IEAH co-head Michael Iavarone said that, as a bettor himself, he could understand if punters looked elsewhere before laying their money down on the Belmont. “You can’t bet Big Brown if you want to make money on the race,” he said. “I understand that.”
Pompa, who purchased Big Brown as a 2-year-old and raced him once at Saratoga before selling 75% of him to IEAH Stables, was holding court nearby. “Mike Iavarone wants to know what 2-year-olds I’m running at Saratoga this year,” he joked.
Asked how tall Big Brown was, Pompa turned to the questioner: “What are ya, trying to make a blanket for him?”
Iavarone, who has found himself the subject of some unflattering press coverage of his background as a securities trader over the past couple of weeks, excused himself from a conversation with: “I’ve got to go do an interview with The Enquirer now.”
Meanwhile, over at Barn 7 next to the gap where horses come onto the Belmont surface for their morning exercise, trainer Bob Baffert was back in business. Baffert, a fixture during many Triple Crown series, lacked a trainee in the Big Three races this time around, but will be running 2007 champion juvenile filly Indian Blessing in the Acorn Stakes (gr. I) on the Belmont Stakes undercard.
“You can tell by watching the jockeys that they’re in a different mode for races like this,” Baffert said. “Guys like Gary Stevens (who rode Silver Charm for Baffert through the 1997 Triple Crown campaign) know these races are going to define their careers.”
Asked about Kent Desormeaux, who just missed the Triple Crown in 1998 on Real Quiet for Baffert, the trainer said, “Sometimes it’s better getting beat by a length than by an inch, like we did, because that’s when the second-guessing starts. There’s no doubt that it’s a lot of pressure.”
Seen on the Belmont backstretch Friday were Chuck Zackney and Joe Lerro, two of the co-owners of Afleet Alex, who won the Belmont and Preakness Stakes (gr. I) in 2005. They had a horse working Friday morning for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin named Goin Mobile. Zackney said the partners currently own about 20 horses in training spread around New York and several Mid-Atlantic venues.
No racing fan will soon forget Afleet Alex’ valiant victory in the Preakness after being smashed into and going down to his knees around the final turn. “When I watch the replay, it just looks like he got very mad when he got smacked into,” said Lerro. “I don’t think we’ll see anything like that again.”