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| | Belmont Stakes Horse Racing Notes 06/04/2008
Belmont Stakes 2008
Big Brown Versus Blueblood in Historic 140th Belmont Stakes
Trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. has taken some criticism for his seemingly boastful comments regarding IEAH Stable and Paul Pompa Jr.’s Big Brown. But if you do what you say, it’s not bragging, and Big Brown has come through for Dutrow ever since he entered his barn.
Saturday afternoon, Big Brown will be asked to come through one more time with the biggest prize at stake as he takes on nine rivals in the 140th running of the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Stakes for three-year-olds. The 1 ½-mile “Test of the Champion” (race 11, 6:25 p.m. Eastern; ABC-TV) is all that stands between Kentucky Derby/Preakness winner and immortality. Victory makes him the 12th Triple Crown winner, the first since Affirmed 30 years ago, and, along with Seattle Slew in 1977, the only horse to win the Triple Crown while undefeated.
A loss means that Big Brown becomes the 19th horse to lose the Triple Crown in the last and longest leg of the series.
“If we were to lose this race, we would all be very, very disappointed,” said Dutrow, whose charge was made the 2-5 morning-line favorite Wednesday. “That would be the first emotion we would all have and it would be the most natural one. But, as time goes by, I think that it will settle in just what this horse accomplished in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
“I just don’t think there is any horse out there that can compete with him at this stage. The only horse that is even remotely close is Casino Drive and I’m not afraid of him at all. I have Big Brown. All you have to do is look at his races. He has the move he needs when he needs it, and I mean, he has just erased whatever competition he has faced.”
Big Brown drew post 1 for the Belmont Stakes with Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux. Desormeaux was aboard Real Quiet 10 years ago and suffered what is arguably the toughest beat in sports history when Victory Gallop got up by a nose, costing Real Quiet the Triple Crown as well as a $5 million bonus.
Casino Drive, who drew post 5 with two-time Belmont Stakes winner Edgar Prado, remains the joker in the deck. Purchased for $950,000, his dam (mother) is the Deputy Minister mare Better Than Honour. She is also the dam of 2006 Belmont Stakes winner Jazil and last year’s Belmont Stakes winner Rags to Riches. If Casino Drive makes it three in a row for Better Than Honour, it is a record likely to stand longer than the late Hall of Fame trainer Woody Stephens’ record of saddling five straight Belmont Stakes winners from 1982-’86.
Owned by Hidetoshi Yamamoto and trained by Kazuo Fujisawa, Casino Drive, like Big Brown, is undefeated. He has only had two starts, one in Kyoto, Japan, but dazzled the fans in New York on May 10 by winning the Grade 2, nine-furlong Peter Pan.
Algerine in 1876 and Prince Eugene in 1913 entered the Belmont Stakes in only their third starts and both broke their maidens in the race. Casino Drive is a graded stakes winner and his Peter Pan was a professional race.
“This is a very good horse,” said spokesperson Nobutaka Tada. “He has been through a lot. He hurt his knee when he was 2 and didn’t race until February. Then, we had to keep moving him from training center to training center and racetrack to racetrack when equine influenza came to Japan. He shipped from Japan to here, 16 hours with a stop in Anchorage (Alaska) and had to go into quarantine at Aqueduct and then came out and won the Peter Pan.
“The owner is a sportsman and this horse is bred to win the Belmont Stakes. That is why we are here.”
Denis of Cork, named for a priest who is a friend of owners William and Suzanne Warren Jr., just may be the sleeper in the Belmont Stakes. Trainer David Carroll certainly hopes so. He stood in the winners’ circle here in 1990 when his brother, Raymond, an assistant to trainer Dermot Weld, came over with Go and Go to upset that Belmont Stakes. And, in 1989, Carroll was working for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey as an exercise rider when his star, Easy Goer, won the Belmont and ruined Sunday Silence’s bid for a Triple Crown.
“I have lot of respect for the Belmont Stakes and for the horses running in it,” said Carroll, who named Robby Albarado to ride Denis of Cork from post 4. “But my horse has certainly earned the chance to run here. He has only one blemish on his record, and that was the Illinois Derby. That race wasn’t his fault, it was the fault of management. We had a plan to run in the Southwest and the Rebel, and he was on that schedule. We took him off that schedule and ran him where he shouldn’t have been.
“So, that race was a throw-out. He ran a big race in the Kentucky Derby. I know you can look at it two ways. First, you can say that he was never in the race and just ran around and got third. But I thought he ran a big race that day. He broke from post 16 and was angled over to the rail, which cost him some ground and he still finished up well.
“He has trained well since then and he is bred to go long, so why not run him here?”
West Point Thoroughbreds’ Macho Again was second in the Preakness, and trainer Dallas Stewart believes it is a race upon which to build. He should know, for he was an assistant to Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas when he won three straight Belmonts with Tabasco Cat, Thunder Gulch and Editor’s Note from 1994-’96. He also was the exercise rider for Winning Colors, who ran last here in the 1988 Belmont Stakes.
Macho Again has drawn post 3 with jockey Garrett Gomez.
“I’m familiar with the Belmont and have great respect for the race,” Stewart said. “We came here because we believe we have a horse that belongs in this race. Big Brown is a very good horse, but this is a race where anything can happen. That’s why the Triple Crown is so hard to get.”
Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito has been on the winning and losing ends of this race. When Birdstone won the 2004 Belmont Stakes before a record crowd of 120,139 and spoiled Smarty Jones’ Triple Crown bid, it was Zito’s first Belmont winner in 18 starts. In eight of those losses, Zito finished second.
This time, he again is in a spoiler’s role and will run Four Roses Thoroughbreds’ Anak Nakal and Robert V. LaPenta’s Da’Tara in the Belmont Stakes.
“Anak Nakal and Birdstone are a lot alike,” Zito said. “Both had good two-year-old years: Birdstone won the Champagne and Anak Nakal won the Kentucky Jockey Cup. They both ran well in the Wood Memorial. And then they had good races in the Kentucky Derby. By good races, I mean that Birdstone finished eighth, not 18th. Anak Nakal finished seventh, not 17th. So, the Belmont is a race in which they can improve, and Anak Nakal is bred to go the distance, so why not?”
Anak Nakal is a son of Victory Gallop, who won the 1998 Belmont Stakes and ended Real Quiet’s hopes for a Triple Crown.
Da’Tara, who will race as a separate entry for Zito, exits a second-place finish in the Barbaro Stakes at Pimlico on Preakness Day. A son of Tiznow, Zito believes he, too, will handle the distance.
Julien Leparoux will ride Anak Nakal, while Alan Garcia landed on Da’ Tara. They will break, respectively, from posts 8 and 6.
Five years ago, trainer Barclay Tagg was in the position of winning the Triple Crown with Kentucky Derby/Preakness winner Funny Cide. Now, he will try to be the upsetter with Tale of Ekati, the winner of Aqueduct’s Grade 1 Wood Memorial this year.
“The thing about the Belmont is that you never know what will happen,” Tagg said. “Funny Cide caught a track that he hated. The mile and a half is always a question. But I have a horse that is training well who I think can get the distance.”
Eibar Coa has the mount from post 7.
Icabad Crane, with Jeremy Rose up from post 10, was third in the Preakness while racing much farther back than usual. He appears to be a horse that will appreciate added distance, and certainly trainer H. Graham Motion knows how to get horses to go long.
“We have a very consistent horse who has never been worse than third,” Motion said. “He is still learning, but he is a much different horse than he was earlier this year.”
Trainer Todd Pletcher won his first Belmont Stakes last year with Rags to Riches, who became one of only three fillies and the first in 102 years to win the Belmont Stakes. This year, he will go with Ready’s Echo, who ran third in the Peter Pan.
“We kind of had the Belmont on our radar ever since the race at Keeneland,” Pletcher said. ``And we got more serious about it after his performance in the Peter Pan.
“He’s a colt we’ve obviously always liked. Historically he has not been a good gate horse, and we did a little more gate work with him. He’s just one of those horses. Some horses, you break one time and they’re good; with him, we’ve had to break him several times. The challenge is it’s a balancing act. You don’t want to interfere with their natural style but you want to get him involved enough early in the race so he doesn’t lose interest.”
Jockey John Velazquez, who rode Rags to Riches last year, will break from post nine with Ready’s Echo.
A last-minute entry to the Belmont Stakes on Wednesday was Fred Seitz’ Guadalcanal, a Graeme Hall colt who will be making his sixth career start. He has yet to win, but Seitz is encouraged by the colt’s nose loss in a 1 ½-mile turf race at Churchill Downs on May 23. Javier Castellano picked up the mount and will break from post 2.
“We buy all of our horses through Dr. David Lambert, who is a heart scanner,” Seitz said. “This horse has the heart of a stayer and it is a good heart as well. In his last race, he showed that he loves the distance. If you break the chart down, you will see that he got the last half-mile in 48 2/5 and the last quarter in 23 2/5.
“We’re not kidding ourselves. We know that we will be an extreme long shot here. But this race is all about getting the mile and a half, and we believe we have a horse that can do just that.”
By Francis LaBelle Jr. | June 4, 2008
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