What the Listed Belmont Newmarket (1200m) lacks in numbers is compensated by depth with a top line up to contest the $100,000 feature at Belmont Park on Saturday.
Rebel King and Cool Trade renew their hostilities after last fortnight’s thrilling Bolton Sprint (1000m) while Rock Magic and Wink And A Nod also have strong claims.
Adding an intriguing and enthralling element to the race is the return of Smoko who oozes class but has been beset by soundness issues throughout his career.
Injuries have prevented Smoko, prepared at Bunbury by Ross Price, from building on his imposing record of six wins and two placings from nine career starts.
The six-year-old hasn’t raced since tearing his off-fore ligament when placed sixth in last November’s Colonel Reeves Stakes (1100m) at Ascot.
Price says he is happy with Smoko’s progress after a trial warm up at Lark Hill, but remains cautious going up against race hardened rivals.
“There are pretty talented fit and race hardened horses in the field who will be pretty strong at the end of 1200m,” said Price on TABradio.
“But I’m pleased with how Smoko is going and was really happy with what he was able to do in the trial.
“We didn’t set him out to have a hard trial and it was really a matter of going around on the grass again.
“He hadn’t seen grass for nine months because at Bunbury we only have a sand track at this time of the year.
“He wasn’t set out to run any good time and Paul (Harvey) kept him nice and comfortable all the way.
“I was really happy with what he did.”
Smoko, drawn in gate four, will be ridden by Paul Harvey. The champion jockey is chasing his fifth win in the Belmont Newmarket.
Meanwhile Chris Gangemi says he is expects Rock Magic to improve and hit back after he ran fifth to Rebel King in the Bolton Sprint.
The Redoute’s Choice gelding was chasing back-to-back feature wins after storming home to take out the Beaufine Stakes two weeks earlier.
The six-year-old had to overcome top weight of 59kg and got back from a wide draw, but Gangemi wasn’t happy with the way he hit the line.
“I don’t know why but he probably wasn’t 100 per cent going into the run and sort of raced accordingly,” said Gangemi.
“But he has come through it really well and has been good in the past few weeks, feeling a lot brighter in himself.
“If he can be saved up for the last 200 or 300 metres without spending any petrol before he has a good turn of foot.
“In a field of six hopefully he can straighten up only two or three lengths off them and be hard to hold out.”
Rock Magic will jump from the outside barrier for Jarrad Noske. He is rated a $7 chance with the TAB
The $3 favourite is Cool Trade with Smoko $3.40 and Wink And A Nod on the third line at $3.80.
RWWA: Julio Santarelli