Belmont Stakes Notes: Thursday, June 8

(compiled by Belmont Park)
Trainer Bob Baffert stood by the gap on the main track near the beginning of the clubhouse turn Thursday morning and supervised the morning exercise for both his starters on Saturday's Belmont Stakes card.

Belmont Stakes (gr. I) contender Bob and John and Woody Stephens Breeders' Cup (gr. II) favorite Too Much Bling both galloped easily over the muddy track this morning.

Bob and John finished 17th in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), beaten 31 ½ lengths. Earlier in the week, jockey Garrett Gomez blamed the colt's poor finish on being bumped several times in the Derby. Baffert saw things differently.

"Garrett Gomez, let me tell you what, he lost that race in the first 100 yards, and then he blamed it on getting knocked around," Baffert said. "That wasn't anybody's fault. He should have been up there with Barbaro, cruising with those horses. He got the squeeze. When you take those high-cruising horses, like Barbaro, if they would have taken him back or got squeezed like that, (Barbaro) might not have won the Derby. (Edgar) Prado won that race. He got aggressive and won that race."

Baffert said the horse he is most concerned about in the Belmont Stakes is Jazil, the fourth-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby.

"He just keeps coming," Baffert said. "Look at the Derby. He came from the one, which is probably one of the worst post positions, and fought his way around there. He'll get a mile and a half."

Shadwell Farm's Jazil jogged 1 1/2 miles Thursday morning, according to the Seeking the Gold colt's trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin. Despite having it very easy in the mornings leading up to the Belmont, McLaughlin is confident his charge is fit and ready for the 12-furlong challenge of the Belmont Stakes.

"Everything's great," McLaughlin said. "I'd like to gallop him tomorrow, but we'll see how the track is. We're happy with him if he just gets to jog tomorrow."

Kinsman Stable's Hemingway's Key jogged and stood in the starting gate, according to trainer Nick Zito. The Notebook colt will try to give Zito his second Belmont win in three years after Zito upset Smarty Jones with Birdstone in 2004.

"He looks good," Zito said. "I'm sure he won't be relaxed Saturday, but I hope he will be. He's kind of a high-strung horse, but he's a beautiful horse."

Zito has always been a big supporter of the Belmont Stakes, saying the 1 1/2-mile distance is what makes it a classic. He has started 16 horses in the race and only won once, but has racked up six seconds along with a pair of thirds and fourths.

Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III) winner Deputy Glitters will attempt to run back to that race nearly three months ago when he starts in the Belmont Stakes. Like most other Belmont runners, the Deputy Commander colt had an easy morning.

"He did some light jogging this morning," trainer Tom Albertrani said. "He doesn't need to school in the paddock or gate before the race. He's pretty good about all that stuff."

Albertrani said that he would scratch Deputy Glitters if the track came up wet Saturday.

"In the morning he trains fine over a wet track, but that's much different than running a race," Albertrani said. "It looks like the weather is going to clear, so we should be good for Saturday."

Amerman Racing Stable's Sacred Light jogged a mile and galloped a mile this morning, according to trainer David Hofmans, who trained 1997 Belmont winner Touch Gold. He schooled in the paddock before the second race.

"He seemed to handle the wet track," Hofmans said. "He got a little hot because there were a lot of horses on the track. He walked yesterday and was full of himself this morning. Tomorrow, we'll try to gallop."

Sacred Light finished second in his last start, an entry-level allowance at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day.

The main track was also wet at Aqueduct this morning and High Finance, who is based there for trainer Rick Violette Jr., jogged a couple times around the track according to his trainer.

"We stood him in the gate and backed him out as well," Violette said. "Hopefully, we'll get to gallop tomorrow."

Violette expects High Finance to be forwardly placed in the Belmont.

"We'll see what happens after the break," Violette said. "Double Galore has blinkers on and he's pretty quick anyway, so we'll probably be stalking him. If we were to end up on the lead, I that would be fine as long as he's comfortable."

Mike Smith is a Hall of Fame jockey who has won the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), a Preakness (gr. I), 10 Breeders' Cup races, and the Triple Tiara. Yet a Belmont Stakes victory has proved elusive to Smith, who enters Saturday's 138th running of "The Test of the Champion" 0-for-10.

Perhaps perseverance will pay off for Smith when he rides 20-1 shot Oh So Awesome in the third and final leg of the 2006 Triple Crown Saturday. Smith shocked the racing world with his first Kentucky Derby victory only 13 months ago aboard Giacomo, who scored at odds of 50-1.

Smith rode Oh So Awesome in his first and only stateside start, a third-place finish in the off-the-turf Match the Hatch at Belmont on May 19. Oh So Awesome raced in sixth early in the Match the Hatch before he rallied steadily along the rail. Roman Dynasty, a colt that relished the sloppy track, beat him a little more than three lengths for the win.

"I thought he ran a big race there," Smith said. "He got away a little slow, which first time out in this country they do a lot of times. It took him a little bit to get used to the dirt, but then he leveled out and made a good run at the end. He should improve off that, and he's been training like he's going to improve. I think he'll come running, it's just a matter of whether he can catch them or not."

Oh So Awesome raced in France prior to shipping to the U.S. earlier this year. Although he won only one of six starts overseas, Oh So Awesome gained experience in a number of marathon-like races, starting twice at 1 5/16 miles and once at 1 3/8 miles. Smith believes that bodes well for the 12-furlong Belmont.

"It helps that he's been really far," Smith said. "It can't hurt."

Oh So Awesome starts for trainer Jimmy Jerkens.

Steppenwolfer, 9-2 on the morning line for Saturday's Belmont, jogged Thursday morning. Trainer Dan Peitz says the seemingly endless rainfall here the last week or so hasn't affected the colt's training too much.

"I breezed him a day earlier, and I was glad I did it because the track wasn't great on Saturday, Sunday, or Monday," Peitz said. "I thought I did the right thing, and he breezed out of the bridle."

Steppenwolfer might have turned in the most impressive workout of any Belmont Stakes starter the last two weeks when he breezed six furlongs over the training track in 1:10 1/5 June 2.

Peitz believes Steppenwolfer, who finished third in the Kentucky Derby after closing from 13th, will be closer to the pace Saturday.

"Should we be within five lengths if they go a half in :48, I would think so," Peitz said. "My expectations are for him to be right there turning for home. Hopefully, we can grind it out the last quarter of a mile."

Steppenwolfer breaks from post 11 beneath jockey Robby Albarado in the Belmont.

Todd Pletcher, the nation's champion trainer in both 2004 and 2005, saddles the first two choices on the morning line in Bluegrass Cat (3-1 favorite) and Sunriver (4-1).

"We're based here, and Belmont is our home track and obviously you want to win the most important race at your home track," Pletcher said. "The one thing I think Belmont has done right has been riding the wave of the horses that have been here to compete in the Triple Crown. The Belmont is now an event on its own, and it's a very good race without a clear-cut favorite."

Bluegrass Cat drew post 9 beneath jockey John Velazquez. Sunriver, meanwhile, will break from post 2 with jockey Rafael Bejarano.

"I would think High Finance is the most likely pacesetter," Pletcher said. "I think Bob and John and Bluegrass Cat will probably be the first two stalking him."

The Myung Kwon Cho-trained Double Galore arrived at Belmont Park from California yesterday and was bedded down in barn 25. A colt by Grand Slam, Double Galore is listed at 30-1 on the morning line for the Belmont Stakes.

Platinum Couple, another seemingly overmatched Belmont Stakes longshot, drew post 1 for the third leg of the Triple Crown. A New York-bred, Platinum Couple goes out for trainer Joe Lostritto. Platinum Couple races with blinkers for the first time Saturday.

"He's been working in blinkers, and I think they're helping him focus better," said Lostritto, 68. "Being from Brooklyn, to win the Belmont would be the ultimate."

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