There will be a Belmont Stakes, but it will be a Belmont Stakes in name only, not the Belmont Stakes that has something to do with the Triple Crown. There will be no winner of the coveted Third Jewel, but the horse that finishes first will be awarded the purse money. Whoever would like to watch the race on television can.
These sad developments come about as a result of the final placings in the Preakness Stakes. In this race, the very good colt Curlin beat Street Sense, a Kentucky Derby winner with an affinity for the excuse. The margin at the wire was a short head, but it was enough to cause Street Sense’s trainer Carl Nafzger to declare, “There is really no reason for us to go there.”
Curlin, if he attempts the Belmont, will be making his fourth start in eight weeks. Curlin’s trainer Steve Asmussen, getting his first taste of Triple Crown glory, is hungry for more and said, “This is the stage this horse deserves, and these are the caliber of races he’s intended for.” Asmussen has 200 horses in training and is the country’s leading trainer, so he should have a respect for exhaustion.
Trainer Shug McGaughey, elated with the victory of Sightseeing in the Peter Pan Stakes this weekend, said that he would consider the Belmont, too. The trainers of the second and third place finishers in the Peter Pan - Prom Shoes and Fearless Vision, announced an interest in the race, also.
Although no word is emanating from Todd Pletcher’s barn yet, it is inconceivable that the Eclipse Award-winning trainer will be absent from the skirmish. The fans writing on the Internet Message Boards want Pletcher’s Kentucky Oaks winning filly Rags to Riches, who they’ve nicknamed R2R, to run. But it’s more likely that he opts for Circular Quay again, or even Sam P., he-men who are bred for the marathon.
This leaves the newly-freshened trio of Kentucky Derby runners Great Hunter, a son of the Belmont winner Aptitude; Imawildandcrazyguy, who trainer Bill Kaplan says is an “amazing cardiovascular horse,” and the Kentucky Derby wise guy selection Tiago, whose sire Pleasant Tap is considered the ultimate stamina source. Slew’s Tizzy, victorious in his last two starts, is another possibility.
If the prospect of seeing these horses compete against each other doesn’t excite you, it may be fun to buy into the early hype of a midsummer rematch among Street Sense, Curlin and Hard Spun in the Travers. Nevertheless, if past is prologue, the chances are that one of these will see the inside of a paddock on a stud farm instead of the racing strip at Saratoga.
Three weeks remain to spin the Belmont as a major attraction, so it’s possible that everyone will forget the frustrations of this weekend in terms of what it’s caused to the rivalries. For all practical purposes, however, the Spring Classics season is over.
Fifty weeks from now, everyone will view Curlin as Afleet Alex and Street Sense as Giacomo. Two weeks ago, the hope was for Secretariat.