Among the many marquee horses you’ll see at this weekend’s Belmont Stakes Racing Festival is reigning Eclipse Award-winning sprinter Jackie’s Warrior, the marquee name in Friday’s Grade 2 True North.

Jackie's Warrior-True North
Jackie’s Warrior won his fourth Grade 1 race with this May score in the Churchill Downs. He’s the presumed favorite for Friday’s Grade 2 True North Stakes in the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival. (Image: Coady Photography)

The True North is one of five stakes on Friday’s 11-race card. That card is headlined by the Grade 1 New York, with the Grade 2 Belmont Gold Cup, Grade 2 Bed o’ Roses, and Grade 3 Intercontinental riding shotgun with the 6 ½-furlong True North.

But the compass of attention points to Jackie’s Warrior in the True North, as you would expect concerning a horse who has won Grade 1 races at ages 2, 3, and 4. That latter age includes his last score, the Grade 1 Churchill Downs on the Kentucky Derby undercard.

That win came in his second start of his 4-year-old campaign. It followed his victory in the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at Oaklawn Park three weeks earlier. That means Jackie’s Warrior will hit for the graded stakes trifecta in 2022: Grades 1, 2, and 3, with a True North victory.

Jackie’s Warrior matured into a Champion

“It’s a rare opportunity to be able to return an Eclipse champion. Obviously, I’m very grateful to Kirk and Judy Robison for that opportunity,” trainer Steve Asmussen said, referring to Jackie’s Warrior’s owners. “He’s just a brilliant horse, he’s absolutely brilliant. He’s everything you would want in a racehorse mentally and physically, and it’s quite obvious how fast he’s been. He has a tremendous attitude, a true racehorse. He has maintained his Grade 1 winning form this year, and the only difference we’re looking for this year is to finish it off by winning the Breeders’ Cup.”

That’s the only thing missing from Jackie’s Warrior’s CV. That conspicuous omission was brought to him by his distant sixth as the 1/2 favorite in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Jackie’s Warrior still managed four graded stakes victories, including a resounding win over Life Is Good in the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial at Saratoga.

The Jerkens marked Jackie’s Warrior’s third Grade 1 score and helped make him the Champion Male Sprinter for 2021. That gave Asmussen his third Eclipse Award sprinter, joining Kodiak Kowboy (2009) and Mitole (2019).

Baby Yoda the most recognizable rival

Awaiting Jackie’s Warrior and his 10-1-1 record in 14 starts and $2.3 million in earnings are five other rivals. Each will carry six fewer pounds than Jackie’s Warrior’s 124 pounds. The most notable of those is Baby Yoda who, last year, clocked a 114 Beyer Speed Figure beating stablemate Olympiad in a Saratoga allowance.

After finishing a distant second to Flightline in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes last December, Baby Yoda won both his 2022 outings. Those were allowances at Keeneland in April and Churchill Downs in May. He’s looking for his first career stakes score.