Belmont Stakes News and Notes

Belmont Stakes News and Notes

Favorite Role Falls to Mine That Bird in Belmont
by Greg Melikov

Get 2009 Belmont Stakes coverage including updated articles and handicapping advice as well as Belmont Stakes Picks and live 2009 Belmont Stakes Odds.

The horse to beat in the 141st Belmont is the gelding that won the Kentucky Derby, but finished second in the Preakness.

With Preakness winner Rachel Alexandra taking a break, Mine That Bird will be favored over as many as 10 challengers.

The only Derby winner the past two decades to lose the Preakness and win the Belmont was Thunder Gulch in '95. He was one of five winning post-time favorites, including three that captured the Preakness after losing the Derby: Risen Star, '88; Point Given, '01; and Afleet Alex, '05.

However, more than 48 percent of Belmonts were won by favorites. The lowest payoff is $2.10 in '43 when Count Fleet became the sixth of 11 thoroughbreds to capture the Triple Crown.

There's been five horses that returned double-digit payoffs during the 21st Century, including the largest in '02 - Sarava's $142.50. War Emblem, attempting to become the 12th Triple Crown champ, finished eighth.

Two horses in Saturday's field were sired by '04 Belmont winner Birdstone: Mine That Bird and Summer Bird, sixth in the Derby.

Trainer Nick Zito, who saddled Birdstone and last year's Belmont winner Da'Tara, may send out three horses: Brave Victory, third behind Charitable Man in the Peter Pan; Miner's Escape, winner of the Fredrico Tesio; and Nowhere to Hide, 17th in the Derby.

If all three go, it will increase the number of Zito's all-time Belmont starters to 23.

D. Wayne Lukas will saddle two that finished off the board in the Preakness: Flying Private, fourth, and Luv Guv. He has trained four winners in 19 tries: Tabasco Cat, '94; Thunder Gulch, '95; Editor's Note, '96 and Commendable, '00.

There were less than nine starters only twice in the 21st Century -- '03 when Empire Maker defeated five others and '07 when Rags to Riches whipped six males.

The smallest fields were two each in 1887, 1888, 1892, 1910 and 1920. The largest field was 15 in 1983 when Caveat beat Slew o' Gold.

This Belmont would be the fifth time in nine years that more than 10 horses ran.

If Mine That Bird triumphs, Calvin Borel will become the only jockey to win the Triple Crown on two different horses.

Borel, aboard Preakness winner Rachel Alexander, gets back on Mine That Bird since her owners announced the filly needed to take a break. Luckily, the gelding's owners held off selecting another rider.

Borel, 42, was born in southern Louisiana. He dropped out of school after the eighth grade to pursue a riding career, starting at Louisiana tracks before branching out throughout the South.

He has ridden more than 4,500 winners during a career spanning three decades, capturing 13 titles at seven tracks, including Churchill Downs where he guided Street Sense to victory in the '07 Derby.

Mine That Bird went a half-mile in 50 seconds on Monday at Churchill Downs. Trainer Chip Woolley called the final workout perfect, according to the Daily Racing Form.

"We're going to win it, no questions asked," Borel predicted. "I love the way he went today. He really came bouncing off the track once we were done. That's what I love about him. He's just so happy."

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Re: Belmont Stakes News and Notes

Belmont Update

ELMONT, N.Y. - The faint, then dashed, hope of a Belmont Stakes rematch between Mine That Bird and Rachel Alexandra has been replaced by the reality of a compelling matchup between the late-running Mine That Bird and the speedy Charitable Man, making Saturday's Belmont Stakes, like the Preakness three weeks ago, a classic clash of opposing race styles. Both camps, though, are equally confident their horse will prevail in the final leg of the Triple Crown on Saturday at Belmont Park, and they sounded off Monday.

Mine That Bird, winner of the Kentucky Derby and the runner-up in the Preakness Stakes, assumed the favorite's role for the 141st Belmont after Rachel Alexandra was officially withdrawn from consideration Friday. On Monday, Mine That Bird worked a half-mile in 50 seconds at Churchill Downs, after which his jockey, Calvin Borel, said, "We're going to win it, no questions asked."

Kiaran McLaughlin begs to differ. McLaughlin, the trainer of Charitable Man, has been uncharacteristically boastful about his chances - "I wouldn't trade places with anybody," he said the other day - so much so that a longtime friend sent McLaughlin a text asking why he was so cocky.
   
"I'm not usually," McLaughlin acknowledged here at Belmont Park Monday morning. "But this week, I'm a little cocky."

"He's doing equally as good going into the Belmont as he was going into the Peter Pan," McLaughlin said.

Charitable Man, who won the Peter Pan by 3 3/4 lengths four weeks ago, has emerged as the strong second choice in the Belmont. A field of 10 is expected to be entered Wednesday morning and then post positions will be determined in a traditional, double-blind draw.

In addition to Mine That Bird (Borel the rider) and Charitable Man (Alan Garcia), the others expected to be entered in the 1 1/2-mile race are Brave Victory (Rajiv Maragh), Chocolate Candy (Garrett Gomez), Dunkirk (John Velazquez), Flying Private (Julien Leparoux), Luv Gov (Miguel Mena), Miner's Escape (Jose Lezcano), Mr. Hot Stuff (Edgar Prado), and Summer Bird (Kent Desormeaux).

Nowhere to Hide, who could have given trainer Nick Zito a potential third Belmont starter, was officially ruled out of the race Monday, despite working a half-mile in 49.92 seconds on Saratoga's training track.

"After talking to Mr. Riggio," Zito said, referring to owner Leonard Riggio, the Barnes and Noble chief executive, "we've decided to pass the Belmont to go in another stakes race. The Belmont is just not the right place to run him."

Zito, who won last year's Belmont with Da' Tara, will be represented by Brave Victory and Miner's Escape.

Mine That Bird had what his trainer and jockey called a "perfect" final workout Monday morning at Churchill Downs. Borel and trainer Chip Woolley both said Mine That Bird is as ready as can be for the Belmont. Only Mine That Bird and Flying Private will compete in all three legs of the Triple Crown this year.

"I loved the way he went today," Borel said after the work. "He really came bouncing off the track once we were done. That's what I love about him. He's just so happy."

Working at about 8:40 a.m., shortly after the track reopened following the harrow break, Mine That Bird went in splits of 13.80 seconds, 26.60, and 38.40 before speeding from the eighth pole to the wire in 11.60. His five-furlong gallop-out time was a strong 1:02.20.

Woolley, who watched from the six-furlong gap on the backstretch, said he was extremely pleased with what he saw.

"I was just thinking last week that he's been training even better than he was going into the Derby," Woolley said.

Mine That Bird is scheduled to be flown from Kentucky to New York on Wednesday. Joining him on that flight will be Mr. Hot Stuff, who worked five furlongs in 1:00 on Monday morning at Keeneland under exercise rider Brian O'Leary. Mr. Hot Stuff has not raced since finishing 15th in the Derby five weeks ago.

"I'm very happy with the way he's training," Eoin Harty, Mr. Hot Stuff's trainer, said from Kentucky. "He's very fit, very happy. It's just a matter of if he's good enough."

Here at Belmont Park on Monday, Chocolate Candy completed his Belmont preparations with an easy half-mile breeze in 50.25 seconds. It was his fourth and final breeze since arriving here May 6, four days after he finished fifth in the Derby.

Exercise rider Lindsey Molina didn't ask much of Chocolate Candy in the work, which was conducted shortly after 7 a.m., after the track had been open for 90 minutes.

Chocolate Candy galloped alongside a pony from the wire to the 4 1/2-furlong pole. Chocolate Candy eased away from the pony and went to the half-mile pole rather slowly, and got an opening eighth in 13.19 seconds. Molina had a firm hold of the reins while Chocolate Candy got the quarter in 25.84. In the stretch, Molina reached up and took another hold so as not to let Chocolate Candy do too much, and yet he still came home in a solid 24.41. He galloped out five furlongs in 1:03.59.

"He definitely wanted to do a lot more, I'll tell you that much," Molina said.

Molina, who has been with Chocolate Candy since he left California for Kentucky in mid-April, has been extremely pleased with how Chocolate Candy has adjusted to the Belmont surface.

"All I can say is he just skips over this track," Molina said. "I love him. Today, that was nothing. That was galloping for him and then he galloped out real strong."

It was a gorgeous morning at Belmont Park, with clear skies, a fast track, and temperatures in the mid-50s. The high temperature for the day was 68.

A spate of wet weather is forecast to hit the area in the middle of the week, according to Weather.com, but the long-range forecast for Belmont Day is ideal, 75 degrees and no rain.

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