O’Neill had hoped to have I’ll Have Another transferred from Mark Hennig’s barn, where he has been since May 20, into the stakes barn well in advance of Wednesday’s noon deadline for all the contenders in Saturday’s 144th running of the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Stakes. O’Neill, who visited with newly arrived jockey Mario Gutierrez this morning, said the switch would take place tomorrow so as not to conflict with his schedule.
The trainer added that I’ll Have Another’s stable pony, Lava Man, would not be joining him in the stakes barn as had been planned.
“He’s not going to go,” said O’Neill of Lava Man. “I went over there yesterday and I just think it will be nerve-wracking for him. So we’ll leave him here. He’ll still chaperone [I’ll Have Another] every morning. I’ll Have Another is such a relaxed, cool horse, I worry that Lava Man will get a little anxious and that I’ll Have Another will worry what his big brother is all anxious about. We’ll leave Lava here, he’s settled in nicely here, and we’ll just move I’ll Have Another.”
O’Neill said the late change in schedule was not a concern.
“Everything is good,” he said. “The horse is doing great, so we’re all doing good, ready to go. I thought he galloped great this morning, looked good, good stride, good energy. Three more days of galloping and if we get lucky, ooo-fah!”
The trainer said that I’ll Have Another would stay in the barn and walk the shedrow the morning of the Belmont Stakes, in which he is bidding to become the first horse to win the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978.
“He actually galloped the morning of the Bob Lewis and the morning of the Santa Anita Derby, but he didn’t in the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness, so we’ll maintain,” he said.
O’Neill added that he planned on wearing his “lucky tie” for Saturday’s race.
“It’s a blue tie with some shamrocks on it that I’ll be cracking out,” he said. “It’s two-for-two. Actually, it’s three-for-three. Can’t change now.”
* * *
Donegal Racing’s Dullahan maintained his busy training busy schedule, galloping 1 ½ miles under exercise rider Faustino Aguilar on Tuesday. The chestnut colt returned to the track Monday for a jog following a four-furlong breeze in 45.97 on Sunday.
Trainer Dale Romans said Dullahan thrives on activity, similar to his 2011 Preakness winner, Shackleford, who on May 28 won the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap.
“They’re different physical specimens, other than being chestnut with a white blaze,” said Romans. “But they both like to train, hold their weight, and maintain well with a lot of training. They seem to be happy when they’re going.”
Shackleford was fifth in the 2011 Belmont for Romans, who finished third in 2005 with Nolan’s Cat and in 2010 with First Dude.
* * *
Trainer Ken McPeek spoke highly of the 1 ½-mile Tuesday gallops of Atigun and Unstoppable U as they train for their attempt to emulate Sarava, McPeek’s protégé who ended War Emblem’s Triple Crown bid with a 70-1 upset in the 2002 Belmont Stakes. McPeek called the gallops “Sarava gallops,” having used the same routine with Sarava prior to his Belmont upset.
“We do that with all of our young horses,” said McPeek. “We start that routine early in their career where they need to understand at what point to start their work and at what point to finish it. I think repetition is a good idea.”
McPeek said he is leaning toward running Magdalena Racing and Mojallali Stables’ Unstoppable U in the Belmont, but he did note the undefeated Exchange Rate colt did a much better job changing leads in Tuesday’s gallop than he did in Sunday’s breeze. The trainer said he’ll wait until Wednesday, the day entries are taken for the Belmont, to make a final decision.
“[Exercise rider] Rafael Penna has done a great job [with Unstoppable U],” said McPeek. “The horse switches on cue for Rafael. Rafael, unfortunately, is almost 60, so he can’t ride on Saturday. Rafael knows how to get him to switch. He has his number. I don’t know why Junior Alvarado has had a little trouble getting him to switch leads. In his first race he didn’t switch, and in his second race he was late. In workouts, he didn’t switch at all in the first one and in the second one he was late again. If he’s going to win this race, he’s got to hit on cue.”
Atigun, owned by Shortleaf Stable, is confirmed for the Belmont Stakes, McPeek said.
* * *
Paynter had a leisurely jog on Tuesday and will resume galloping on Wednesday, according to Jim Barnes, assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.
“Everything is good,” said Barnes.
Paynter hails from the same barn as Bodemeister, who was second in the Derby and Preakness for Zayat Stables, and will attempt to continue to carry the momentum established by stablemate Game On Dude, who was a devastating 7 ¼-length winner of Saturday’s Grade 2 Californian at Betfair Hollywood Park.
“That was a good race and a good win,” Barnes said of Game On Dude’s performance.
* * *
Union Rags, who holds a Grade 1 victory at Belmont Park with his 5 ¼-length score in the 2011 Champagne, will depart Fair Hill Training Center for the 160-mile trip to New York Wednesday morning, said trainer Michael Matz.
“We’re just trying to do the best we can to get there before noon,” said Matz. “The track [here] opens at 5:30 a.m., he’ll gallop, and by the time he’s cooled out we won’t leave until 7:30 or 8 o’clock, and then we’ll hit rush-hour traffic.”
Matz said he would be leaving the Elkton, Md. training center prior to Union Rags and hopes to be on hand to oversee the colt’s arrival at Belmont Park.
Union Rags, seventh in the Kentucky Derby, will get the services of John Velazquez in the 1 ½-mile Belmont. Velazquez, who Sunday went to Fair Hill to work Union Rags five furlongs in 59.00 seconds, won the 2007 Belmont with the filly Rags to Riches.
* * *
No horse was traveling faster through the Belmont Park stretch in the Grade 2, $200,000 Peter Pan on May 12 than Street Life. After trailing in the field of 10 through a half-mile in a scorching 45.35 seconds, Street Life swung to the outside under jockey Jose Lezcano and turned it on to pass most of the field and wind up third, beaten just 1 ¾ lengths by winner Mark Valeski.
Now, the son of Street Sense will attempt to go from that strong effort at 1 1/8 miles to the 1 ½-mile “Test of the Champion,” and trainer Chad Brown expects nothing but the race of his life.
“I’m confident my horse is in tip-top shape, and I’m confident this horse is going to run the fastest number he’s ever run,” said Brown. “I don’t think anybody can go into this race feeling confident that they’re definitely going to win, but I am confident we belong in the race and that he’s sitting on a top effort. Whether his top effort is good enough against these, you don’t know until you actually do it.”
Street Life is the son of a Kentucky Derby winner out of a mare by another Kentucky Derby winner, Grindstone. The pedigree, however, did not put him on the Derby trail as he didn’t make his career start until January 5 at Gulfstream Park, a six-furlong sprint in which he finished a sluggish eighth.
In his second start a month later, however, Street Life was sent routing on the Aqueduct inner track, and he came from eighth and last to crush a field of maidens that included Belmont starter Five Sixteen by 2 ½ lengths. He won the Broad Brush Stakes in his next start, finished sixth in the Grade 1 Resorts World Casino New York City Wood Memorial Stakes and then made his big late run in the Peter Pan.
The pace of the Peter Pan was hot, and Brown knows it could be different in the Belmont.
“Of course the pace is going to be different going a mile and a half, so the race will unfold differently, but as my horse matures I’m sure he’ll be more adaptable in his races,” he said. “If the pace is slower, he’ll probably lay closer. He has a tremendous amount of stamina. He’s not a big horse, but he can get the mile and a half. The question is how fast can he go.”
* * *
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas and his team with Optimizer arrived at Belmont Park at 4 a.m. Tuesday after a 14-hour, 15-minute van ride from Kentucky.
Lukas bedded down his Belmont Stakes entrant in the barn of John Hertler and also had 3-year-old Skyring (Easy Goer Stakes, Belmont undercard), sprinter Hamazing Destiny (Grade 2 True North Handicap) and a maiden in tow.
Optimizer, owned by Bluegrass Hall LLC, finished a combined 27 ½ lengths behind I’ll Have Another in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, and Lukas knows the Belmont Stakes is a tall order. Yet, in conversation, the Hall of Famer optimizes his optimism about his chances.
“It’s going to take a lot, but I think he fits this race best, better than the other two,” said Lukas, who recognized the English Channel-A.P. Indy pedigree of Optimizer as perhaps the most stamina-oriented of all the runners in the field. “I thought that from the very beginning, and I said going in, we’re going to use the Preakness for the Belmont.”
Optimizer only has a maiden win in 11 starts, but he showed class in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes on March 17 at Oaklawn Park, bounding through the lane to miss upsetting Secret Circle by three-quarters of a length at nearly 28-1. In that race, he came six wide off the turn but had clear sailing and plenty of momentum.
In his next two starts, Optimizer was steadied early in the Arkansas Derby and again at the quarter pole in the Kentucky Derby. In the Preakness, however, despite his sixth-place finish, 15 ½ lengths back, Optimizer was moving powerfully late and reached the leaders during the gallop-out into the first turn.
“He got clear and rolled right up to them,” Lukas said. “He might not be good enough to win it, but with a clear run, he can get a piece.”
Lukas will have Optimizer gallop in the first set, at approximately 5:30 a.m., on Wednesday morning and then move him into the stakes barn. On Thursday and Friday, the colt will take to the track at 8:30 a.m. to train with the rest of the field.
* * *
Following a 23-hour van ride from Calder Race Course in Florida, Ravelo’s Boy arrived at Belmont Park shortly after 7 a.m. on Tuesday and became the first horse to take up residence in the track’s designated Belmont Stakes barn.
The chestnut son of Lawyer Ron was accompanied on the trip by Roberto Riasco and Enrique Barcenas, assistants to trainer Manny Azpurua. Ravelo’s Boy walked the enclosed shedrow before bedding down in stall 2.
“He had to walk. It’s a long trip,” Barcenas said. “He behaved real nice. There was a lot of rain and a lot of wind on the drive but no problems. Everything was fine.”
Saturday’s 144th Belmont Stakes will be the 14th career start for Ravelo’s Boy, but his first outside of Florida. In his most recent effort, he finished fifth of 11, beaten 6 ¾ lengths, following a wide trip in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby on March 10.
Owned by Korina Stable, Ravelo’s Boy has two wins and two thirds in 13 career races but is winless in three tries this year. He won an optional claimer to end his 2-year-old season on December 3 at Gulfstream Park, 3 ½ months after breaking his maiden in his debut at Calder.
“He’s a nice horse. Wherever you ask him to run, he will run,” Barcenas said. “He will do something good in this race. We’re very proud to be here.
“We came to win the race. If we can’t win the race and we come in second or third, we’ll be very happy. But we came all the way from Florida for the race, and the horse is doing real good.”
Jockey Alex Solis will ride Ravelo's Boy for the first time in the Belmont. It will be the sixth Belmont for Solis, whose best finish was a second with Aptitude in 2000.
* * *
Trainer Dominick Schettino is trying to keep a steady demeanor heading into his first Belmont Stakes with MeB Racing Stables’ Five Sixteen. Born in the Bronx in 1966, Schettino said, “Anyone who runs in the Belmont would be excited,” when asked if it was extra special being a native New Yorker with a horse in the state’s biggest race.
The soft-spoken Schettino’s biggest win to date in a 20-year career was when Serious Spender upended odds-on favorite Unaccounted For in the 1994 Discovery Handicap at Aqueduct. A decade later, he campaigned the talented New York-bred Galloping Grocer.
Five Sixteen, 1-of-6 lifetime, is a $225,000 son of Invasor, the 2006 Horse of the Year, out of a Salt Lake mare who has produced six winners. Five Sixteen’s pedigree has speed, stamina and wet-track influences, and the gelding broke his maiden going 1 1/8 miles on the inner track at Aqueduct on March 14. In his most recent start, he acted up in the gate then ran evenly in an allowance won by Eye On Jacob, who will start Friday in the Brooklyn Handicap.
“He’s versatile,” Schettino said of Five Sixteen. “I really believe he’ll get the distance. I’ve always said that. [Jockey] Rosie [Napravnik] worked him the last couple times, and I asked her, and she said it wouldn’t be a problem.”
* * *
Guyana Star Dweej walked the shedrow at owner-trainer Doodnauth Shivmangal’s barn on Tuesday, the morning after putting in his final work for Saturday’s race.
“He came out of the work pretty good,” Shivmangal said.
Guyana Star Dweej, working in company with Grade 3-winning stablemate Shkspeare Shaliyah, was caught going a quarter-mile in 22.76 and a half in 49.03 under Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux.
“I saw [where it was said] he failed to impress, but we just put Shaliyah in there to tease this horse,” said Shivmangal. “When Kent came back from the work, he said as the horse goes longer, he wants to go more.
“I did not want him to do 22 yesterday. I wanted him to do 23 or 24, and finish up the last quarter faster than he did. But he was hyper because of his company with Shaliyah. They work pretty good together.”
Shivmangal, who had a brief career as a rider in his native Guyana before becoming a trainer, said he will give Desormeaux specific instructions for the Belmont, which will be the jockey’s first since winning with Summer Bird in 2009.
“The only little problem this horse has is he needs to relax,” Shivmangal said. “What the jock needs to do, and I will instruct Kent, is to rate him and try to get him to relax. Guyana Star [Dweej] doesn’t have a problem eating or anything. He’s a good doer, this horse. He does everything right.”
With the works done, Shivmangal plans to give Guyana Star Dweej a series of two-minute licks in the days leading up to the race.
“Going into a big race like this, you need to have a little more work under him, but due to the weather, we didn’t get to do all the work with him,” he said. “I’m pleased with the last couple days. My training style is not a breezing trainer. I like to do two-minute clips. We’ve got tomorrow and Thursday and Friday with him. He’s going to two-minute lick into the race; that’s all we’re going to do. Perhaps we’ll bring him over there with company because we want him to relax.”
Shivmangal also wants to school Guyana Star Dweej both in the paddock and at the starting gate later this week to complete his preparations.
“Thursday, we’re going to put him in the gate and back him out. He’s a well-behaved horse, but we want to do that,” he said. “We’re probably going to school him in the paddock one day during racing, maybe tomorrow, so he gets accustomed to the crowd and knows what that is all about. We want to cover everything.”