Belmont Stakes Notes: Velazquez Ready to Go

After missing his mount aboard Bluegrass Cat in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) with a broken shoulder blade, John Velazquez is looking forward to riding the colt in the $1 million Belmont Stakes (gr. I) Saturday.

Velazquez, the nation's champion jockey in 2004 and 2005, had ridden Bluegrass Cat in six consecutive starts, four of them victories. Bluegrass Cat turned in what was arguably the best effort of his career in the Kentucky Derby when he finished second with jockey Ramon Dominguez. Velazquez watched the Derby from home on television.

"I was feeling pretty crappy at the time and was trying not to think about not riding in the Derby because it was out of my hands," Velazquez said. "It's tough when you don't get to do what you love, but I was hurt and there was nothing I could do. I knew I'd be back."

Doctors originally believed he could be out of action until July, but Velazquez recovered quickly and began riding at Belmont last week. Since returning to the saddle, Velazquez has won two of five starts and is listed to ride four horses on Belmont Stakes Day including Bluegrass Cat, the 3-1 morning line favorite in the 1 ½-mile Belmont.

"I feel good now," Velazquez said. "I'm getting stronger little by little, and I feel like I'm getting into a really good rhythm."

Velazquez says he still gets pumped up on racing's big days.

"Of course," Velazquez said. "This is what you dream of as a young rider. You've got to enjoy it."

Bluegrass Cat and trainer Todd Pletcher's other Belmont Stakes runner, Sunriver, both galloped Friday morning.

Pletcher, when asked if he thought there were any sleepers in this year's Belmont Stakes said, "Oh, there are some sleepers in there all right."

Belmont Stakes longshot Double Galore galloped 12 furlongs over the gargantuan main track here Friday. A maiden winner, Double Galore is listed at 30-1 on the morning line for tomorrow's Belmont.

"He did really well," said Rafael Martinez, assistant trainer to Myung Kwon Cho. "Yesterday, he was a little confused getting on a new track, but today he really took it good."

Martinez said Cho is unlikely to travel from California to New York for the Belmont. Cho turns 64 tomorrow.

Trainer Jimmy Jerkens is ready to lead over Belmont Stakes longshot Oh So Awesome, who has raced just once in this country for Jerkens, a third-place finish in the sloppy track Match the Hatch.

"He's all right," Jerkens said. "I just hope he keeps getting the hang of things."

Jerkens says Oh So Awesome has trained forwardly since the Match the Hatch, although the colt has not shown a preference for wet or dry footing.

"He trains the same way every day," Jerkens said.

Trainer Dan Peitz still likes the position he is in with Steppenwolfer, the third-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby. Steppenwolfer is a son of Aptitude, who was second in the 2000 Belmont Stakes to longshot Commendable. Aptitude also notched the biggest victory of his career over the Belmont Park main track in the 2001 Jockey Club Gold Cup.

"With the winner, a lot of it is going to be pedigree and it's also gonna be who's doing the best," Peitz said. "It's who has done the best since the Derby and who's done the best in the grind to get here. I feel I've got a horse that is in great shape, and I think the Belmont is usually won by a horse who hasn't started going the wrong way."

Steppenwolfer breaks from post 11 in the Belmont Stakes beneath jockey Robby Albarado.

"I didn't have a lot of stress as to where we were going to draw," Peitz said. "Being outside, if they do bunch up and the field doesn't spread out, I'll probably be positioned toward the outside where I don't have to worry about being jammed up behind horses and not being able to get in the race."

Platinum Couple, 30-1 on the morning line, galloped Friday for trainer Joe Lostritto. Once again, the Brooklyn-born Lostritto said he's happy to be a part of this year's Belmont.

"The track is like a field of dreams," he said. "If you can't dream in this game then get the hell out."

Robert McNair, the owner of the Houston Texans and Stonerside Stable was at Belmont Park this morning to see Bob and John and Too Much Bling, horses he will run on Saturday's Belmont Stakes Day card. Wood Memorial (gr. I) winner Bob and John is likely to garner plenty of support in the Belmont Stakes while Too Much Bling is the horse to beat in the $250,000 Woody Stephens Breeders' Cup (gr. II).

McNair stood outside barn 7 shortly before his horses went to the track to train and was asked how winning a football game compares to winning a horse race.

"The unfortunate thing is that when you win a horse race, it doesn't last very long," McNair said. "When you lose, it lasts a long time. The football wins tend to last a little bit longer, but they're hard to come by. It's not easy to win in anything you do. There's always a lot of competition."

Bob and John finished 17th in the Kentucky Derby, beaten 31 ½ lengths. The colt has not run since then, but has trained very well for Bob Baffert.

"We were disappointed because Bob and John never got a chance to run," McNair said of the Derby. "We're thankful that (jockey Garrett Gomez) pulled him up in the stretch instead of wasting him. It doesn't matter to me if we finished 20th or fifth. I appreciate the fact that he saved our horse, and he's a much fresher horse now. When you have 20 horses in a race, it's just so difficult. So much of it is based on racing luck. You've got to be out in that first wave of horses, or you just don't have a chance."

Amerman Stables' Sacred Light will start from the outside post in the Belmont Stakes. The one-time winner galloped once around the main track this morning, according to trainer David Hofmans, who walked the colt and grazed him following the exercise.

"He's looking well," Hofmans said. "We're just going to walk him tomorrow."

Sacred Light was a handful for Hofmans as the trainer walked him around the shedrow.

"He can get very studish when he's around other horses," Hofmans said. "It really doesn't seem to affect him in any of his races, though. If he gets that way in the paddock, it usually goes away by the time he hits the racetrack."

Joseph LaCombe and his family were at the Belmont Park barn of trainer Tom Albertrani Friday morning. LaCombe owns Deputy Glitters, who will break from the middle of the pack in the Belmont Stakes with Edgar Prado aboard. Like most other people that like Deputy Glitters, LaCombe feels that, if the colt can run back to his win in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III), he could be a big threat in the Belmont.

"I think the Belmont has a very good field," LaCombe said. "Anyone who says this field isn't very good is wrong."

LaCombe recalled last month's Kentucky Derby when Deputy Glitters finished a decent eighth.

"He got dropped to the back and then went 11-wide," LaCombe said. "He wasn't placed where he should've been, but he was coming at the end. With a little better racing luck, he would have been in the picture."

LaCombe and his family were hit hard with the news that 1997 Horse of the Year and champion 2-year-old Favorite Trick was killed in a barn fire at the JEH Stallion Station in Hondo, New Mexico, Tuesday night.

LaCombe raced Favorite Trick to a perfect juvenile season in 1997, going 8-for-8 with grade I wins in the Hopeful and Breeders' Cup Juvenile. At 3, he won the Jim Dandy (gr. II) and the Keeneland Breeders' Cup (gr. II) on the turf.

"It's a real tragedy," LaCombe said. "He was like part of our family. I sold him about eight months ago. He was at CloverLeaf Farm is Florida before I sold him, and I used to go visit him there. I saw him just before I sold him."

Favorite Trick will always be remembered more for his racing career than the impact he made as a stallion, but this was turning out to be one of his best years as a stud.

"His best horse so far is probably Datrick, who is a two-year-old and just won the Kentucky Breeders' Cup," LaCombe said. "His progeny have earned over $8 million, so that's pretty good.

"He was just a great horse. He won from 4 ½ furlongs to a mile and an eighth. He won on the grass, on dirt, in the slop, going short and long."

The Breeders' Cup Juvenile was probably the most important start that Favorite Trick made. After going undefeated in his first seven starts that year, hopes were high that he'd end the season undefeated.

"When he won the Juvenile, it was the fastest time any horse had won in at a mile and a sixteenth and it still is," LaCombe said of the 1:41 2/5 effort. "He was pretty special."

LaCombe said he sent Favorite Trick to New Mexico because he thought he would have a better future there. Many New Mexico racetracks have slot machines, boosting purses in the state.

"As it turns out, with the year his horses are having, he would have been fine in Florida," LaCombe said. "The way he was going, this year was a big year for him. He had two graded stakes winners of Quarter Horses, and New Mexico is a big state for Quarter Horse racing.

Trainer Nick Zito sent Kinsman Stable's Hemingway's Key to the training track for a gallop Friday. The third-place finisher in the Preakness (gr. I) will be ridden in the Belmont by Jeremy Rose, who won the Belmont last year with Afleet Alex.

Zito said he is pleased with the colt's training leading up to the Belmont Stakes.

"I know I keep saying this, but he's got a lot of energy," Zito said. "He can be a little high-strung in the paddock. In Baltimore, they saddled them on the turf course, so it really wasn't an issue. I think he'll be fine Saturday. I really like the way he's coming into this race."

Shadwell Stable's Jazil got to gallop Friday for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. Although the Triple Crown cannot be won this year, McLaughlin said he is going for a different kind of Triple Crown with Jazil in the Belmont Stakes.

"Everybody's missing one thing," McLaughlin said. "We're going for the OTB Triple Crown. Number eight won the Derby, number eight won the Preakness and number eight is going for the Triple Crown in the Belmont. If you go to OTB and ask them how your horse did, 'Number three won, number five won.' They don't know the horse's name, so we are going for the Triple Crown."

McLaughlin debunked the notion that winning the Belmont Stakes is not important for a stallion's resume.

"Some people say that for a stallion, a mile-and-a-half win is not ideal," McLaughlin said. "A Grade 1 is very important, and this is an American classic. It certainly didn't hurt A. P. Indy."

At $500,000, Storm Cat stands for the highest stud fee, but A. P. Indy is not far behind at $300,000.

West Point Stable's High Finance went out for a "little gallop" Friday at Aqueduct, according to trainer Rick Violette.

"The racetrack was off," Violette said. "We stood and backed him out of the starting gate, and we're taking him to school in the paddock here. The paddock here is not quite the same as at Belmont, but I've done this with a lot of horses and it seems to help. It gets their heart pounding a little bit."

Violette said that High Finance would van to Belmont Saturday morning. The Belmont Stakes is at 6:33 p.m., so High Finance has to be in the security barn seven hours earlier at about 11:30 a.m.

"We're not going to cut it too close," Violette said when asked what time he planned on sending High Finance over.