We tend to always knock weathermen, but they have been spot on with their predictions for Belmont week. The day before the final leg of the Triple Crown, as predicted, was as miserable as it gets, but race day itself, again as prognosticators said it would, dawned bright and beautiful.
The main track June 5 was extremely sloppy, but as the workers finished up the morning of June 6, the track looked perfect. The bigger question, of course, is the turf course. A hefty wind, which would help dry out the ground, was not in evidence early on Belmont morning. There are two graded stakes scheduled for the grass on Belmont day, and they will remain on the turf while the two races following the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) will come off the course. At the start of the day, the main track was rated as good and the turf course as soft.
Things were very quiet for Belmont runners on the backside the morning of the race, with favorite Mine That Bird walking the shedrow, grazing outside barn 18, and then receiving a bath under the sunshine.
Mine That Bird won the May 2 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and two weeks later finished second in the BlackBerry Preakness Stakes (gr. I). He came to Louisville, Ky., for the Derby a relatively unknown horse, and won the race at odds of 50-1 in impressive fashion.
Those who thought his race was a fluke found out otherwise in Baltimore, when the gelded son of Birdstone finished a game second in the Preakness to the filly Rachel Alexandra.
Now Mine That Bird, trained by Chip Woolley and owned by Mark Allen’s Double Eagle Ranch and Dr. Leonard Blach’s Buena Suerte Equine, is the morning-line favorite in the 12-furlong race known as the "Test of the Champion."
History will be set if Mine That Bird does win but it will have to do with his jockey, not the horse himself. It would be the first time a jockey won all three legs of the Triple Crown on two different horses. Mine That Bird was ridden in the Derby by Calvin Borel, who rode Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness. He will be back aboard Mine That Bird in the Belmont.
Though he is the morning-line favorite, it might be close for favoritism between Mine That Bird and Charitable Man because the latter was very impressive in his last start and that race, the Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II), is run at Belmont Park where Charitable Man is unbeaten in two starts. He won the Futurity Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont last fall in his second start.
Charitable Man, by Lemon Drop Kid , is owned by William and Suzanne Warren and trained by Kiaran McLauglin. In 2006, McLaughlin won the Belmont with Jazil. The Warrens ran second in the Belmont last year with Denis of Cork, who was trained by David Carroll.
The third-choice in the race is Dunkirk, who had a rough trip in the Derby and looks to rebound in the Belmont for trainer Todd Pletcher. The $3.7-million yearling, by Unbridled's Song, won his first two starts impressively and then finished second in the Florida Derby (gr. I) prior to the Derby.
Only one Belmont trainer sent horses to the track Belmont morning, Nick Zito, who got gallops into his two starters, Miner's Escape and Brave Victory. Zito has won the race twice, with Da' Tara and in 2004 with Birdstone, the sire of Mine That Bird.
The other trainer with Belmont starters to have previously won the race, and like Zito a Hall of Fame member, is D. Wayne Lukas, who will saddle Luv Gov and Flying Private. Lukas has won the Belmont four times, with Tabasco Cat (1994), Thunder Gulch (1995), Editor’s Note (1996), and Commendable (2000).
Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer tried to take Chocolate Candy to the paddock but was unable to gain entrance due to security, so he walked his Belmont starter around the backside.
Post time for the Belmont Stakes is 6:27 p.m. (eastern time). The race will be broadcast on ABC as part of a two-hour telecast from 5-7. Earlier stakes will be telecast on ESPN.