Fox Hill Farms’ Hard Spun, second and third place finisher in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, got his first feel of the main track at Belmont Park Sunday morning when he breezed five furlongs in 1:03 over a surface labeled “fast” but playing slow, as he prepares for the 139th running of the $1 million Belmont Stakes (gr. I) Saturday.
Jockey Garrett Gomez, who will be aboard the son of Danzig in the Belmont, was along for the exercise, his first time on the colt. The move was the 12th fastest of 19 at the distance.
“He looked good and relaxed doing it,” said trainer Larry Jones. “He had his ears up and looked very happy. I wasn’t worried about what he worked in. I just wanted him to be comfortable and have a good time.”
Hard Spun shipped up from Jones’ Delaware Park base Saturday and was originally going to have his final pre-Belmont work Monday. But with the threat of bad weather Sunday night, Jones thought it was best not to wait.
“They’re calling for a good chance of rain tonight, and I didn’t want to take a chance and have to work him in the mud tomorrow,” Jones said. “Better safe then sorry.”
Jones thinks the 1 1/2-mile Belmont will play out much differently than the Kentucky Derby and Preakness did.
“It’s a different distance and there’s going to be a different pace scenario,” Jones said. “We can’t keep going out there the way we’ve been going. We’ve got to catch a little softer pace, but you expect that here. Nobody’s going to want to be rolling out there in a mile-and-a-half race.”
Gomez seemed to get along well with Hard Spun. Mario Pino had ridden him in all of his eight previous starts.
“We’ve got a guy on him who should know what it takes to get it done,” Jones said. “I hated to change from Mario, but we felt that we needed to do something, so we did -- good, bad, or indifferent.”
Trainer Bill Kaplan’s morning did not get off to a good start when the exercise rider that was supposed to work Belmont contender Imawildandcrazyguy failed to show for a 5:30 a.m. breeze. Fortunately, a suitable replacement was found in jockey Javier Castellano.
Heading to the track about an hour late, Imawildandcrazyguy breezed three furlongs in :37, the sixth fastest of 17 works at the distance.
“We put a big gallop before it and after it,” said Kaplan. “We let him get up to speed for three-eighths of a mile only. He galloped about a half-mile after the breeze.”
Kaplan said he was pleased with how the Lewis Pell and Michael Eigner-owned gelding cooled out.
“He looks happy,” Kaplan said.
The Belmont Stakes has been on the radar for Imawildandcrazyguy since January as the gelding’s main goal. He finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby, but this is the race Kaplan really wants to win.
“We would have come to this race no matter how he finished in the Derby,” Kaplan said. “A mile and a half is right up his alley. People ask me, ‘Where do you go from here?’ I’ve never thought past the Belmont. He’s an endurance specialist and the only time he gets to do that as a three-year-old is the Belmont.”
Jockey Mike Smith and trainer John Shirreffs took the red-eye from California last night to work Belmont Stakes starter Tiago Sunday morning. The half-brother to 2005 Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo breezed six furlongs in 1:14 4/5, third fastest out of four works at the distance.
“He actually breezed great,” Smith said. “I was really happy with it. The track is slow this morning, and there’s not much water on it. He went three-quarters in 1:14 and change and was just playing. I just wanted to make sure he was happy and got over the track well, and he did.”
Shirreffs said he is pleased with how Tiago has progressed over the last couple of months, gaining valuable experience in winning the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) and finishing seventh in the Kentucky Derby.
“The Derby gave him a lot of good experience,” Shirreffs said. “There was a big crowd and it gave Mike a chance to ride him for only the second time.”
One of the biggest changes for Shirreffs since the 2005 Belmont Stakes has been the installation of the artificial surface Cushion Track at Hollywood Park.
“The synthetic tracks are so different,” Shirreffs said. “I felt that he needed to gallop on this track to get ready for the race.”
Trainer Todd Pletcher worked potential Belmont Stakes starters Rags to Riches and Circular Quay.
Rags to Riches, working in company with 5-year-old A.P. Arrow, breezed five furlongs over the main track in 1:03.84. If Rags to Riches starts in the Belmont, it will be the first time she competes against males. Rags to Riches is the leading 3-year-old filly in training after her romping victory in last month’s Kentucky Oaks (gr. I).
“I was looking for, maybe a little faster than she went, but she was very relaxed and she finished up well,” Pletcher said.
Circular Quay, sixth in the Kentucky Derby and fifth in the Preakness, breezed a half mile over the main track in tandem with King of the Roxy. Both 3-year-olds were given a time of :49.10, breezing.
“They did well,” Pletcher said. “It was a nice and tidy breeze. We weren’t looking for anything fancy.”
Regarding the Belmont for Rags to Riches and Circular Quay – who are both owned by Michael Tabor – Pletcher said, “I’m not going to make any decisions until I look at both horses tomorrow.
“I got to think it through. I could go either way on both of them. I think it’s only the right move if one of them can win; otherwise, it’s a long race that doesn’t really do any good in moving forward.”
Preakness winner Curlin is scheduled to have his final pre-Belmont breeze at Churchill Downs at 6:15 Monday morning before shipping to New York on Tuesday. He galloped two miles over a fast main track at Churchill Sunday morning under exercise rider Carmen Rosas.