Charitable Man and Dunkirk, who could be the second and third choices behind Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner Mine That Bird in the June 6 Belmont Stakes (gr. I), turned in their final works May 31 for the 1 1/2-mile race.
Charitable Man covered a half-mile in :49-flat with exercise rider Renzo Morales aboard, not long after Dunkirk went the same distance in :49.57 under jockey John Velazquez.
“Last week he went off a little fast for our liking, so in coaching him, he went off better today and therefore, a little slower, but we were very happy with it,” said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin of Charitable Man, winner of the Peter Pan (gr. II) at Belmont Park on May 9. “We believe he’s a fit horse, happy and healthy, and he doesn’t need those :46 works. We’re ready to go.”
Owned by Mr. and Mrs. William K. Warren, Jr., Charitable Man won both of his starts at age 2, including the Futurity (gr. II) at Belmont Park, and finished seventh in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) over PolyTrack at Keeneland in his 3-year-old debut.
“We feel we’ve got the horse to beat,” added McLaughlin, who won the 2006 Belmont with Jazil. “Mine That Bird we have a lot of respect for, Dunkirk, and other horses, but I wouldn’t trade places with anyone. We’ve got a fresh horse, he’s 2-for-2 on this racetrack, just won impressively here four weeks ago and he couldn’t be training any better. We’re very confident.”
Trainer Todd Pletcher said he was happy with Dunkirk’s maintenance move, accomplished in company with Monba, the 4-year-old who won last year’s Blue Grass.
“He did it very easily,” said Pletcher of Dunkirk, who won his first two starts this year, finished second to Quality Road in the Florida Derby (gr. I), and was then 11th over a sloppy, sealed track in the Kentucky Derby. “He’s got terrific action, a smooth, fluid strike. I feel he’s a top-quality horse, and has run well in three of his four races. The Derby, to me, I have to put a line through that race. I felt he didn’t handle the surface at all in that race.”
Pletcher said he thought Charitable Man was the horse to beat in the Belmont Stakes.
“At this point, Charitable Man is going to be on an uncontested, easy lead,” said Pletcher, winner of the 2007 Belmont Stakes with the filly Rags to Riches. “That’s my biggest concern, aside from the fact he’s probably the horse to beat to begin with, and now he’s got a pace advantage. He’s coming off a Peter Pan win, he’s 2-for-2, and basically he’s never been beaten on the dirt. It’s going to be hard to catch a quality horse like Charitable Man if he gets a half in :49.”
Although remote, the trainer did not rule out the possibility of entering a “rabbit” to ensure an honest pace in the Belmont, which last year was won in wire-to-wire fashion by longshot Da’ Tara.
“I might talk to (owners) Mrs. John Magnier, Mr. Michael Tabor and Mr. Derrick Smith, and see what their thoughts are, but at this point, we haven’t talked about it,” said Pletcher. “Probably not.”
Aside from Charitable Man, Dunkirk and Mine That Bird, the updated expected starters in the Belmont are: Brave Victory, Chocolate Candy, Flying Private, Luv Gov, Miner’s Escape, Mr. Hot Stuff, Nowhere to Hide, and Summer Bird.