Exaggerator to face a dozen in Belmont
By Jay Privman
ELMONT, N.Y. – Since the start of the millennium, eight of the 16 runnings of the Belmont Stakes have been won by horses who ran on Kentucky Derby weekend at Churchill Downs, then had five weeks off prior to the Belmont.
That angle could prove pivotal again this year, as five of the contenders in the 148th Belmont Stakes on Saturday have been similarly managed in the hopes of pulling off an upset over the favored Exaggerator, who will be just one of two horses – along with Lani – to run in all three legs of the Triple Crown this year.
Thirteen horses were entered in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont on Wednesday, the secondlargest field in the last 20 years, bested only by the 14 who ran in 2013. With Nyquist having won the Derby and Exaggerator the Preakness, this will be the first Belmont without a Triple Crown bid since 2013.
Exaggerator, who was second in the Derby, drew post 11 and is strongly favored, especially with Nyquist skipping this race after taking ill following the Preakness. Exaggerator is 3-5 on the morning line set by Mike Watchmaker, ’s national handicapper, and 9-5 on the line of Eric Donovan of the New York Racing Association.
Stradivari is the distant second choice on Watchmaker’s line at 10-1, with Destin next at 12-1. Donovan also has Stradivari as the second choice, but at 5-1, and Destin the third choice at only 6-1.
From the rail out, the field is: Governor Malibu, Destin, Cherry Wine, Suddenbreakingnews, Stradivari, Gettysburg, Seeking the Soul, Forever d’oro, Trojan Nation, Lani, Exaggerator, Brody’s Cause, and Creator.
“Exaggerator is the deserving favorite,” said Donnie Von Hemel, who trains Suddenbreakingnews, who was fifth in the Kentucky Derby in his last start after finishing second in the Arkansas Derby. “We have to hope that it’s an advantage that we didn’t run in the Preakness and pointed to the Belmont.
“It was three weeks from the Arkansas Derby to the Kentucky Derby, then it would have been two weeks to the Preakness, then three to the Belmont. We thought our horse’s best chance to win a Grade 1 Triple Crown race was the Belmont.”
Destin (sixth in the Derby), Brody’s Cause (seventh), Creator (13th), and Trojan Nation (16th) have been similarly managed.
“The five weeks should do him some good,” trainer Dale Romans said of Brody’s Cause.
This style of management is a fairly recent phenomenon, reflecting the gradual trend of trainers giving their horses more time between starts. Empire Maker in 2003 and Birdstone in 2004 stopped Triple Crown bids after running in the Derby and then laying in wait until the Belmont.
“It definitely made a difference, I know it did,” trainer Nick Zito, who sent out Birdstone to deny Smarty Jones the Triple Crown, said this week. “The Triple Crown itself is such a strenuous thing. It’s so hard just to get to the Derby with all preps – Florida Derby, Santa Anita Derby, Arkansas Derby, Blue Grass. So many. Right or wrong? By giving Birdstone a good break in between, he was able to recover mentally.”
Commendable (2000), Jazil (2006), Summer Bird (2009), Union Rags (2012), and Palace Malice (2013) also ran in the Derby and then had five weeks off before winning the Belmont. Rags to Riches (2007) won the Kentucky Oaks the day before that year’s Derby and then awaited the Belmont.
“It’s a logical move for us if you’re not set on the Preakness,” Todd Pletcher, who trained both Rags to Riches and Palace Malice and has Destin on a similar schedule this year, said as he watched his horses train at Belmont Park. “We get to spend five weeks here preparing for it. It makes sense.
“Any time you’re running at your home track, it’s somewhat of an advantage. We get five weeks, settle in. The five weeks from the Derby – or the Oaks in the case of Rags to Riches – is good timing. You get a good foundation in the preps and then the Derby or the Oaks, a real good conditioning foundation you need to run a mile and a half.”
Destin, Pletcher said, “has done well, put on a few pounds since the Derby.”
“I thought he ran an underappreciated race in the Derby,” Pletcher said. “Unfortunately, he didn’t break well. The track was advantageous to horses who were closer than he was. He used up a lot of energy to get to a good position at the top of the stretch, and then he flattened out, but it wasn’t a bad effort by any means.”
Pletcher also trains Stradivari.
Three other trainers have multiple entries. Steve Asmussen has Creator and recently had Gettysburg transferred to his barn, Romans sends out Brody’s Cause and Cherry Wine, and Dallas Stewart will run Forever d’oro and Seeking the Soul, both of whom are owned by Charles Fipke.
Kenny Troutt’s Winstar Farm is the majority owner of Creator – in whom celebrity chef Bobby Flay purchased a minority interest on Wednesday – and owns Gettysburg. Winstar also owns the breeding rights to Exaggerator.
Exaggerator completed his serious training for the Belmont on Tuesday with a five-furlong workout timed by DRF in 1:00.92. He jogged two miles on the training track Wednesday and seemed quite fresh, as though he’s still thriving despite the demands of the Triple Crown.
“It took him a half-mile to settle,” said trainer Keith Desormeaux.
Also on Wednesday, Lani worked five furlongs in 1:00.74 at the end of the third of his four trips around the oval.
The Belmont is the 11th race on a 13-race card on Saturday. It will be shown live by NBC Sports during a two-hour telecast that begins at 5 p.m. Eastern.
Large fields for undercard
ELMONT, N.Y. – Thirteen proved to be a lucky number for the New York Racing Association when it came to this year’s Belmont Stakes card.
Not only did 13 enter the Belmont Stakes, but there were 13 entrants each in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap, Grade 1 Just a Game, and Grade 2 Woody Stephens, three of the nine supporting stakes on Saturday’s 13-race program at Belmont Park. The Grade 3 Jaipur Invitational drew 14.
The $1.25 million Met Mile drew a wildly competitive field of 13, with Frosted, the runner- up to American Pharoah in last year’s Belmont Stakes, made a tepid 7-2 morning-line favorite. Frosted, who drew post 5, is coming off a fifth-place finish in the $10 million Dubai World Cup.
Kiaran Mclaughlin, the trainer of Frosted, said he opted to run in the Met Mile because of the prestige of the race, and he’s hoping for a speed duel to develop so that Frosted can rally from off the pace.
Mclaughlin entered two others in the race – Marking and Tamarkuz. Tamarkuz finished fourth behind Honor Code in last year’s Met Mile.
Trainer Todd Pletcher also entered three in the race, led by Stanford, the winner of the Charles Town Classic. He also has Anchor Down, the winner of the Westchester, and Blofeld, the winner of the Gulfstream Park Handicap.
Noble Bird, coming off a monster performance in the Pimlico Special, will turn back to a mile for this race. Also entered were El Kabeir, Donworth, Upstart, Ami’s Flatter, Sloane Avenue, and Calculator.
Flintshire, a Group 1 or Grade 1 winner in three countries, heads a field of 11 entered for the Grade 1, $1 million Manhattan Stakes at 1 1/4 miles on turf.
Flintshire, who won the Grade 1 Sword Dancer at Saratoga last year for Andre Fabre, will be making his first start for trainer Chad Brown, who received the horse in March. Brown entered three other horses in the field –Slumber and Big Blue Kitten, who ran one-two in this race last year, and Wake Forest, the winner of the Grade 1 Man o’ War earlier at this meet.
Flintshire will break from post 10, while Slumber and Wake Forest drew posts 2 and 3 and Big Blue Kitten drew post 5.
Others entered are World Approval, Take the Stand, Ironicus, Oathkeeper, Triple Threat, Grand Tito, and Divisidero.
The Grade 1, $700,000 Acorn for 3-year-old fillies drew only a field of six, but it includes Kentucky Oaks winner Cathryn Sophia, Black-eyed Susan winner Go Maggie Go, and Eight Belles Stakes winner Carina Mia.
The field also includes Off the Tracks, who was cross-entered in Friday’s Jersey Girl Stakes. By NYRA house rule, Off the Tracks will have to scratch from the Jersey Girl after entering in a race the following day.
Cathryn Sophia, trained by John Servis, is 5 for 6, including a 2 3/4-length victory in the Kentucky Oaks. She will break from post 5.
Go Maggie Go finished fourth in the Oaks and turned around two weeks later to win the Black-eyed Susan. She drew post 6 in the Acorn.
Carina Mia, who was excluded from the Oaks due to a lack of qualifying points, won the Eight Belles by six lengths on May 6.
Poala Queen and Forever Darling complete the field.
Curalina, last year’s Acorn winner, is one of five Grade 1 winners entered in Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million Ogden Phipps Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles.
Curalina is coming off a 7 1/2-length victory in the Grade 1 La Troienne, in which she beat, among others, Sheer Drama, who is back in this field. Curalina drew post 5, while Sheer Drama will break from post 7.
Stopchargingmaria, last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner, was beaten a neck by Sheer Drama in the Grade 1 Madison on April 9, her only start this year.
Cavorting, coming off a monster win in the Grade 2 Ruffian, and Forever Unbridled, the winner of the Grade 1 Apple Blossom last out, are the other Grade 1 winners in the field.
Carrumba, a Grade 3 winner, and the seemingly misplaced Desert Valley complete the Phipps field.
With female turf champion Tepin safely bedded down in England, a full field of 14 was entered for Saturday’s Grade 1, $700,000 Just a Game Stakes at a mile.
Tepin won this race last year and hasn’t lost since, including a victory in the Grade 2 Distaff Turf Mile.
Rainha Da Bateria, who finished second to Tepin that day, is one of two Chad Brown runners entered in this year’s Just a Game. Brown also entered Mrs Mcdougal, the winner of the Plenty of Grace Stakes in her last start. Mrs Mcdougal defeated Strike Charmer, who came back to win the Grade 3 Beaugay on May 14. Strike Charmer is back in this field.
The Just a Game field includes Celestine, Lady Lara, and My Miss Sophia from the Bill Mott barn; La Berma and Prize Exhibit for Californiabased conditioner James Cassidy; Recepta, Faufiler, Irish Rookie, and Lexie Lou.
Trainer Bob Baffert won’t be participating in this year’s Belmont Stakes, but he has two bullets to fire on the undercard in Justin Squared in the Grade 2, $500,000 Woody Stephens and Cupid in the $150,000 Easy Goer.
In the Woody Stephens, at seven furlongs, Baffert sends out the undefeated Justin Squared, who is coming off a win in the Chick Lang Stakes at Pimlico. He will face Sharp Azteca, who comes off a 2 1/2-length victory in the Pat Day Mile, and 11 others, including I Will Score and Mrazek, the one-two finishers in the Grade 3 Laz Barrera at Santa Anita.
In the Easy Goer, Baffert sends out Cupid, the winner of the Grade 2 Rebel who finished 10th in the Arkansas Derby and came out of that raced needing throat surgery. Cupid will only face four rivals in the Easy Goer – Race Me Home, Rally Cry, Hit It Once More, and Economic Model. In other stakes:
Rocket Heat, the winner of the Churchill Downs Turf Sprint, drew post 6 in a 14-horse field entered in the Grade 3, $300,000 Jaipur Invitational.
Kid Cruz, the winner of the Grade 3 Excelsior last out, drew post 7 in a field of 10 entered in the Grade 2, $400,000 Brooklyn Invitational.