Rested Rivals Will Line Up at Belmont
Article via WDRB, Eric Crawford. Photo credit to Frances Karon.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — American Pharoah, after winning the Preakness by an impressive seven lengths in the slop, will try to do what 13 others who won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness could not do in the past 37 years: Win the Belmont.
The Triple Crown itself has been under tight scrutiny in recent years. Three races in five weeks is about two more than most trainers typically ask their horses to run in that span. But perhaps the biggest factor in recent Triple Crown attempts has been fresh competition.
The subject got a new hearing after comments last year from California Chrome's co-owner Steve Coburn, who was critical of trainers and owners who bypass the Preakness and have fresh horses lying in wait at Belmont Park.
There will be no shortage of such competition for American Pharoah in the Belmont on June 6. He doesn't seem to carry the “fear factor” of horses like Secretariat or Affirmed, who each faced only four competitors in the Belmont.
Expect a rested, yet seasoned, group to take aim at American Pharoah in New York. Bob Baffert, who will go to Belmont for the fourth time with a horse in contention for a Triple Crown, knows what to expect, and he doesn't begrudge the so-called “new shooters” from taking their shots.
“I understand,” Baffert said Sunday morning outside the Preakness Stakes barn. “They figure if they can't win (the Preakness), why put them through this. It just shows the respect they have for American Pharoah. They'll wait and catch him when maybe he'll be a bit more vulnerable. It's something that you can't control. They're stabled there. It's their base. It makes it an exciting race.”
It won't be a record crowd. After complaints of overcrowding last year, the New York Racing Association capped attendance at this year's Belmont Stakes to 90,000, and 90 percent of those tickets have been sold.
Here's an early look at the equine crowd that could go in the Belmont, from a group of possibles mentioned in a release Sunday from NYRA:
FROM THE PREAKNESS
American Pharoah: The Derby and Preakness winner will return to Louisville and Baffert's barn at Churchill Downs, where he will train for the final leg of the Triple Crown. He's expected back in Louisville Monday afternoon, and Baffert said might not ship to Belmont until the week of the race, possibly June 3. The trainer said his horse was tired the morning after the Belmont, which isn't unusual, but was in better shape than after the Derby.
“He's a different kind of horse," Baffert said. "He's just so fast. You see the way he moves. He floats. He gets into that stride and does it effortlessly. He just doesn't give the other horses a chance at all to come to him.”
Tale of Verve: Dallas Stewart's longshot entry raised some eyebrows by finishing second in the Preakness, and the Louisville-based trainer is hoping to give him another shot on what he hopes will be a more favorable track at Belmont. He says his colt can handle the distance, and he liked the tenacity he showed in the stretch under trying conditions at Pimlico. Stewart will ship Tale of Verve to Belmont on Monday. “He looked good,” Stewart said Sunday morning. Stewart is hoping to back up his best-ever Preakness finish with his best at Belmont. Previously, his best was a fourth-place finish by Dollar Bill in 2001. “We're looking forward to getting it done,” Stewart said. “We think this horse will love a mile and a half.”
FROM THE DERBY
Keen Ice: The Dale Romans-trained Donegal Racing colt shipped to Belmont after the Derby and appears poised to make a challenge. He was just getting going in the final furlong of the Kentucky Derby, flying past seven tiring competitors for a seventh-place finish. Romans, a Louisville native who grew up on the backstretch at Churchill Downs but now bases his operation in New York, won the Preakness Stakes in 2011.
Frosted: Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, who won the Belmont with Jazil in 2006, Frosted won the Wood Memorial and placed a promising fourth in the Derby after a rough start. McLaughlin has been training Frosted toward the Belmont since the Derby, and the colt has been working well at Belmont Park.
Mubtaahij: The Irish-bred never fired in the Kentucky Derby, finishing eighth and nearly 10 lengths behind the winner, but South African trainer Mike de Kock is hoping rest and the increased distance will help him a bit.
Frammento: Anytime there's a Triple Crown at stake, you'd better find Nick Zito. He spoiled Big Brown's big day with 38-1 longshot Da'Tara. He did it to Smarty Jones with 36-1 longshot Birdstone in 2004. Frammento ran 11th in the Kentucky Derby, but that may have just been a prep for a longer run in the Belmont.
THE TODD SQUAD
Trainer Todd Pletcher raised some eyebrows when, once again, he bypassed the Preakness with multiple horses to focus on the Belmont or other races. He has four who could join the race, but hasn't announced a decision on any.
Materiality: The Florida Derby winner ran an admirable fourth in the Kentucky Derby after breaking very poorly and having a bad trip throughout. He proved his quality by still finishing just behind a very solid top three, and figures to improve with a better trip in the Belmont if he goes.
Carpe Diem: Tenth in the Derby, the WinStar Farm colt would generate plenty of support in the Belmont. He was the third betting choice in the Derby.
Madefromlucky: A year ago, trainer Christophe Clement won the Peter Pan Stakes with Tonalist, then came back to win the Preakness with him, ending California Chrome's Triple Crown bid. Might be a good plan. Madefromlucky could've run in the Derby, but Pletcher put him on the Belmont route, sending him to the Peter Pan, which he won on May 9.
It all serves as evidence that — as badly as the sport would like to see a Triple Crown winner — there's no shortage of people willing to play the spoiler.