Japan-Based Horses Settle in at Belmont

Three Japan-based horses are getting acclimated at Belmont Park.

From the New York Racing Association

After a 12-hour trans-Pacific journey, including a one-hour lay-over in Anchorage, Alaska, and a brief stint at Aqueduct to clear quarantine, three Japan-based horses—Casino Driver, Champagne Squall, and Spark Candle—have begun to settle in at Barn 17 at Belmont Park.

After arriving at Belmont at 4 p.m. EDT May 1, the horses had the night to rest before hitting the muddy main track to canter the following day. Nobutaka Tada, managing director of Globe Equine Management Ltd., said all three horses have acclimated well and went nicely.

After a long cool-down tour throughout the barn area at Belmont, the horses returned in prime shape and looked unfazed by their lengthy journey. The chestnut colt Spark Candle, by 1992 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner and Horse of the Year A.P. Indywho was bought for $1.5 million at the 2006 Keeneland September sale, led the trio, followed closely by Casino Drive and the Irish-bred gray Champagne Squall.

Tada confirmed the three horses will return to the track to work May 7 in preparation for the $200,000 Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) May 10.

Though Spark Candle finished 12th in his only start on the dirt, Tada said he isn’t concerned about him running on the dirt at Belmont. “It was not his day,” Tada said. “(It) was not because of the surface. We have to try; we think he is a good horse.”

Yet to break his maiden, Champagne Squall is on the fence for the Peter Pan. Champagne Squall’s three previous attempts to break his maiden have been at a distances beyond 10 furlongs, and it is hoped shortening up might do the trick.

The Peter Pan will be Casino Drive’s second lifetime start; he broke his maiden in Japan by nearly 12 lengths at nine furlongs. The Peter Pan will serve as a prep race for the $1-million Belmont Stakes (gr. I) June 7. Plans for the other two are still up in the air.

“Casino Drive will run the Belmont,” Tada said. “We’ll see how Spark Candle runs and Champagne Squall, we’ll have to see what we can do with him.”

Casino Drive will look to make history in the Belmont as he tries to follow in the footsteps of his half-brother, Jazil, the 2006 Belmont winner, and his three-quarter sister, 2007 Belmont winner Rags to Riches, one of only three fillies and the first in 102 years to win the race. The three share the same dam, Better Than Honour.

Tada and his team have not raced in New York since one of his mares made an appearance on Aqueduct’s inner track in 1995. The colts’ owner, Hidetoshi Yamamoto, a Japanese business executive, will not be at the Peter Pan but is expected to fly into New York for Casino Drive’s attempt in the Belmont Stakes.