Thursday Morning Line at the Belmont
Date Posted: 6/8/2006 6:22:08 AM
Last Updated: 6/8/2006 11:23:49 AM

Evan Hammonds goes to the Belmont - and takes you along for the ride!

Ten-Ten Good Buddy
10:25 a.m.

Training hours are over. Calm returns to the Belmont backstretch.

Barn 10 used to be the home of Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, complete with his familiar "WL" logo adorning green and white stall placards.

Today, new placards are in place. Dark blue ones, with a white ball in the center, script intials "TA" on the center. That stands for Tom Albertrani.

In stall 10 is Preakness (gr. I) winner Bernardini. The beautiful son of A.P. Indy is in a playful mood, nipping at a ball cap. He then reaches down and fiddles with the snap-lock on his stall webbing, as if he is letting himself out for an early lunch.

Bernardini will be held out until other races this summer, perhaps the Travers (gr. I) at Saratoga. Albertrani's Belmont starter, Deputy Glitters, is in the next stall. They both look out at a small grassy area that runs between Barns 10 and 11.

In Barn 11, a groom works on Henny Hughes in stall 39. Two stalls down is Jazil, who finished in a dead-heat for fourth in the Derby. He's being bashful behind his official 138th Belmont Stakes stall webbing. Have a feeling he'll be less shy come raceday.


A Year in the Life
9:05 a.m.

Last year, trainer Sal Russo sent out Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) runner-up Reverberate in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I). Outside Barn 24, he filmed a promo spot as his horse was picked the "Budweiser Longshot."

The son of Thunder Gulch   didn't have one of his better days, finishing 10th.

"It's been a little quiet, but we're starting to gear up with a few live horses around here before too long," Russo reports. Russo has a barn of 20 at the moment, with some 2-year-olds still to come.

How about this year's race?

"To tell you the truth, I haven't thought about it too much," he says. "It's hard to say, If I'm rooting for anybody, it'll be Danny Peitz (trainer of Steppenwolfer). He's a long time friend. We've been on the racetrack a long time together.

"I think Todd (Pletcher) probably has a strong hand, but it's a tough race to figure."



The 'In' Crowd
8:45 a.m.

Trainer Bob Baffert draws a crowd wherever he goes. He's currently outside Barn 7 awaiting Bob and John being readied to go to the track.

About 10 reporters huddle around to catch his wisdom. It's a far cry from the bedlam around his shedrow at Churchill Downs for the Derby. He had three horses in the Derby: Sinister Minister, Point Determined, and Bob and John. He said he has watched the replay of the race 10-15 times.

"Point Determined got the trip, he just didn't punch," he says. "Bob and John never had a chance."

As for the Belmont, Baffert said he was pleased with his colt's draw, but was looking for a shorter field.

"I was hoping Barbaro would be in it going for the Triple Crown, so it would only be five or six horses," he says. "It's more exciting to try to knock a horse off. Anyway, the Belmont is still a big event."

Now for the punch line.

"The Belmont is a more important race for the trainer than the Preakness," he says. "The Belmont trophy (for the trainer) is so much nicer than the Preakness. The Preakness is the weakest trophy in racing. It's a bowl. If you win the Belmont, you get a miniature of the Belmont trophy. That's cool. Your trophy case looks much better."



Penna In Hand
8:30 a.m.

Outside the Morning Line is trainer Angel Penna Jr. He's seen a few Belmonts in his time. How does he see Saturday's race shaping up?

"It's a competitive race; it's a wide, wide open field," he says. "It's going to be a good betting race. It probably lost a little luster with the other horses not running.

"You gotta like Todd all the time," he says of trainer Todd Pletcher's pair of Sunriver and Bluegrass Cat. "The two horses have a good shot.

"Danny Peitz has a wonderful horse (Steppenwolfer). He's probably the true distance horse, although this race is sometimes not won by the stamina, it's won by the speed.

"I'll enjoy the day," he says. "It'll be a good day of racing. I just hope it doesn't rain."

Penna looks skyward. It's all dark gray.

"Boy, what a week we're having."



The Morning Line
8:00 a.m.

I've been waiting since the Derby to write "The Morning Line" from the Morning Line, the backstretch kitchen at Belmont Park. I order up a "regular" coffee. In New York, that means it comes with milk and plenty of sugar.

Just off the counter at a table is Hall of Fame jockey Angel Cordero Jr. He slices a cranberry muffin with a knife.

Cordero had an illustrious career as a rider -- one of the best of all-time. His nickname was the "King of Saratoga" because of the consecutive number of titles he won there. When he retired, he became a trainer...and then a jock's agent. He handles John Velazquez' book and is an exercise rider for trainer Todd Pletcher.

Pletcher has two for the Belmont: favorite Bluegrass Cat and Peter Pan (gr. II) winner Sunriver. Cordero has ridden them both.

"I think he's got two good chances," he says of the trainer. "I've only ridden Bluegrass Cat a couple of times, but not lately. I've been on Sunriver every day.

"I like the time Bluegrass Cat has had between races."

Bluegrass Cat skipped the Preakness (gr. I) after running second to Barbaro in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).

"I like his last race, too," he says. "And I like the guy who will ride him."

That would be Velazquez.

"Sunriver is training very good," Cordero says. "He's a big horse, but he's not like a big, heavy horse. He's a baby that is still growing. Since he ran in the Florida Derby, he's improved very much. I hope he don't catch a wet track. But you never know in this kind of race."

The Belmont is unique in its distance. Not many horses are ever asked to go a mile and a half.

"If you can get your horse to relax the first half-mile, you'll be OK," Cordero says. "That is the challenge. Usually, you'll know if you're in trouble at the half-mile pole. You may be already asking your horse at that point, and if you are, you're in trouble."



Big Sandy
7:25 a.m.

Ronny Werner got into town yesterday with Ermine for Saturday's Acorn Stakes (gr. I). Ermine came up big--but not quite big enough--when she split horses and ran a gritty second to Lemons Forever in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I).

"It was like kissing your sister," he says of the tough beat at Churchill Downs. "It's alright, but it ain't."

Looking out at the expansive track, he says, "It's a long way around."

Belmont Park is the only track in North America with a mile and a half layout.

"It's the most intimidating track I've ever been on," says trainer Steve Asmussen.

"In the Midwest, we never carried binoculars," he jokes.

"Those outriders...they need about four or five of them," Werner says.

"Yeah, like the Pony Express," Asmussen finishes his thought. "They could have one at the quarter pole, one at the five-eighths..."



New Kid in Town
7:15 a.m.

He's new to town, but most people already know all about him. Jockey Kent Desormeaux is now riding in New York full-time for the first time ever.

"I just hired a new agent," he said, standing next to Mike Sellitto, who used to handle the book of Mike Smith and handled Jose Santos' book back when they shot for the Triple Crown with Funny Cide in 2003.

He's been in town a month. Business is "OK. It's not bad for being a newcomer," he says.

How about the Long Island lifestyle?

"Unfortunately, for me as a jockey, I've never had such great food," he says. "The food in New York is tremendous. Even the hole-in-the-wall little Italian places are good."

Desormeaux rode Sweetnorthernsaint in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and Preakness Stakes. He doesn't have a mount Saturday...nor does he have a pick.

"I'm going to take the safe side," he says with a laugh. "I wish I could ride any of 'em. I'm rooting for any of them that would have considered me to ride their horse but didn't because I was on Sweetnorthernsaint. I'm sorry I missed their horse."



All That Glitters...May Not Run
7:00 a.m.

Tom Albertrani was on top of the world three weeks ago. The trainer saddled Bernardini to win the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) with just his second classic starter after going out on his own two years ago.

At Belmont, he stands at the gap, staring out at the soggy main track. It's been raining for days.

Yesterday, he entered Deputy Glitters to run in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I). He hopes he gets to run the colt who finished eighth in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). A sloppy track doesn't bode well for the son of Deputy Commander.

"There's nothing we can do about the weather," Albertrani says. "I'm hoping it clears out of here Friday night or Saturday morning so it can dry up for Deputy Glitters.

"We've already tried him on two sloppy tracks, and we know that he's not going to handle it. He ran in the Champagne last year, and he didn't handle it that day, and he didn't handle it in the Wood, so we're not going to try him a third time if it comes up sloppy on Saturday. It's supposed to clear up, so that's all we can hope for."

Earlier this year, Deputy Glitters defeated favorite Bluegrass Cat in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III)...on a dry track.

As for winning the Preakness, Albertrani has felt the love from a lot of people.

"There's been phone calls from all around," he said. "Some people I haven't talked to in quite a while -- some people that I haven't seen since high school."

Albertrani went to high school at Valley Stream Central on Long Island.

"It's a great response," he said. "It's great to know people are thinking about you."



Feeling Green

While Barbaro was convalescing at the New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa., following his breakdown in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) May 20, Lexingtonian Patricia Green was busy with pen and paper.

Green, who owns Silks Unlimited and is the daughter of the late Hal Price Headley and sister of Alice Chandler, was not the only one who felt the need to write Dr. Dean Richardson, who had performed the six-hour-plus surgery on the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner.

In her case, however, she could relate to the situation.

"At Thanksgiving, I was visiting my son, Chris, in upstate New York," Green told us Wednesday. "I slipped on some black ice, fell, and crushed my ankle. I had four screws, one plate, and eight bolts put into my right ankle."

After reading all of the information on Barbaro and seeing the photos and diagrams of the hardware inserted into the colt's leg, she decided to write Richardson to tell him of her similar situation and to thank him for the "sterling" job he did. The letter went out in the mail that week.

She also wanted to tell Richardson of a feeling she now gets that feels like ice water running through her ankle and foot from time to time. While her doctors haven't come up with an answer, she said one of her physical therapists said it might be the sensation of the blood flow over the metal plate.

Since Barbaro can't speak up for himself, she just wanted Richardson to know.



Numbers Game

Here are some stats on trainers with horses in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I):

Three trainers have Belmont wins: Bob Baffert won with Point Given in 2001, he'll send out Bob and John; Dave Hofmans ended Silver Charm's Triple Crown bid in 1997 with Touch Gold, his only Belmont entrant so far--Hofmans will saddle Sacred Light; and trainer Nick Zito (Hemingway's Key) won the race in 2004 with Birdstone; Zito also has four seconds in the race.

Five trainers will have their first Belmont starter: Tom Albertrani: Deputy Glitters; Myung Kwon Cho: Double Galore (he owned 1990 starter Video Ranger); Joe Lostritto: Platinum Couple; Kiaran McLaughlin: Jazil; and Danny Peitz: Steppenwolfer.

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