Cones were set eight feet from the rail for the training session, which saw a number of Belmont hopefuls jogging and galloping in preparation for the 1 ½-mile “Test of the Champion” on Saturday, June 9.
In his only start over an off-track, I’ll Have Another finished sixth in the Three Chimneys Hopeful at Saratoga Race Course, but trainer Doug O’Neill did not think the going contributed to that loss.
“He had a lot of trouble in the Hopeful and came out of it with sore shins,” said O’Neill, who was sporting a New York Mets baseball cap in honor of Johan Santana’s historic no-hitter Friday night. “During this whole Triple Crown run, he’s trained over a lot of sloppy tracks and he gets over it really well. I don’t think track surface will be an issue.”
O’Neill said the colt will walk through the Belmont Park paddock and school Sunday morning prior to his gallop, instead of heading directly from his barn to the track.
As he prepares to move I’ll Have Another into a security barn that will house all the Belmont Stakes contenders beginning at noon on Wednesday, the trainer remained upbeat and positive as he and his team focus on the task at hand.
“With a horse like I’ll Have Another … you’re under a really strong microscope,” he said. “I think it’s all just trying to show the public we care for the horses and that when you put your hard-earned money and you bet on one of the horses you can know they’re all clean and pure and ready to go.”
O’Neill said that I’ll Have Another’s jockey, Mario Gutierrez, is scheduled to arrive in New York Monday evening, and that the 25-year-old rider will have a number of mounts at Belmont next week. Among those is the O’Neill-trained Boxeur des Rues, whom the trainer is pointing to the 1 ½-mile Brooklyn Handicap on Friday, June 8 after apparently resolving a foot bruise earlier this week.
“The race starts at the spot the Belmont does, and I think it will be a great help to Mario to get that under his belt,” said O’Neill. “If the horse is not right, he won’t run, but as of this morning, so far so good.”
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With the main track listed as sloppy following overnight rain, no Belmont Stakes contender worked out at Belmont Park on Saturday. Instead, the majority of the field will have their final breezes on Sunday.
Dullahan had a leisurely jog on the main track Saturday and will breeze on Sunday, trainer Dale Romans confirmed.
Trainer Chad Brown said Street Life will also have his final pre-Belmont workout on Sunday. On Saturday, Street Life galloped 1 ½ miles.
“I’ve had a wet track in the morning a couple of other times this month,” said Brown.
“I thought he went very well over it. It really wouldn’t matter to me if the track came up wet, from what I’ve been seeing.”
Ken McPeek pushed back Atigun and Unstoppable U’s breezes until Sunday or Monday, with the former the more likely option. The pair galloped 1 ½ miles using the same routine McPeek used in 2002 with Sarava, who upset the Belmont Stakes at 70-1.
“I call it the ‘Belmont gallop,’” said McPeek. “We jog to the quarter pole, then we jog back to the wire, and then they take off and make a loop and finish up the last part of it. It’s a nice mile-and-half gallop with a gallop out past the gap.”
The connections of Paynter initially were undecided as to whether Paynter would breeze Sunday or Monday, but today Jim Barnes, assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, revealed they are leaning in favor of Sunday. On Saturday, Paynter galloped 1 5/8 miles.
Guyana Star Dweej, who galloped 1 ¼ miles on Saturday, will breeze Monday or Tuesday, according to trainer Doodnauth Shivmangal.
“We normally jog on an off track, but today we galloped him,” said Shivmangal. “We want to get him a little more fit and we don’t want him to be idle because he had a break last week after the breeze. He went out easy and came back pretty good. We are looking to breeze him Monday or Tuesday. We have until Wednesday to decide [whether we’ll race in the Belmont Stakes or Easy Goer overnight stakes], but right now we are heading towards the Belmont.”
At Fair Hill, Union Rags galloped 1 ¼ miles and will breeze on Sunday, Michael Matz said. Optimizer and Ravelo’s Boy continued their preparations at Churchill Downs and Calder Race Course, respectively.
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Interviewed at the Meadowlands Racetrack Friday evening, former president Bill Clinton said he thought I’ll Have Another has a good chance to win the Triple Crown, but thought Dullahan could give the Derby and Preakness winner his biggest challenge.
“I’d say he’s got a good chance; it looked like he had some juice left at the end of both those races,” said Clinton of I’ll Have Another. “But the real wildcard, I think, is the horse that finished third in the Derby, what’s his name? The Irish name? Dullahan … you know, the Belmont might be a good race for him because he closed just as strong as I’ll Have Another and he came out of maybe more interference. So, if that horse has a race like he had in the Derby, he could still give I’ll Have Another a race.”
Clinton, a friend of track operator Jeff Gural, was the special guest at a dinner held to support the re-election of United States Senator for New Jersey Robert Menendez at the Meadowlands’ Pegasus Restaurant.
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Other stakes for Belmont weekend are beginning to take shape, with Friday’s Grade 2, $200,000 Brooklyn Handicap headlining Friday’s card.. The Brooklyn is expected to serve as a Belmont Stakes tryout of sorts for jockey Mario Gutierrez, who is slated to ride Doug O’Neill trainee Boxeur de Rues in the 1 ½-mile race. Last year’s Brooklyn winner, Birdrun is likely to mount a title defense, and is expected to face Arthur’s Tale, Balladry, Eldaafer, Eye On Jacob, Golden Gulch, Hailstone, Kentucky Reign, Not Abroad, Praetereo, and Redeemed.
Friday’s card also includes the Grade 3, $150,000 Jaipur at seven furlongs on turf. Right One, trained by Christophe Clement for Ghislaine Head, aims for his second straight Jaipur win. In his most recent start, he was third behind Jaipur probables Lonesome Street and Bergerac in the Grade 2 Commonwealth at Keeneland. Boots Head, Leave of Absence, Shintoh, Upgrade, and Yield Bogey are also probable.
On Saturday, the Just a Game, a Grade 1, one-mile turf contest for fillies and mares worth $500,000, is expected to draw last year’s Grade 1 Garden City winner Winter Memories, who will have an opportunity to renew her sometime rivalry with Hungry Island, recent winner of the Grade 2 Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill Downs. Also pointing for the race, according to NYRA Stakes Coordinator Andrew Byrnes, are Dancinginherdreams, La Reine Lionne, Sylvestris, and Tapitsfly, with Roxy Gap and Wallis possible.
In the 1 ¼-mile Woodford Reserve Manhattan, a $500,000 turf handicap, multiple graded stakes winner Boisterous will try for his first Grade 1 score against Chilean import Omyad, a multiple Group 1 winner in Chile, as well as Al Khali, Brilliant Speed, Desert Blanc, Hudson Steele, Humble and Hungry, Papaw Bodie, and Top Suprize. Hailstone was listed as possible for the race.
In the Grade 2, $400,000 True North at six furlongs, Giant Ryan is slated to make his first start in the Empire State since his victory in last October’s Grade 1 Vosburgh Invitational over the True North’s course and distance. Trained by Bisnath Parboo for his son, Shivananda Parbhoo, the 2011 New York-bred champion sprinter enters the race off an eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and a fifth in the Dubai Golden Shaheen. He’s expected to face Crossbow, Hamazing Destiny, Justin Phillip, Pacific Ocean, and Royal Currier. Caixa Eletronica, Diski Dance, Ponzi Scheme, and W. W.’s Lady’s Man are possible.
The Grade 2, $400,000 Woody Stephens presented by VisitNassauCounty.com, run at seven furlongs for 3-year-olds, is shaping up to be a competitive heat with speedy Trinniberg, a dual graded stakes winner at the distance, set to face this year’s Grade 3 Gotham winner, Hansen, last year’s Grade 1 Three Chimneys Hopeful winner Currency Swap and Grade 3 Derby Trial winner Hierro. Also expected are Bourbon Courage, Brian, Hardened Wildcat, Laurie’s Rocket and Power World.