By: David Grening
ELMONT, N.Y. – When they met two months ago in the State Dinner Stakes here, Touchofstarquality was favored over Comfort but proved no match for that rival, losing by 3 1/2 lengths. On Saturday, when they meet again in the $100,000 Seattle Slew Stakes on the first Saturday of the Belmont Park fall meet, Comfort will be regarded as the horse to beat in the five-horse field set to go 1 1/16 miles over the main track.
Somewhat surprisingly, Comfort may have emerged as the top older male in trainer Todd Pletcher’s barn following two wins at Belmont and a runner-up finish to Frosted in the Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga. In the Whitney, Comfort was squeezed back at the break and raced toward the back of the pack while Frosted set razor-sharp fractions and never stopped. Comfort rallied between horses to get second by a half-length over Upstart.
“The first part of the race didn’t go as we had planned,” said Pletcher, who trains Comfort for Eclipse Thoroughbreds. “He kind of got shuffled back, dropped a little further back than we anticipated we’d be, but I like the way he continued to dig in, fight, and finished up well. It was his first test against top-level horses. He had run races that were fast enough against lesser competition to suggest he fit, but until you step up against the big boys, you don’t know for sure. But I was pleased with his effort.”
With an eye toward the Jockey Club Gold Cup here on Oct. 8, Pletcher and Aron Wellman, head of Eclipse, opted to skip last Saturday’s Woodward Stakes at Saratoga and use this as a prep, in part because Comfort is 2 for 2 at Belmont.
Touchofstarquality has a 3-2-1 record from six starts at Belmont. Prior to finishing second in the State Dinner, Touchofstarquality won an allowance race going 1 1/16 miles here on May 21. Shaman Ghost, third in that race, has since won the Grade 2 Brooklyn and Grade 1 Woodward.
Touchofstarquality came out of the State Dinner Stakes to run second in the Alydar Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 7. After setting the pace, he couldn’t hold off Royal Posse, who won by 1 1/2 lengths. Touchofstarquality finished 5 1/2 lengths clear of third-place finisher Mylute, who is entered back in this race. Royal Posse came back to win the Evan Shipman Stakes against New York-breds.
“Right now, he’s training great,” trainer Michelle Nevin said. “He’s been able to put in big efforts back to back. I’m very happy with him heading into this race. He likes Belmont.”
With Jose Ortiz serving a suspension, Joel Rosario rides Touchofstarquality, who figures to be the pacesetter after breaking from post 2.
Baccelo is 2 for 2 since being claimed by David Jacobson for $62,500 at Santa Anita on June 10, including a 1 1/2-length victory in the Grade 3 Philip Iselin at Monmouth on Aug. 27. That win makes him the 124-pound highweight under Javier Castellano.
Tapin Mojo, fifth in the Woodward a week ago, also is entered.
The Seattle Slew is race 3 on a 10-race card that begins at 1:30 p.m. Eastern. Show wagering will not be offered on the Seattle Slew.