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Fabulous Strike, Desert Key look to Win, but 'Bull' is Back

ELMONT, N.Y. – Belmont Park’s fans love consistency. They love horses they can rely on and that will, as a rule, deliver their best on race day.

This explains the love affair between Belmont’s faithful and Walter Downey’s Fabulous Strike, who faces five others in Saturday’s 31st running of the Grade 2, $250,000 True North Handicap for three-year-olds and up at six furlongs.

The True North (race 6, 2:33 p.m.) kicks off a $1 million guaranteed Pick 6 on races 6-11 and is part of the undercard on a 13-race live card that features the 141st running of the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Stakes (ABC-TV; 6:27 p.m.) First-race post is 11:35 a.m., and ESPN will cover the scene from noon – 5 p.m.

Fabulous Strike, a 6-year-old Smart Strike gelding, became a millionaire on April 4, despite a head loss to Kodiak Kowboy in Aqueduct Racetrack’s Grade 1 Carter Handicap. It was his second straight runner-up finish, coming not quite two months after a 1¼-length loss to True Quality in the Grade 2 General George at Laurel.

Well rested since, Fabulous Strike returns to Belmont Park where he has won three of five starts with one second. Overall, he has 12 wins and four seconds from 21 starts.

“Those last two races were at seven furlongs, which is not his best distance,” said trainer Todd Beattie. “I’m looking forward to running him back at six furlongs, and Belmont is his favorite place.”

According to Beattie, Fabulous Strike receives plenty of fan mail and is looking forward to the big stage of Belmont Stakes Day to run him again.

“I’ll ship him up the day of the race,” Beattie said from his private barn at Penn National. “I don’t like shipping the day before because I think it gives them a restless night away from home. He is a real privilege to train. He’s a warrior. Last time, the comment was that he drifted out, but I think he drifted out to get at that other horse (Kodiak Kowboy). He’s very competitive and he wanted to get physical with that horse. He just grits his teeth and pins his ears and goes to battle.”

Fabulous Strike will carry 122 pounds in the True North, and breaks from the outside in post 6 under jockey Ramon Dominguez.

If Fabulous Strike is weary of running second, he can at least be thankful that he’s not Centennial Farm’s Desert Key. In eight career starts, he has two wins and five seconds and the most he’s ever been beaten by is two and one quarter lengths.

“It’s been vey frustrating,” said trainer Jimmy Jerkens of the 4-year-old E Dubai colt. “I thought he was the horse to beat in the Gallant Bob (Philadelphia Park, September 27, 2008). He ran sluggish – and he only got beat three-quarters of a length. If he runs his race, he wins that easily.

“He has had some rough ankles, and had some surgery, so I guess his last race wasn’t so bad, since it was his first in nearly eight months.”

Standing in the way of anyone improving their record here is IEAH Stable’s Benny The Bull, a 6-year-old Lucky Lionel who has won five in a row and has career earnings in excess of $2.2 million. He will carry top weight of 123 pounds and break from the rail under Hall of Fame jockey Edgar Prado.

He has not started, however, since July 12, 2008.

“He had a chip removed from his ankle,” said trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. “He came out of that race, and it took him a while to cool out. That’s when we found the chip. I like to space my horses’ races anyway, and when the deal fell through for him to be a stallion, we took our time bringing him back. Every day with him is a happy day and he has been training well and steadily for his return.”

Completing the field are Silver Edition, who was beaten a head in the Grade 3 Maryland Sprint Handicap; Two Step Salsa, who has won two in a row in Dubai and makes his American debut here and Sixthirteen, who takes a big step up in class.

 

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