Trainers Wrap Up Preparations for 141st Belmont
ELMONT, N.Y. – Trainer Chip Woolley radiated confidence Friday morning after Belmont Stakes favorite Mine That Bird galloped strongly over Belmont Park’s sloppy main track, but politely declined to predict a victory for the little gelding in tomorrow’s 141st running of the Grade 1, $1 million “Test of the Champion.”
“There are nine others, and it’s got to be contested over the racetrack, so we’ll see what happens,” said Woolley, whose jockey, Calvin Borel, guaranteed Mine That Bird would win the 1½-mile Belmont. “I’m confident, I got a great colt and he shows up every time. Hopefully he’ll like this surface and he’ll like the trip he gets around there. He seems to really get over the racetrack good, so that gave me a lot of confidence. We’re ready, it’s just a matter if we’re ready enough.”
With Mine That Bird having come within a length of a Triple Crown try by finishing a close-up second to Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness, Woolley was asked if he had spent much time pondering what might have been had Jess Jackson not purchased the filly and run her in the second leg of the Triple Crown.
“No, I don’t give much thought to it, because I left New Mexico and came down here hoping I would run fifth in the Derby, so it’s really not something I could dwell on too much,” he said.
Woolley said he felt Mine That Bird’s breeding – he is by 2004 Belmont Stakes winner Birdstone – would work in his favor in the mile-and-a-half Belmont, the longest leg of the Triple Crown, although he cautioned there were other, more important, factors.
“You can have all the pedigree in the world and still not be able to run,” he said. “It still comes down to each one of these animals are athletes and they all bring something special. My horse seems like the distance is probably in his favor and it makes me feel good.”
On Thursday, Woolley traveled into Manhattan with Mine That Bird’s owners, Mark Allen and Dr. Leonard Blach, and met up with jockey Calvin Borel to ring the Opening Bell at the New York Stock Exchange.
“It’s a rather large place,” said the trainer of Manhattan. “I enjoyed it thoroughly. Everyone, apparently their horns work very well here. People, like where I’m from, think New York is all big buildings, but there’s a lot of pretty places here.”
Woolley said he was not concerned that Borel had not been riding at Belmont Park these past few days, having spent the week in Manhattan with his fiancée, Lisa Funk.
“He’s a race rider,” said Woolley. “If the horse can get him there, he can get him (the horse) there.”
“My horse has to do his thing,” he added. “If we get beat we’ll learn something, if we win, we’ll go home happy. You can’t come in here and change up what you’ve been doing.”
Looking ahead, Woolley said Mine That Bird would return to Churchill Downs on Monday, with the ultimate goal being a start in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita in October.
“Ideally, we’d like to have two starts between the Belmont and the Breeders’ Cup,” he said. “We’ve looked at races, but not picked any out.”
As well, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin expressed confidence in Charitable Man but declined to predict a victory for the second choice (3-1) in Saturday’s race.
“I’m confident I have a horse who’s doing great,” said the trainer, who saddled Jazil to win the 2006 Belmont Stakes. “I’m not that type to predict a horse is going to win. But I am confident we couldn’t have him any better. None of these horses have the mile-and-a-half yet, only in a morning gallop.”
Owned by Mr. and Mrs. William K. Warren, Jr., Charitable Man won both his starts at age two and then made a late sophomore debut after recovering from a saucer fracture in his left shin, finishing seventh in the Blue Grass Stakes. He followed that with a rousing victory in the Grade 2 Peter Pan on May 9.
“We weren’t battled tested (enough) to go to the Derby – he’d had just three races, it’s a 20-horse field and there’s a lot of pounding into the first turn,” said McLaughlin, who will give a leg up to Alan Garcia, winner of last year’s Belmont aboard Da’ Tara. “The talent was there, he had always trained well and run well.”
A son of 1999 Belmont Stakes winner Lemon Drop Kid, Charitable Man galloped a mile and three-eighths on the main track Friday morning.
Dunkirk, third choice on the morning line behind Mine That Bird and Charitable Man at 4-1, walked through the paddock Friday morning and galloped a mile and one-quarter on the main track before returning safely to trainer Todd Pletcher’s barn.
“I anticipate Charitable Man and Miner’s Escape being forwardly placed,” said Pletcher when asked how he thought the race would unfold. “Hopefully, we’re in a stalking position. I expect they’ll be more closely grouped than the other (Triple Crown) races because the pace won’t be as fast. And hopefully, we’ll be the first one to put pressure on Charitable Man. I’ll leave that to (jockey) Johnny Velazquez, and to also be cognizant of the favorite coming from behind.”
Pletcher and Kiaran McLaughlin, trainer of Charitable Man, are close friends, but don’t let their friendship get in the way of business, or vice versa, he said.
“It’s part of what we do,” said Pletcher. “It goes without saying we both want to win the race. If I can’t win, I hope he does. And when it’s all over, we shake hands, congratulate one another, and go back to work.”
Summer Bird, like Belmont favorite Mine That Bird a son of 2004 Belmont winner Birdstone, galloped a mile and one-half over the main track Friday morning.
“He skipped over it pretty easy,” said Tim Ice, who trains the chestnut colt, sixth in the Kentucky Derby, for Drs. Kalarikkal and Vilasini Jayaraman.
Like Pletcher, Ice anticipates a more closely-grouped field as the Belmont Stakes gets underway.
“If there’s a slow pace, we’ll be up a little closer,” he said. “I think he’s a fresh horse and will have more speed to get into the race a little earlier. I’m hoping for an honest pace to give him something to run at.”
Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux will be aboard Summer Bird in what will be his fifth lifetime start.
“We’ll talk in the paddock before the race,” said Ice. “Kent knows his style. He knows he’ll run all day long.”
Trainer Eoin Harty sent Mr. Hot Stuff, who was 15th in the Kentucky Derby in his first start on dirt, out for his first gallop over Belmont Park’s main track Friday morning.
“He actually handled it very well, but he wasn’t surrounded by nine other horses,” he said.
Thursday, Mr. Hot Stuff went out on the training track, and Harty had been hoping the rain would cease this morning. Instead, it rained even harder than it did Thursday.
“It must be retribution for my past sins,” he said, “so I expect a flood of epic proportions.”
Harty, who had jokingly predicted a 20-length Belmont victory for Mr. Hot Stuff, softened his guarantee somewhat on Friday morning.
“I think the best horse will win, but who that will be, I don’t know,” said the trainer. “Right now
I’d say Charitable Man or Mine That Bird.
“People always analyze these races and it never pans out that way,” he said. “I think Kiaran’s horse will be on or close to the lead, but I don’t think they’ll be stretched out too far. It all depends on the pace – I can’t see them going 46 and change.”
Hall of Fame trainers D. Wayne Lukas and Nick Zito, who will saddle four of the horses in tomorrow’s Belmont Stakes, were among the featured speakers this morning at a Belmont Park memorial service for Joe Hirsch, the executive columnist of the Daily Racing Form who passed away on January 9.
Before joining master of ceremonies Steve Crist, columnist and publisher of Daily Racing Form, and Charles Hayward, president and chief executive officer of The New York Racing Association, Inc., retired Hall of Fame jockey and television racing analyst Jerry Bailey, and Jay Hovdey, DRF’s executive columnist, among others, as speakers, Lukas and Zito tended to their Belmont runners as rain drenched Belmont Park.
“We brought them out early and galloped around the `dogs’ on the main track,” said Lukas of Flying Private and Luv Gov, who will break from posts 8 and 5, respectively. “Our horses are doing very well, and it’s a shame about this rain. Before today, I thought this track was in as good a shape as I’ve ever seen it. Hopefully, the rain will stop, we’ll get some sun and (Glen Kozak, NYRA’s director of racing surfaces) will be able to squeeze the track overnight and into tomorrow.”
Flying Private, fourth and beaten four lengths in the Preakness, is listed at 12-1 on the morning line under jockey Julien Leparoux, while Luv Gov is the longest shot on the morning line at 20-1 under jockey Miguel Mena.
Although his barn features an indoor gallop, Zito brought Miner’s Escape and Brave Victory to the main track as well.
“We stood them in the gate earlier this week, so they just had a gallop and we’re looking forward to the Belmont,” Zito said. “They’re happy and healthy and we just hope they run their races tomorrow.”
Miner’s Escape will break from post 9 under jockey Jose Lezcano, while Brave Victory drew the outside post 10 under Rajiv Maragh. Both are listed at 15-1 on the morning line.
The rain failed to disrupt trainer Jerry Hollendorfer’s routine for Chocolate Candy, who ran fifth in the Kentucky Derby and looks for better results in the Belmont Stakes.
“We brought him through the tunnel and into the paddock and let him school there, and then we brought him out on the main track and let him gallop, which is what we’ve pretty much been doing,” Hollendorfer said. “He’s ready to go.”
Chocolate Candy was beaten 13 lengths in the Kentucky Derby, but Hollendorfer is expecting improvement in the Belmont Stakes.
“Not to make excuses, but after watching the Derby, he got off a step slow and then was squeezed,” Hollendorfer said. “Then, he was squeezed again and that put him out of position. (Jockey Mike Smith) then had to use him to get position, and it eventually caught up with him.
“I think that had he been able to get out clean and position himself forward early, he might have finished even better than he did, because he was running late. The horses that ran well ahead of us pretty much had to run back in the Preakness; we had the option of skipping that race and training for this last leg of the Triple Crown. We have a fresh horse that is doing very well.”
Chocolate Candy will break from the rail under jockey Garrett Gomez and is 10-1 on the morning line.
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