Kentucky Contingent Arrives for Belmont; Contentious Race Seen

Kentucky Contingent Arrives for Belmont; Contentious Race Seen
Photo: AP/Mark Lennihan
Mike Payne leads Point Given off a cargo plane at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
The post position draw is in, Point Given is in, Dollar Bill is in. Not much more to do now but wait. With the arrival of Team Valor's English import Dr Greenfield at approximately 6 p.m. this evening, the cast of nine for the 133rd Belmont Stakes will be in place. Everyone is in agreement that this year's Belmont looks to be one of the most contentious runnings in a long while.

Point Given arrived at JFK International Airport on a fully booked Tex Sutton cargo flight just after 9:30 a.m., along with Belmont starters Dollar Bill and Buckle Down Ben. Exercise rider Pepe Aragon, who stood by the ramp awaiting the big chestnut, said the trip went smoothly, and that Point Given was very relaxed throughout the flight, occasionally nibbling on hay. Also on the flight was the Bob Baffert-trained Flame Thrower, who will run in Saturday's seven-furlong Riva Ridge Stakes.

Walking to the barn following the short van ride from the airport, Point Given sported a long gash on his right side. When asked how he got it, Baffert just shrugged his shoulders. "He looks like a New Jersey Devils hockey player," he said.

Point Given still appears to be carrying his flesh very well, and it will be interesting to see how he adapts to his new environment when he goes out for his first feel of the Belmont surface tomorrow morning.

About an hour after arriving, Point Given drew post 9 in the Belmont, giving him the outside post in all three Triple Crown races. Baffert, who said he'll leave strategy up to jockey Gary Stevens, was asked if coming in right before the race will put him at a disadvantage. "That's my out if he gets beat," Baffert replied. "But we've had a lot of luck shipping in here from California right before a race. If they're good, they'll run well anywhere."

Shortly after Point Given arrived, the van carrying Buckle Down Ben pulled up outside D. Wayne Lukas' barn. The son of Devil His Due is not your typical Lukas horse, being more the thin, rangy type. Although he doesn't carry much weight, his dark bay coat looked excellent, and he was dappled out beautifully.

Although Lukas realizes this is a much tougher spot than last year's Belmont, in which he scored an upset with Commendable, he still feels Buckle Down Ben will surprise a lot of people.

"This is a totally different horse now," Lukas said. "You can throw out his past performances, except for his last race. They have no relationship to this horse; he's changed that much."

In other news, Invisible Ink was out for a gallop at about 6 o'clock and was very aggressive, tossing his head up and pulling hard on the reins. The son of Thunder Gulch has also been aggressive in his stall. His eye is bright, his coat looks super, and he appears to be sitting on another big race. Stablemate Balto Star went out at 5:30 and turned in a solid gallop. After the gelding drew post 2, trainer Todd Pletcher said he wasn't expecting the son of Glitterman to set a slow pace. "That's not what we're looking for," he said. "He has to spread the field out. There's no way a horse like him is going to go out there and slow the pace down to :50."

It was obvious watching Monarchos this morning why trainer John Ward and assistant Yvonne Azeff have decided to just gallop him the wrong way until the race. Even going the opposite way he still was very aggressive, fighting the bit and wanting to do a lot more. The Derby winner seems to like Belmont, and spends a good deal of time stopping and looking around before exercise rider Bryan Beccia can get him to the track. Monarchos will break from post 5 on Saturday.

Nick Zito said A P Valentine, who drew post 8, came out of yesterday's five-furlong work in :59 1/5 in good shape. As Zito washed the son of A.P. Indy down following a morning of walking the shed, he still couldn't help saying once again how much talent and desire the colt has, and how much it would mean to win his first Belmont stakes with this horse in particular.

Tomorrow, we will have several analyses of the Belmont using different angles, including a detailed analysis why one horse in particular could dominate the race.

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