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"Bird" has his first gallop at Belmont

ELMONT, N.Y. – Under a light drizzle, Belmont Stakes morning-line favorite Mine That Bird had his first tour of Belmont Park’s 1½-mile oval Thursday morning, galloping briskly over the sloppy, sealed track just after 7 a.m.

Trainer Chip Woolley and owners Mark Allen and Dr. Leonard Blach were on hand as the Kentucky Derby winning gelding, who was second in the Preakness, fairly skipped over the surface as he came down the middle of the stretch, as the inside part of the track was closed for training, with exercise rider Carlos Figueroa up.

“He gets over it so easy – that’s what I was hoping for,” said Woolley, who immediately afterward departed with the owners to ring the Opening Bell at the New York Stock Exchange, along with jockey Calvin Borel. “He carries it with him wherever he goes. He loped through the stretch real easy. If there’s a track he doesn’t like, we haven’t found it yet.”

Mine That Bird, the 2-1 morning line favorite, arrived at Belmont Park at 4 p.m. on Wednesday following an uneventful flight from Louisville, Ky., a departure in travel style from the first two legs of the Triple Crown, for which Woolley personally drove him by horse van from New Mexico to Churchill Downs and from there to Baltimore for the Preakness.

Mine That Bird will face nine other three-year-olds in the 141st running of the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Stakes, which is scheduled to go off at 6:27 p.m. (EDT), with ABC covering the race live from 5 to 7 p.m.

Charitable Man, the second choice on the morning line at 3-1 in the 1½-mile Belmont, jogged twice around the training track Thursday morning at 8 a.m. with trainer Kiaran McLaughlin looking on.

“With the rain, the training track seemed to be a little better, because they race over there and seal it a little tighter,” said McLaughlin, who trains the Grade 2 Peter Pan winner for Mr. and Mrs. William K. Warren, Jr. “I don’t know what we’ll do tomorrow because of the rain. He’s fit, but ideally speaking, we’d like to gallop over a fast track, just to keep him in a routine. We don’t mind running on a sloppy track, but there’s no money in the morning, so we don’t train on it.”

The Warrens will be visiting Anna House, the child care center located on Belmont Park’s backstretch, on Friday around 10:15 a.m. There they will be presented with two posters made by the center’s preschoolers wishing Charitable Man good luck in Saturday’s race. The Warrens recently donated $10,000 to Anna House in honor of McLaughlin, who is being recognized by the Belmont Child Care Association this summer for his long-standing and continued support.

Trainer Todd Pletcher guaranteed it would not rain on Belmont Stakes Day.

“I would not allow it to rain on Saturday,” said Pletcher, whose Dunkirk, the third choice on the morning line at 4-1 for Saturday’s race, galloped over the main track. “He handled it well this morning. If it were a drying-out track, a sticky, gooey track, then I would be concerned.

“But I don’t anticipate it would be an off-track unless it rains Saturday,” added Pletcher, who trains Dunkirk for Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith. “This track dries out pretty quickly.”

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas sent his Belmont duo of Luv Gov and Flying Private out early morning Thursday morning and later was happy to continue sharing his thoughts on restructuring the Triple Crown.

“It’s the time in between races that we all struggle with,” said Lukas, who has saddled four Belmont winners. “Nowadays, you need to run in two Grade 1 races to even get into the Derby – back in the 1940s, Calumet Farm would send their horses in schooling races to get them ready for the Derby.”

Lukas proposed at Wednesday morning’s draw that the Derby be run on the first Saturday in May, the Preakness go off during Memorial Day weekend, the Belmont be moved to Independence Day and that the Shadwell Travers, run the last weekend in August, be added to the series.

“Nothing is going to take away from the Derby, but if you figure that the media capital is in New York, you would then have three races in the East,” said Lukas, who trains Luv Gov for Marylou Whitney Stables and Flying Private for Robert C. Baker and William L. Mack.

The other “bird” in the Belmont, Kalarikkal and Vilasni Jayaraman’s Summer Bird, jogged around the main track and stood in the starting gate as trainer Tim Ice put the finishing touches on the colt’s preparations for Saturday’s race.

The chestnut colt was full of energy as exercise rider Chris Trosclair cooled him out, and Ice was hopeful he would be able to gallop Summer Bird Friday morning.

“Yesterday (a mile gallop followed by a blow-out through the stretch) took nothing out of him,” said Ice. “If the track is sloppy, he’ll jog, but I’m hoping it’s all right. He needed a gallop today but I didn’t want to do it. If I jog him tomorrow, I may have to jog him three miles.”

Summer Bird will be the second Belmont starter for the Jayaramans, both of whom are doctors. In 1989, Hall of Famer Leroy Jolley trained Irish Actor for the Jayaramans, and he finished eighth behind Easy Goer in the Belmont Stakes.

Trainer Eoin Harty sent Mr. Hot Stuff, who arrived Wednesday afternoon on the same flight as Mine That Bird, out on the training track Thursday morning.

“He looked like a million dollars and he’ll win by 20,” joked Harty of the WinStar colt, who was 15th in the Derby in his first start on dirt. “Seriously, he went well. I don’t know what I will do tomorrow with him. I will call God and see what he has planned (weather-wise).”

The Craig Family Trust’s Chocolate Candy, who came to Belmont Park directly from Churchill Downs, where he finished fifth in the Derby, galloped Thursday morning on the main track with exercise rider Lindsey Molina aboard.

“I didn’t want to run all those [Triple Crown] races in a row,” said trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, explaining his decision to skip the Preakness. “I never planned on running in Preakness and all along point to this race, though we might have gotten more pressure to run in the Preakness if he'd done better in Derby.”

Chocolate Candy schooled Wednesday and, weather permitting, was to school Thursday afternoon in the paddock as well.

“We did fine, so I’m not too worried about that,” said Hollendorfer. “I hadn’t seen him on a sloppy track here until today, and I thought he got over track fine.”

Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito sent his two Belmont Stakes starters for owner Robert V. LaPenta – Miner’s Escape and Brave Victory – out on the training track this morning.

“Everything is cool,” Zito said. “They galloped and jogged about two miles and everything is going the way it’s supposed to.”

Zito has saddled 20 Belmont Stakes starters, winning the “Test of the Champion” twice with Birdstone in 2004 and Da’ Tara last year.

Meanwhile, at Saratoga Race Course, 8-yer-old Commentator worked a half-mile in a bullet 47.50, breezing, on the fast Oklahoma training track. It was the fastest of 13 works at the distance.

Commentator won Saratoga’s Grade 1 Whitney last year. He won the race in 2005 as well.

“He just keeps coming back,” Zito said. “We really want to get a race for him in New York pretty soon.”


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