Belmont Park was visited by a long, lost friend Friday morning...the sun. But it's not supposed to stay very long. With showers set to return tomorrow morning, and heavy rains to follow, Empire Maker and Dynever will hit the track early for their final Belmont works.
After last week's fiasco, when Empire Maker and Dynever were forced to work on the yielding inner turf course, trainers Bobby Frankel and Chris Clement once again joined forces in their attempt to stay one step ahead of the weather. Both trainers kidded with each other as they plotted their course of action. Frankel said he preferred to work Empire Maker on Sunday, but the ominous forecast left him with little choice but to push it up a day. With showers not expected to begin until a little later in the morning, both Frankel and Clement agreed it would be best to work early tomorrow.
Frankel said Empire Maker will work 6 furlongs with Jerry Bailey aboard, while Dynever will have his usual half-mile work, galloping out a strong 5 furlongs.
Dynever had a good once-around gallop after 9 a.m. this morning and looked very strong. A classy-looking dark bay, he stood by the rail for a good 10-15 minutes, intently watching all the activity. At one point, he eyed Funny Cide who was cantering by just in front of him. Many feel Dynever is the one unknown factor in the Belmont. Although he's never faced this type of competition, he has unleashed two sensational moves in his last two races. Whether he can show that kind of acceleration against Funny Cide and Empire Maker remains to be seen. Even Clement is unsure what to expect. "I don't know if he showed that kind turn of foot simply because he wasn't facing much or not," he said. "That's what we'll find out next Saturday."
Over at Kenny McPeek's barn, Best Minister's exercise rider Hanne Jorgensen was writing her daily report in her journal. Last year, Jorgensen was the regular exercise rider at Belmont for Sarava, and she's hoping for the same results this year. "He trained super today," she said. "He went so good, and was really stretching out beautifully. He's just a little horse, but he pulls hard. He really loves the activity, and I have to give him a long walk back to the barn after he comes off the track."
McPeek still hasn't made a decision whether he's going to run Wild & Wicked, who has run only twice in his career, an easy maiden score and a recent nonwinners allowance victory at Churchill Downs. He said it's possible no decision will be made until the day of the entries, which is next Wednesday.
As for Funny Cide, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner looks in excellent condition, and his coat is resplendent. Barclay Tagg sent him out for a once-around jog the wrong way. The gelding worked two days ago, going 5 furlongs in :59 2/5 over a muddy track.
One issue Tagg constantly is having to deal with is Funny Cide's distance capabilities, especially now that he's going a mile and a half. "He's got plenty of distance on his bottom line. I've heard all this stuff forever now, and he seems to do everything we've asked him to do, so I think I should go ahead and try it," he said in his typical understated humor. "Maybe he can't go a mile and a half, I don't know. There's only one way to find out. He's got the build to go a distance, he's got the demeanor to go a distance, and he's done it already. And I can't scratch him. What I've got in my favor is that Jose (Santos) is clicking with this horse now. They seem to have a good rapport and are comfortable with each other."
There currently are seven definite starters for the 135th Belmont Stakes – Funny Cide, Empire Maker, Dynever, Ten Most Wanted, Best Minister, Scrimshaw, and Supervisor. The three probables are Wild and Wicked, Midway Road, and Outta Here. Trainer Neil Howard said a decision on Preakness runner-up Midway Road likely will be made on Monday. Bill Currin, trainer and part owner of Outta Here said the colt will work at Hollywood Park on Sunday, and a decision will be made that evening.