Trainer Jack Sisterson will saddle Calumet Farm homebred Channel Cat in search of a first Grade 1 score in Saturday’s $700,000 Man o’ War, an 11-furlong inner turf test for older horses at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y.
The 6-year-old English Channel horse made the grade under the care of newly minted Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher in the 2019 Grade 2 Bowling Green at Saratoga Race Course. The victory came as part of a profitable season in which the chestnut finished third in both the Grade 1 United Nations at Monmouth Park and the Grade 1 Sword Dancer at the Spa.
Transferred to Sisterson’s care last year, Channel Cat finished a closing fifth in the nine-furlong Grade 2 Fort Lauderdale in December at Gulfstream Park and followed with an even fifth in the Grade 3 William L. McKnight traveling 1 1/2-miles at the same oval in January.
Last out, Channel Cat was a prominent second in the 12-furlong Grade 2 Elkhorn on April 17 on the Keeneland turf.
Sisterson said a revised training schedule for Channel Cat heading into the Elkhorn made a world of difference.
“We were disappointed with his effort in the McKnight in Florida. Usually, second off the layoff in our barn is a big step forward and not a regression,” said Sisterson. “I think he was breezing too fast in the mornings leading up to the McKnight, so we backed off on him and gave him two weeks off after that race to focus on the Elkhorn at Keeneland. We slowed his works right down and he thrived off that.
“His coat started to change and he put on weight,” added Sisterson. “He ran a great second in the Elkhorn and Corey Lanerie was really happy with him. He came out of that race and put on weight and looked better coming out of it than he did going into it.”
To win the Grade 1 event, Channel Cat will have to topple a field that includes the North American debut of Sovereign, a gate-to-wire winner of the 2019 Group 1 Irish Derby, and last year’s Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational-winner Gufo.
Sisterson said he will leave race tactics in the capable hands of Hall of Famer John Velazquez, who will guide Channel Cat from post 5.
“The good thing with Channel Cat is that he can be forwardly placed or save ground and relax and come from off the pace,” said Sisterson. “A lot of people would agree that a European horse with speed is a lot different from an American horse with speed, so It will be interesting to see what Irad Ortiz, Jr. does with Sovereign, who has shown speed in Europe.”
Sisterson is hoping to saddle a trio of horses Saturday at Belmont, including Calumet Farm’s Anejo, a first time starter by Freud out of the Thunder Gulch mare Tiffany Twisted.
Anejo, bred in the Empire State by SF Bloodstock, is listed as the first also-eligible entrant in a six-furlong turf sprint for state-bred maidens 3-years-old and up in Race 5. Luis Saez will have the call should Anejo draw into the field.
“He was such a big 2-year-old that we backed off on him and let him grow into his frame,” said Sisterson. “He’s big, but he shows a lot of speed as well. He had been working forwardly on the dirt and we don’t usually win first time out, but he showed enough foundation to get him going on Saturday if he gets in.”
The New York-bred sophomore colt, purchased for $150,000 at the 2019 Saratoga Preferred New York-bred Yearling Sale, is a half-sibling to multiple stakes winner Twisted Tom.
Sisterson will also be represented by Calumet Farm homebred Scarabea in Race 11, a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight on the Widener turf for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up. By American Pharoah, Scarabea is out of the multiple graded stakes winning Galileo mare Starstruck.
The well-bred chestnut, a half-sister to stakes winner Turf War, will make her fourth career start out of a closing fourth in a nine-furlong turf event at Keeneland on April 7.
“It may not be her best distance on Saturday. I think she’s better at a mile and an eighth, but they might go a touch quicker up front at the shorter distance Saturday which would help her out,” said Sisterson.
Sisterson said a good effort on Saturday could propel Scarabea to the Grade 3,$200,000 Wonder Again, a nine-furlong turf test for sophomore fillies on June 3 at Belmont.
“She’ll stay all day long and whether she breaks her maiden or not on Saturday, we’ll see. If she does, we might try the Wonder Again,” said Sisterson. “If she doesn’t, we’ll be patient with her and look to break her maiden. She’s definitely a filly that as she gets older and the races stretch out a bit, she could be a force in those longer distance turf races.”
Jose Lezcano is named to ride from post 3 in a field of 10.
Sisterson said Calumet Farm homebred Lexitonian is possible for the Grade 1, $1 million Hill ‘N’ Dale Metropolitan Handicap on Belmont Stakes Day on June 5, following a strong second in the Grade 1 Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day when defeated a head by Flagstaff.
“On his day, he can compete with the best of them. He’s a fighter and he puts his heart on the line,” said Sisterson.
Lexitonian entered the Churchill Downs from an even fourth in his seasonal debut in an optional-claiming sprint at Gulfstream Park in March.
“The goal was always the Churchill Downs and he had time between starts and we were able to work him three times,” said Sisterson. “We knew second off the layoff is good with him. This was the first time since we’ve had him that he didn’t win second time off the layoff for us, so we thought it would be a much improved performance, which it was.”
The 5-year-old Speightstown chestnut boasts a record of 17-4-2-2 with purse earnings of $465,182. Lexitonian made the grade in the 2019 Grade 3 Chick Lang at Pimlico Race Course.
Sisterson said the Metropolitan Handicap and the Grade 1, $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap, a six-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds and up on July 31 at the Spa, are potential targets.
“Timing wise, the Met Mile would be perfect,” said Sisterson. “If he trains forwardly we would consider it. There’s also the Aristides [May 29] at Churchill as a prep for the Vanderbilt at Saratoga for him. I just want to space his races accordingly, so he can get the Grade 1 because I think he deserves it.”
Sisterson said True Timber, who was last seen winning the Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap at the Big A in December under Kendrick Carmouche, is enjoying some downtime.
“True Timber has been turned out at my barn here at Keeneland since we decided to give him a break,” said Sisterson. “He’s a bright eyed, happy horse. Hopefully, we can get him back going this month and back to Aqueduct at the end of the year to defend his Cigar Mile.”
The 7-year-old Mineshaft bay sports a record of 29-5-5-9 with purse earnings in excess of $1.2 million.
Bon Raison, who finished sixth last out in the Cigar Mile, is set to return to training next week. The 6-year-old son of Raison d’Etat, a Kentucky homebred, has a career ledger of 45-11-4-7 with purse earnings of $682,034.
“Bon Raison will be back on the work tab in a week or two and will come to Saratoga during the summer with us,” said Sisterson.
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