Sophomore Sprinters Go Seven in Woody Stephens


Mind Control | Sarah K Andrew


No trainer has left a more indelible mark on Belmont weekend than the great Woody Stephens, whose five consecutive victories in the Test of a Champion from 1982-1986 is a mark not likely ever to be eclipsed. The former Riva Ridge S. was renamed in Stephens's honor in 2006 and the event received a further compliment when it became the third age-restricted Grade I sprint for sophomore males for this running. And the seven-furlong heat has a decidedly open feel.

Mind Control (Stay Thirsty) is the nominal favorite and one of two previous top-level scorers in the race, having won Saratoga's Hopeful S. last summer. Well-beaten in the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile, he bounced back to take the one-mile Jerome S. on New Year's Day, but connections wisely elected not to press on to a Triple Crown campaign and have programmed the Red Oak runner for one-turn spots. An unlucky second in the GIII Gotham S. at the mile trip Mar. 9, he cut back to this distance and overcame a bit of stretch herding to best Much Better (Pioneerof the Nile) in the GIII Bay Shore S. at the Big A Apr. 6.

Chad Brown won the 2015 Woody Stephens with March (Blame) and that he has entered Klaravich Stable's Complexity (Maclean's Music) off the layoff here can be taken as a confident sign. Accorded 'TDN Rising Star' status off a popular and highly rated debut victory at the Spa Sept. 3, the bay led past every pole en route to a three-length defeat of the slow-starting and future Classic-placed Code of Honor (Noble Mission {GB}) in the GI Champagne S. the following month. Complexity dropped out of contention abruptly as the 13-5 second choice in the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile, but has trained forwardly over the Oklahoma training track for this return to action.

The Brown barn is also set to be represented Honest Mischief (Into Mischief–Honest Lady), named a 'Rising Star' off an eight-length maiden score on the Toyota Blue Grass undercard Apr. 6 (his 97 Beyer bettered the 94 earned by Vekoma in the Blue Grass).

“Honest Lady was a tremendously campaigned race mare and broodmare, but she's probably the favorite mare of about 80 percent of the farm,” Juddmonte Farms' General Manager Garrett O'Rourke said. “She has the temperament of a dog, is very intelligent and just a sweetheart of a mare. It would be great to have a son of hers at a high caliber given her age [23] and a Grade I win would make him an excellent stallion prospect. We'd love for him to pull it off.”

Oaklawn Park form is on display in the Woody Stephens in the form of Bachelor S. first- and second-place finishers Nitrous (Tapit) and Landeskog (Munnings), respectively. The former, third to Mind Control in the Hopeful, came from sixth in the field of eight to take the Bachelor by a widening 1 3/4 lengths, while Landeskog, who defeated a next-out stakes winner on his Mar. 31 debut in Hot Springs, set blazing fractions of :21.31 and :44.26 and held well for second, well clear of the talented and much more seasoned Gray Attempt (Graydar) in third.

Hog Creek Hustle (Overanalyze) looks interesting on the cutback in trip. A good second to War of Will (War Front) in the GIII Lecomte S. in January, he exits a sound runner-up effort from a high draw in the one-mile GIII Pat Day Mile S. at Churchill May 4. He needs to pick up his feet some, but the price will be right and the race should be run to suit.

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