue to adjust well to dirt, his connections said the Runhappy Metropolitan on Belmont Stakes Day on June 8 could be in play.
“If he runs a winning race, we'll look at the Met Mile,” Sisterson said.
Adam Beschizza, who won 82 races at the recently concluded Fair Grounds meet to lead all riders, and has been aboard for the last four of Bandua's starts and all the mounts since Sisterson took over training duties from Dermot Weld, will travel to Belmont to ride, drawing post 5.
Stakes-veteran Realm returned from a six-month layoff to run third in the Skip Away at 1 3/16 miles on March 29 at Gulfstream Park. The 6-year-old Barclay Tagg trainee will be returning to Belmont for the first time since a seventh-place finish in the Grade 2 Kelso on September 22 at the Westchester distance.
After making seven consecutive starts against optional claimers from 2017-18, Realm, owned by Eric Dattner, Tagg and Harry Astarita, returned to stakes company in August, winning the Alydar by a neck over Kurilov at 1 1/8 miles. He is 1-1-3 in eight career starts at one mile.
“He's doing great, there aren't that many places to run him anymore,” Tagg said. “I don't think the distance makes a big difference. I think he'll be comfortable. At a mile, he doesn't get into too much trouble. He's a pretty honest horse. He likes to place himself. You have to let him do his thing.”
Kendrick Carmouche will be in the irons from post 2.
Courtlandt Farms' Carlino will make his first start of the new campaign, returning to action for the first time since running fourth in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup on September 29 at Belmont.
The 5-year-old son of Lemon Drop Kid returns to action seeking his first stakes win with a nearly eighth-month layoff since earning a 97 Beyer in competing against a talented field that saw Discreet Lover, Thunder Snow and Mendelssohn comprise the top-three finishers.
Trained by Mark Hennig, Carlino will be cutting back to a mile for the first time since 2017, carrying a 2-1-0 record in four career starts at the distance. Eric Cancel will ride from post 3.
Dennis Drazin's Sunny Ridge, the reigning New Jersey-bred Horse of the Year, has finished on the board in three of his last four starts, including a runner-up to Mr. Buff in the 1 1/8-mile Jazil on January 26 at Aqueduct Racetrack. The son of Holy Bull ended his 2018 campaign with a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap on December 1 at the Big A, building on a second-place finish by one length to Patternrecognition in the Grade 2 Kelso Handicap on September 22 in his last Belmont start.
Trained by Jason Servis, Sunny Ridge is 1-3-2 in seven career starts at mile. Jose Lezcano will pick up the mount, departing from post 1.
Rounding out the field are a trio of entries looking for their first respective stakes win in Stan the Man, trained by John Terranova, from post 4; Nicodemus, conditioned by Linda Rice, out of post 7; and Hoffenheim, trained by Jeremiah Englehart, from post 6
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