Five times in the past 10 years the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) has played host to a 3-year-old attempting to conquer Thoroughbred racing’s elusive Triple Crown. Although the 2009 version of the $1 million event will not provide that kind of drama, there are several intriguing reasons to watch, including jockey Calvin Borel trying to make a little history of his own.
Borel will attempt to become the first jockey to win all three Triple Crown races on different horses when he guides Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner Mine That Bird in the 1 1/2-mile “Test of the Champion” June 6 at Belmont Park.
A 42-year-old native of Louisiana, Borel was aboard Mine That Bird when the son of Birdstone pulled off a shocking victory in the May 2 Derby. Two weeks later, Borel chose to ride Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness (gr. I), and it turned out to be the right decision, as she became the first filly in 85 years to win the race.
Now, with the connections of Rachel Alexandra deciding to bypass the third leg of the Triple Crown, Borel is back on Mine That Bird for trainer Chip Woolley. Earlier in the week, Borel guaranteed another victory for himself and Mine That Bird.
On June 3, Mine That Bird was made the 2-1 favorite in a field of 10 sophomores. The bay gelding’s main rivals include Peter Pan (gr. II) winner Charitable Man, who was installed as the 3-1 second choice, and Dunkirk (4-1), the Todd Pletcher trainee looking to rebound from a disappointing unplaced Derby effort.
Weather conditions June 6 in Elmont, N.Y. call for partly sunny skies and no rain.
Owned by Double Eagle Ranch and Buena Suerte Equine, Mine That Bird validated himself in the Preakness when making the same late move he did in the Derby to finish runner-up to Rachel Alexandra by a length under Mike Smith. He increased his earnings to more than $2 million with that effort.
Canada’s 2008 2-year-old champion, Mine That Bird won four consecutive races at Woodbine during his juvenile campaign, capped by the Grey Stakes (Can-III).
He was purchased privately for $400,000 by Mark Allen and Dr. Leonard Blach earlier this year and placed in the barn of Woolley. Bred in Kentucky by Peter Lamantia, James Blackburn, and Needham/Betz Thoroughbreds, he is out of the Smart Strike mare Mining My Own.
Mine That Bird drew post 7 for the Belmont and is likely to employ the same late-running style that he has in the last two races.
“If you watch Mine That Bird run, his stride is bigger than most horses,” Woolley said. “He has a huge stride and gets over the ground real easy. With his running style, we’re going to have to let him run his race. But the good thing here is, when you start slowing the fractions down, if you let him run his same race, he’s going to move way up. If we can just be within 10 to 12 of them, I’m confident he’ll have enough kick left.”
Mr. and Mrs. Wiliam K. Warren Jr.’s Charitable Man enters of a sizzling 3 3/4-length score in the May 9 Peter Pan. The Virginia-bred son of Lemon Drop Kid—Charitabledonation, by Saint Ballado stalked the pace in that 1 1/8-mile contest at Belmont, took over around the turn, and sprinted to his second graded stakes win under Alan Garcia in a sensational time of 1:47.13. The dark bay colt has a pair of victories on Belmont’s dirt, as he won the Futurity Stakes (gr. II) as a 2-year-old before suffering a saucer fracture of his shin that forced him to miss seven months of action. He has won three of four career starts.
Kiaran McLaughlin trains Charitable Man, who drew post 6 and will be ridden by Garcia once again. They are expected to be part of the early pace scenario. McLaughlin won the 2006 Belmont with Jazil and Garcia rode Da’ Tara to victory in last year’s race.
“Our horse couldn’t be doing any better,” McLaughlin said “We’re very excited. Charitable Man should be on or near the lead. We’ll let Alan decide where he’s going to lay early. He’s a young jockey with a lot of success–I like the fact he won the Met Mile and the Vagrancy Handicap (both gr. I), and went to Canada and won a $300,000 race for Christophe Clement--his confidence level is high, and he won the Belmont last year. I wouldn’t trade places with anyone.”
Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith’s Dunkirk finished 11th in the Kentucky Derby while going off as the second choice. A $3.7 million son of Unbridled's Song, Dunkirk had a troubled trip in the Derby. Prior to that race, the gray or roan colt finished runner-up to Quality Road in the March 28 Florida Derby (gr. I) at Gulfstream Park.
“I felt going into the Derby this is a very good horse,” Pletcher said. “At the beginning of the race out of the gate, he stumbled, and when he did get to the first turn, he got squeezed back and lost position, and I felt he never ran to his capabilities. He is training very well. He’s put on some weight since the Derby. I stand by the fact he’s a very high-quality horse.”
Like Charitable Man, Dunkirk has only raced four times. He did not start as a juvenile and has wins only in maiden special weight and allowance company. John Velazquez will ride Dunkirk for the first time despite Edgar Prado having the Derby mount. The 4-1 third choice drew post 2.
Sid and Jenny Craig Trust’s Chocolate Candy will also be looking improve from a fifth-place finish in the Derby. It was the first time in his last eight starts that the son of Candy Ride finished out of the money. Winner of the California Derby and El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) at Golden Gate Fields, Chocolate Candy was also runner-up in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I).
Chocolate Candy, who made his first start on natural dirt at Churchill Downs, has been training regularly at Belmont since the Derby. Two-time reigning Eclipse Award winning jockey Garrett Gomez will ride Chocolate Candy (10-1) for trainer Jerry Holldendorfer. They drew post 1.
Also making their first start since the Derby are Summer Bird and Mr. Hot Stuff, who finished sixth and 15th, respectively. Summer Bird, trained by Tim Ice and based at Oaklawn Park, was third in the Arkansas Derby. Unraced until March 9, he will be making the fifth start of his career. Kent Desormeaux will have the ride.
WinStar Farm’s homebred Mr. Hot Stuff was third in both the Sham Stakes (gr. III) and Santa Anita Derby for trainer Eoin Harty. Since the Kentucky Derby, where he was never in contention, the Tiznow colt has been breezing at Keeneland and has fired a pair of bullet works on the Polytrack. Prado will have the mount for the first time.
Coming out of the Preakness are Robert Baker and William Mack’s Flying Private and Mary Lou Whitney Stables’ Luv Gov, who finished fourth and eighth, respectively. Both colts are trained by D. Wayne Lukas, who has four Belmont victories to his credit, the last one coming in 2000 with 18-1 shot Commendable. Flying Private and Luv Gov are also expected to be longshots by post time. Each has only a maiden win in their racing careers.
Rounding out the field are Brave Victory and Miner's Escape, both owned by Robert LaPenta and trained by Nick Zito. That combination sent out Da’ Tara to a 38-1 upset win in last year’s Belmont. Brave Victory, by Lion Heart, was third in the Peter Pan most recently. Miner’s Escape, expected to be near the early lead, comes off a 4 1/2-length score in the Federico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico May 2.
Post time for the Belmont is scheduled for 6:27 p.m. EDT. The race will be shown live on ABC.