For trainer John Sadler and owner Ike Thrash, sending Dave in Dixie into the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) is a venture into the great unknown. This past winter, the Dixie Union colt was ranked among the best in California, especially after a strong second in the grade II Robert Lewis.
Dave in Dixie’s most recent two starts, however, gave his connections nothing to judge him by, and he enters the third leg of the Triple Crown as perhaps the most inscrutable horse in the field with morning-line odds of 20-1.
Two races devoid of pace saw to that: First, Sidney’s Candy eased through a half-mile in :48.55 on his way to a front-running score in the San Felipe (gr. II). None of the closers had a chance. Then, American Lion was allowed to crawl through an opening half-mile in :49.32 and had plenty left for the stretch in his gate-to-wire score in the Illinois Derby (gr. III). Again, Dave in Dixie and other closers were at the front-runner’s mercy.
“Those two races, you’ve got to just throw them out,” Thrash said. “In the Illinois Derby, there was about a 30 mph wind blowing in to their faces down the stretch, so nobody made up any ground. He was grinding away. They were merry-go-round races.”
“We brought him home and freshened him up,” said Sadler, who will arrive in New York June 4. “He’s been training well in Hollywood, so we want to take a shot at it.”
Sadler gave the colt about a month off after the Illinois Derby and then resumed his works: four furlongs, five furlongs, six furlongs and then a mile on May 27. Dave in Dixie came back from the last workout “and he didn’t even blow,” Sadler said, so the decision was made to try the Belmont.
Still, Sadler does not know how good the horse is.
“It certainly is absolutely like that; you wish you knew,” he said. “I always felt he could run two miles. I think I have a horse that’s a natural at the distance, but there are a lot of things we don’t know.”
Thrash agreed: “We don’t have enough to go on.”