Grade 1-winner Whitmore and the returning Catalina Cruiser headline Friday's Grade 2, $250,000 True North, a 6 ½-furlong sprint for 4-year-olds and upward at Belmont Park.
Trained by Ron Moquett for owners Robert LaPenta, Southern Springs Stables and Head of Plains Partners, Whitmore broke through at the Grade 1 level in August at Saratoga Race Course with a rallying effort in the seven-furlong Forego.
With a record of 12-8-5 from 27 career starts and purse earnings in excess of $2.5 million, the 6-year-old Whitmore has proven to be an ultra-consistent performer as a sprinter after a sophomore campaign spent on the Kentucky Derby trail.
Last year, Whitmore won the Hot Springs and Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at Oaklawn Park en route to completing his season with a strong second to Roy H in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.
The Pleasantly Perfect chestnut arrives at the True North from a difficult fifth in the Grade 1 Churchill Downs Sprint.
“It was an odd race,” said Moquett of the last-out fifth. “We did a lot of moving around the turn instead of down the stretch. I was a little shook up about it, but at the same time he's come back safe and sound and healthy and we'll move forward.”
Ricardo Santana Jr., aboard for last year's Forego score, takes over from Javier Castellano. He'll pilot Whitmore from Post 7.
“I'm really happy with him and I think he'll run well,” said Moquett.
The lightly-raced Catalina Cruiser has won four of five career starts, including Grade 2 wins at Del Mar last year in the San Diego and Pat O'Brien. The 5-year-old Union Rags chestnut veered out at the break in the season-closing Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile in November finishing sixth, and will make his return to the races off a series of sharp works at Santa Anita, including a four-furlong effort in 47.60 seconds on Saturday morning.
Owned by Hronis Racing, Catalina Cruiser is out of the Mineshaft broodmare Sea Gull and is a half-brother to graded stakes winner Eagle.
Joel Rosario picks up the mount and will guide Catalina Cruiser from Post 3.
Sagamore Farm's Recruiting Ready has won two of five races since Stanley Hough took over training the 5-year-old son of Algorithms, including a 3 ¼-length score in the Grade 3 Gulfstream Park Sprint. In his most recent outing, the speedy bay finished second behind Firenze Fire in the Runhappy Stakes on May 11 at Belmont, despite grabbing a quarter after stumbling at the start.
Luis Saez has the call from Post 6.
Courtlandt Farms homebred Strike Power, a 4-year-old Speightstown chestnut, won the Grade 3 Swale and finished second in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth while competing on the Derby trail last winter at Gulfstream Park.
Trained by Mark Hennig, Strike Power returned to sprinting in the summer finishing a pace-setting fourth in the Grade 3 Amsterdam at Saratoga. Following an off-season throat surgery to correct a breathing issue, Strike Power made his seasonal debut in style with a romping five-length score in a 6 ½-furlong sprint on the Gulfstream main.
Strike Power will be piloted by Hall of Famer John Velazquez from Post 5.
The upwardly-mobile Nicodemus, trained by Linda Rice for owners Everything's Cricket Racing and Lawrence Goichman, earned a career-best 101 Beyer Speed Figure last out in the one-mile Grade 3 Westchester in which he defeated True North rival Stan the Man.
A 4-year-old son of Candy Ride, Nicodemus has three wins and two seconds from seven career starts. He won sprinting in the slop at Aqueduct in March before stretching out to nine furlongs for the Grade 3 Excelsior where he finished fourth.
Jose Ortiz takes over from Mike Luzzi in Post 4.
Completing the field are Bon Raison (Javier Castellano, Post 1), Stan the Man (Dylan Davis, Post 2), Do Share (Irad Ortiz Jr., Post 8), Gold for the King (Manny Franco, Post 9), and Mr. Dougie Fresh (Jose Lezcano, Post 10.)
The True North is slated as Race 8 on Friday's 11-race card. First post is 12:50 p.m.
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