Fierceness Returns to Work Tab After Derby Loss

Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher holds a strong hand for the $2 million Belmont Stakes (G1) with as many as four possible contenders topped by Fierceness and Antiquarian as well as the undefeated Mindframe, who were all on the morning work tab May 24. Pletcher, who could also be represented in the June 8 Belmont by the talented maiden Protective, has previously won the "Test of the Champion" with Rags to Riches (2007), Palace Malice (2013), Tapwrit (2017), and Mo Donegal (2022). Fierceness and Mindframe Repole Stable's Kentucky homebred Fierceness returned to the work tab for the first time since an off-the-board finish in the Kentucky Derby (G1) May 4, covering a half-mile in company with Mindframe over Saratoga Race Course's Oklahoma dirt training track. The 2023 champion 2-year-old colt, Fierceness is targeting a start in the Belmont, while Repole Stable and St. Elias Stables' Mindframe is possible for either the Belmont or in the 1 1/16-mile Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park, a June 15 prep for the $1 million Haskell Stakes (G1) being run July 20. "We haven't decided yet. The Belmont is in play, the Pegasus is in play," Pletcher said regarding Mindframe. "We'll just survey how the race is shaping up and talk to the ownership and see what they want to do." The pair were the first of Pletcher's set to go out after the first renovation break at 7:30 a.m. They remained together throughout with Fierceness on the outside as New York Racing Association clockers caught them in splits of :13 2/5 seconds, :25 3/5, and :50 for the half-mile before galloping out in 1:02 2/5, 1:14 3/5, and 1:28 2/5 over the fast footing. "I thought it was a very good work from both horses," Pletcher said. "They seemed to be doing it well in hand coming to the wire. We kind of let Mindframe do a little more in the gallop out than Fierceness—he had a work last week, and he's more lightly raced. I was very pleased with both horses. It seemed like Fierceness was moving really well and did it easily." Fierceness, who has grade 1 wins in the 2023 Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) and Florida Derby (G1), was the post-time favorite for the Kentucky Derby but hopped at the start under Hall of Famer John Velazquez and failed to threaten when three-wide into the stretch, finishing well behind the victorious Mystik Dan. "I think if you look at it, the one thing he did—which he has done in the three races he's lost—is he kind of hopped a little bit at the start and didn't get away as cleanly," said Pletcher. "Johnny thought maybe the horse overreacted to him asking him to get into the race, and at that point he thought he got a little keen with him." Pletcher said he opted to give the City of Light bay an extra week of rest after the Derby considering he does not need to condition for additional ground in this year's 1 1/4-mile Belmont Stakes. "I thought after the Derby, we shipped back here, and he was a little quiet for a few days," he said. "It took him a little while to get back in the feed tub, and I started looking at it and said, 'You know what, I think two works is good enough.' He looks super fit and is coming off a mile-and-a-quarter race. Maybe if it was at Belmont and a mile and a half, I might have breezed him last week, but I thought I could give him the extra week and not worry about it." Pletcher added he is pleased with Fierceness' energy level as of late. "His gallops have been good and a couple mornings ago, he put in a big buck in the middle of the turn," he said. "He's such a quiet horse, sometimes you're not 100% sure where you are with him because he's so laid back and cool all the time. He's such an easy horse to train." Antiquarian Centennial Farms' Antiquarian completed his first timed work since a stalk-and-pounce score to capture the Peter Pan Stakes (G3) by three-quarters of a length May 11 at Aqueduct Racetrack. Piloted by Irad Ortiz Jr. for the breeze, he worked in company with Candied, who had exercise rider Hector Ramos aboard as she prepares for the Acorn Stakes (G1) June 7 at Saratoga. NYRA clockers had the pair completing a half-mile in :48.65 over the Belmont Park dirt training track. "It was pretty even the whole way. I got them in :12 1/5, :24 3/5, :48 3/5, galloped out 1:01," said Pletcher's New York-based assistant Amelia Green. "It was a strong gallop out, 1:13 1/5. An eased down 1:26 4/5. Honestly, he did it very impressively on this track. "I'd say the track is a little faster today than it has been all week, but the way he did it was the main thing, which was well within himself," Green added. Antiquarian, who is by the Centennial Farms-campaigned Preservationist, entered the Peter Pan from a sixth in the 1 3/16-mile Louisiana Derby (G2) after breaking through the gate March 23 at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. Prior to that effort, the chestnut had graduated at second asking going 1 1/16 miles there over next-out winner Cornishman. "Obviously, he is a colt, and she is a filly," said Green regarding the work partners. "So, it is hard to judge them against each other, but she did it nicely, too." Pletcher said he was pleased with the good report from Green. "Amelia said he worked really well, strong gallop out," said Pletcher. "She said Irad was raving about how well he went. I'm happy with that. The plan is to ship here tomorrow." Centennial Farms looks to hoist the Belmont Stakes trophy for a second time, having won the classic with Colonial Affair in 1993. Protective Repole Stable's maiden Protective has made his last two starts in graded events traveling nine furlongs at Aqueduct, finishing third in both the Wood Memorial Stakes (G2) and the Peter Pan. The Medaglia d'Oro colt, a $250,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase in 2022, endured a troubled trip in the Wood Memorial when bumped at the break and taken up. He was full of run down the lane when Deposition fell to his outside while trying to split rivals to the inside of Uncle Heavy. Despite the troubled trip, Protective finished strong to earn show honors 3 3/4-lengths back of the victorious Resilience. Last out, a more prominent Protective tracked from fourth position and stayed on strong to complete the trifecta two lengths back of his victorious stablemate Antiquarian, who was a three-quarter-length winner over The Wine Steward. NYRA will waive the entry and starting fees to the Belmont Stakes, excluding the supplemental fee, for the first three finishers of the Peter Pan. Protective, out of the grade 1-winning Empire Maker mare Grace Hall, had his first work back May 22, covering a half-mile in :48.68 over the Belmont dirt training track. "He breezed very well and he's doing well," Pletcher said. "We're not committed to the Belmont, but we're not ruling it out either. We will assess how he's doing and how the field is shaping up and make a decision on entry day."