Belmont Park

Belmont Park

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Haskin's Belmont Report: The Belmont Breeze

“Between :49 and :50.” That has become your standard instructions by a trainer to his rider prior to a horse’s final work for the Belmont Stakes. Gone are the days when trainers would work their horse at least seven furlongs, more likely a mile or even a mile and an eighth for the grueling “Test of the Champion.”


In the past few days, we’ve had six Belmont horses breeze a half-mile, most between :49 and :50.


There apparently is no right or wrong way of training nowadays, especially with so many horses with suspect pedigrees, many of whom are treated as fragile goods by their trainers. In today’s school of training, the majority of horsemen have no inclination to train their horses farther than five furlongs, and faster than :49 or :50 in their final prep, even when they’re coming into the Belmont off five weeks rest. Sometimes, it’s worked, sometimes it hasn’t. In the past, most horses, having already worked seven, eight, or nine furlongs, probably had a half-mile blowout two days before the Belmont, not five, six, and seven days out.


Mine That Bird has had two half-mile breezes in :51 and :50 since the Preakness. Dunkirk, who hasn’t started since the Kentucky Derby, breezed an easy half in :49 3/5 six days before the Belmont. This followed works of five and four furlongs. The same day, Charitable Man breezed a half in :49 following his victory in the Peter Pan Stakes. The next day (this morning), Chocolate Candy, who had been given a slow seven-furlong work by old school trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, came back with an easy half-mile breeze in :50.


Most trainers will tell you the same thing: the last thing they want is for their horse to work too fast for the Belmont. Perhaps they remember Funny Cide’s :57 4/5 work three days before the 2003 Belmont. The veteran Hollendorfer did give Chocolate a seven-furlong breeze in 1:27 1/5, and Triple Crown newcomer Tim Ice breezed Summer Bird seven furlongs in 1:26 2/5. Wayne Lukas, another old school trainer, gave his two Belmont horses, Flying Private and Luv Gov, six-furlong works. But the days of the mile works and farther are gone.


All three workers at Belmont looked well enough, Dunkirk’s in company, but there really isn’t much you can tell from a slow half-mile breeze this far out from a mile and a half race.


Charitable Man has a smooth, efficient way of moving, and was striding out beautifully through the stretch. Dunkirk worked in company outside Monba with John Velazquez aboard, and pretty much toyed with his workmate, while appearing to be almost in a high gallop. What I’ve always liked about this horse is the way he covers ground so effortlessly. Like his broodmare sire, A.P. Indy, he doesn’t seem to be moving fast, but before you know it he’s on top of you. He’s not your typical Todd Pletcher type of horse, being more of the long, lean type. Getting off subject for a second, one Pletcher horse who looked spectacular grazing Monday afternoon was Cowboy Cal. His coat is resplendent, even for a Pletcher horse, and he’s muscled out beautifully.


Chocolate Candy, who has always carried his right leg high and wide, had a very short run to the half-mile pole, which accounted for his slow opening eighth in :13, which was by design. In the stretch, exercise rider Lindsey Molina, already riding high in the saddle, took another hold of the horse, rising even higher. The last thing she wanted to do was let the colt work fast. The best part of Chocolate Candy’s work was his gallop-out, as he continued past the wire with good energy, clicking off another eighth in about :12 3/5.


Another horse who has not run since the Derby is Summer Bird, and going by appearance, especially compared to the way he looked at Churchill Downs, you have to love the way this son of Birdstone has blossomed and filled out. It was kind of funny seeing him out on the track this morning still wearing his Kentucky Derby saddlecloth. After he was given his bath and was taken out to graze, you could get a really good look at him, and you had to be impressed with the way he looked and acted. He appears to be sharp and happy, and was stuffing grass in his mouth, occasionally taking time out to swallow. According to trainer Tim Ice, he's been more focused with blinkers, which he'll wear for the first time in the Belmont.


D. Wayne Lukas’ pair of Flying Private and Luv Gov, arrived by van from Louisville at about 5:30 p.m. Sunday following a 15-hour trip. Both colts looked none the worse for wear and made excellent appearances this morning when they went out for their jogs.