Belmont Notes: Steppenwolfer, Jazil Work

(from Belmont Park notes)
Steppenwolfer and Jazil, the third and fourth-place finishers in the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum Brands (gr. I), both worked over a fast main track at Belmont Park Saturday morning in preparation for the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) on June 10.

Owned by Robert and Lawana Low, Steppenwolfer has never been worse than third in eight starts on dirt. After chasing Lawyer Ron in Oaklawn Park's top 3-year-old races, the Aptitude colt rallied to be third beaten 8 ½ lengths in the Kentucky Derby. Trainer Danny Peitz elected to sit out the Preakness and wait for the 1 ½-mile Belmont – the longest and oldest leg of racing's Triple Crown.

Steppenwolfer breezed six furlongs in 1:13 with jockey Jose Santos up. He was timed in early fractions of :25 2/5 and :49 3/5 before galloping out seven furlongs in 1:25 4/5. Although Santos worked the gray colt, Robby Albarado has the mount in the Belmont.

"Jose was all smiles this morning," said Peitz. The trainer offered Santos the mount on Steppenwolfer in the Southwest, but Santos was committed to riding Bohemian Lady at Aqueduct that day for Todd Pletcher.

Initially, Peitz thought Steppenwolfer could have made a crisper rally in the Derby, but once he dissected the race, he was not too disappointed.

"With all the speed on paper in the Derby, I thought we could have been 20 out of it," Peitz said. "He was only 10 lengths back early. When I broke down the race, I realized the horses up front ran a slow fourth quarter-mile of :26 1/5 and that hurt his chances."

Peitz felt it made sense to give his colt a little rest and have him fresh for the Belmont.

"Giving him five weeks between starts was one of the reasons we skipped the Preakness," said Petiz. "He would have also been against it if the track at Pimlico came up speed favoring."

The distance of the Belmont Stakes should not be a problem for Steppenwolfer, whose sire ran second in the 2000 edition.

"I don't know how the mile and a half is going to work to our advantage," Peitz said. "I know that most horses don't want to run a mile and a half. The whole field will probably be pretty tightly bunched."

The Lows spent $375,000 on Steppenwolfer as a yearling in April of 2005. The colt is named after the 1960's rock band Steppenwolf, whose popular hits included "Magic Carpet Ride," and "Born to Be Wild."

"When the Lows were in their early to mid 20s, Steppenwolf was really popular," Peitz said. "Steppenwolfer's dam is Wolfer. They tried to name the colt Steppenwolf, but the Jockey Club rejected that so they went with Steppenwolfer. The lead singer (John Kay) actually called the Lows before the Derby and wished them good luck."

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Shadwell Farm's Jazil went five furlongs in :59 3/5, handily, with exercise rider Barry Downes up. The Seeking the Gold colt went the first half-mile in :46 4/5 and was in company with Trip to the Bank, a 2-year-old who ran second in his first start.

"He worked very well," trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. "We're very pleased and he'll work back next week. There was no real big reason I worked them together this morning."

The trainer added that the five weeks between the Kentucky Derby and Belmont suits Jazil well.

"Absolutely perfect," McLaughlin said. "There will be no questions about five weeks anymore after Barbaro won the Derby. Every horse needs more than two or three weeks between starts to run their best."

Fernando Jara, who was aboard Jazil in his first Kentucky Derby, will also be riding the Belmont for the first time this year.

"I won't be too concerned if there's not much pace in the race," McLaughlin said. "That just means we'll be laying closer."

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The Belmont Stakes-bound Bluegrass Cat, who was second in the Kentucky Derby, is scheduled to work over Belmont's main track Sunday morning for trainer Todd Pletcher.

"He'll breeze five eighths," Pletcher said. "He just galloped today."

Jockey Ramon Dominguez rode Bluegrass Cat in the Kentucky Derby for the injured John Velazquez. There is a good chance that Velazquez will be back aboard Bluegrass Cat in the Belmont Stakes. Velazquez, the nation's champion jockey in both 2004 and 2005, suffered a fractured shoulder blade and cracked ribs in a spill at Keeneland April 20. Although he has not ridden in race since then, he worked a horse for Pletcher on Wednesday at Belmont.

"It's looking pretty good that Johnny will be able to ride him," Pletcher said. "He's been working the horse the last few days and hopefully he's going to start riding next week."

Pletcher said that Sunriver, winner of the Peter Pan (gr. II) at Belmont last weekend, will work once before the Belmont Stakes. That breeze is expected to come on June 4.

Jockey Rafael Bejarano, who rode Sunriver in the Peter Pan, will have the mount in the Belmont.

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Trainer Nick Zito confirmed that jockey Jeremy Rose will ride Hemingway's Key in the Belmont Stakes. Hemingway's Key was third, beaten 11 ¼ length by Bernardini in the Preakness.

"Knock wood, the horse is doing great," said Zito, who won his first and only Belmont Stakes in 2004 with Birdstone. "This horse has a lot of energy and has a lot going for him. The Belmont looks like a very even race."

Hemingway's Key is currently based at Saratoga with Zito.

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The number of definite starters for the Belmont Stakes is now 10. Bluegrass Cat, Bob and John, Deputy Glitters, Hemmingway's Key, Jazil, Steppenwolfer, Oh So Awesome, Sunriver, Sacred Light and Platinum Couple are all confirmed. Horses on the fence include High Finance, Cause to Believe, Sweetnorthernsaint and Wilentz.