When considering company that you’d be honored to be associated with, Penny Chenery would make a fine start. And one of the owners of this year’s Belmont Stakes (gr. I) horses has the opportunity to join Chenery and her Meadow Stable as the most recent back-to-back winners of the Triple Crown’s third jewel.
In fact, Robert LaPenta has two chances to join Chenery--Miner’s Escape and Brave Victory. Longshots? Maybe, but don’t try convincing LaPenta he doesn’t have a chance, not while last year’s 38-1 stunning Belmont Stakes victory with Da' Tara is fresh on his mind.
“I have to tell you, that day will be ingrained in myself and my family’s lives forever,” LaPenta said, looking back a year ago. “Looking at Da’ Tara extend around the turn, when it became possible in our eyes he was going to win the race--it was beyond comprehension. It was a great day that we will remember forever.”
Big Brown , running for the Triple Crown, was the 3-10 prohibitive favorite in the Belmont and appeared unbeatable. Then again, so did heavyweight champion Sonny Liston--until he met an upstart named Cassius Clay.
This time around, LaPenta and trainer Nick Zito will look to repeat with colts, like Da’ Tara, who are still under the radar. Miner's Escape, a son of Mineshaft , is the more accomplished, coming off a 4 1/2-length score in the Federico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico May 2. Miner’s Escape likes to do his running on the front end, making him dangerous in the same fashion as Da’ Tara, especially without a lot of other speed entered in the race. His two career victories in seven starts have come in his last two starts -- a maiden win at Gulfstream Park followed by the Tesio.
“Miner’s Escape is improving and shouldn’t have any problem with the distance,” LaPenta said.
Brave Victory, an allowance winner by Lion Heart, comes in off a third-place finish in the May 9 Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont behind Charitable Man. He has two wins, two seconds, and a third to his credit, with career earnings of $110,533.
“I think we have two horses going in the right direction,” said LaPenta, who runs L-1 Identity Solutions, an identity management company that takes readings of various body parts for security operations. “In the Peter Pan we learned something about Brave Victory--he was really strong at the end and should improve with additional distance. It’s like Mine That Bird when they found out he likes to drop back and make one run.”
LaPenta’s Thoroughbred operation is set up as a pinhooking venture, and for the most part he only races horses that do not meet their reserves or had physical problems that precluded their selling at auction. It is astounding, then, the LaPenta has in his ownership column stakes winners Andromeda’s Hero, Awesome Time, C P West, Cool Coal Man, Pies Prospect, Superfly, The Cliff’s Edge, and 2007 champion juvenile male War Pass. It is no wonder LaPenta carries the nickname of “Lucky.”
With the yearling market suffering a downturn in the current economy, LaPenta has been keeping more head than usual to race. That could mean bad news for the competition.
What makes the Belmont even sweeter for LaPenta is that he’s a native of Yonkers, just north of New York City. Like last year, there will be a sizable contingent of LaPenta family members and friends at Belmont June 6.
“We’ll have a big crowd with us and we’re looking forward to it,” LaPenta noted. “I’m just looking for our horses to run well, and hopefully we’ll have a good day and pick up a piece of the pie. There’s not a lot of pressure, and if the stars line up maybe we’ll go back-to-back.
“Our ultimate goal is to get all three of these jewels, and it looks like we’ll have to do it backwards. But we wouldn’t mind winning the Belmont twice.”
Don’t bet against Lucky.