By Steve Haskin and Ron Mitchell
With the rain having moved out of the New York area, the June 3 work tab at Belmont Park was busy, with five contenders for the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) putting in their final workouts.
The workers, all trying to stop the Triple Crown bid of I'll Have Another in the June 9 classic, were (in alphabetical order):
Atigun – Official work of four furlongs breezing in :48.55; two furlongs in :24.30, galloped out five furlongs in 1:01.63
Dullahan – Official work of four furlongs breezing in :45.97; two furlongs in :22.20, galloped out five furlongs in :58.91.
Paynter – Official work of seven furlongs breezing in 1:25; two furlongs in :24.66, four furlongs in :49.22, galloped out a mile in 1:38.
Street Life – Official work of five furlongs breezing in 1:01.15; two furlongs in :25.01, galloped out six furlongs in 1:13.55.
Unstoppable U – Official work of five furlongs breezing in 1:02.05, two furlongs in :25.91, galloped out six furlongs in 1:14.55.
With jockey Javier Castellano aboard, Dullahan breezed so easily it looked as if he was going much slower than he actually was, which pleased trainer Dale Romans.
“Right before the Blue Grass he went in (:57 2/5). When he works like that, he runs big," Romans said. "He looked like he was galloping, and then we got back to the barn he recovered quickly. He wasn’t blowing. I think he’s ready. I’m happy with my position. I wouldn’t change places with anybody in this race.”
Dullahan will be making his first start since finishing third in the May 5 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
Paynter, a son of Awesome Again trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, worked right behind Belmont contender Street Life and his workmate during the time set aside for Belmont horses to work immediately following the morning track maintenance break.
As the horses went down the stretch, it appeared as if Paynter was intent on catching Street Life and Zivo, both of whom are trained by Chad Brown.
“Bob likes that kind of work, and I saw what I needed to see," said Baffert assistant Jim Barnes. "He’ll sit and wait, and when you ask him he responds. When [Rajiv Maragh] asked him to go, he accelerated by his company and up to Chad Brown’s horses. I thought they were quite a ways in front of us."
Street Life and Zivo were on even terms throughout most of the work, with the Belmont contending son of Street Sense getting a head to a half-length in front at the wire.
“I was looking for five-eighths in 1:01 and that’s exactly what he did," Brown said. "He worked very good. He galloped out good and came back with plenty of energy. I just want to maintain where he’s at. I wasn’t looking for more than that.”
“Julien (Leparaoux) felt like he was really strong under him," McPeek said of Atigun. "I was real happy with the work. Nice and solid. He’s at a really great stage right now.”
As for Unstoppable U, McPeek said: “I was more concerned with him switching to his right lead when they straightened up than I was with the time of the work. He really struggled in his last breeze switching leads and I’m not sure where that’s coming from. I’m going to tell you he’s probably 50-50 to run in the Belmont right now. I’m going to watch him the next few days; we don’t have to make a decision until Wednesday.
"I wasn’t thrilled with it. He hung on the left [lead] again to the eighth pole. For him to win the Belmont, he can’t do those kinds of things. It’s just a bad habit, and it’s really only popped up recently. We’ll see. We’ll give it a few more days and then make a decision. It’s probably going to be what I call an audible at the line of scrimmage.”
Meanwhile, Derby and Preakness winner I’ll Have Another, the Flower Alley colt seeking to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978, continued to have his usual strong one mile gallop that appeared to be as fast as some other horses were working in their official workouts.
At Fair Hill Training Center, Union Rags was timed in :59 flat for five furlongs.
“I’m glad Johnny (Velazquez) made the effort to come down and sit on him," trainer Michael Matz said. "Johnny seemed to like him and he seemed to do that easy enough.”
“It was very, very good,” said Azpurua. “He’s 100 percent sound and he’s behaving himself. Every single week he’s been doing better and better. That’s why we are taking a chance and running in the Belmont Stakes.”
Ravelo’s Boy, who comes into the Belmont off a fifth in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II), will depart for Belmont June 4 and will arrive early the following morning, said Azpurua. Alex Solis has the mount.