Belmont Surprise: Caiman to Start

(from Arlington/Belmont Park notes)
Veteran jockey Ramon Dominguez, leading rider in the nation last year with 453 trips to the winner's circle, has been named as the jockey aboard surprise starter Caiman for Saturday's 135th running of the Belmont Stakes (gr. I).

Caiman's trainer Angel Medina, speaking from Arlington Park Sunday morning, confirmed the riding assignment as he finalized plans for Caiman's van ride from Chicago to New York later Sunday afternoon. He is expected at Belmont on Monday.

"I know this is a super tough race because of the competition and distance, but anything can happen.  The owner told me it is his dream to run a horse in the Belmont Stakes.   I've have been very impressed with Smarty Jones; he's a super horse.  If we win, we'd make history.  If we can't, it's a million dollar race and we'd make some money finishing second or third."

Caiman, who began his racing career as a 2-year-old in Mexico, was brought to the United States for his 3-year-old season.

Caiman, based at Arlington Park, is coming off two straight allowance wins at Hawthorne, one on dirt and one on turf.

He finished eighth in the Holy Bull (gr. III) at Gulfstream Jan. 17, in his first American start, third in an allowance race there Feb. 14, and fifth in the Swale Stakes (gr. III) on March 13.

"The horse leaves for New York at about noon," said Medina Sunday morning. "I have two horses entered here at Arlington Monday, so I will probably leave for Belmont Tuesday morning. I am looking forward to the week. My horse is doing well right now. He worked well yesterday and he is eating well. He is a very happy horse."

Dominguez has been the nation's leading jockey in number of wins twice in the last three years and was the leading rider in Maryland last year with 185 trips to the winner's circle despite not finishing first in any of the five meets. He also had a record breaking year at Delaware Park, winning 254 races. Dominguez was to ride Tapit in the Belmont, but the colt was declared Saturday because of a lung ailment.

"I have had good luck with Ramon Dominguez since his arrival in the United States," said Medina. "The first American win of his career came at Hialeah in 1996 aboard a horse I trained named Solo Moondance."

Dominguez, 27, and Medina, 62, were both born in Caracas, Venezuela, and began their careers in their native country at La Rinconada Racecourse. Medina started training in 1966 and came to the United States two decades later, but Dominguez came to America after riding about one year in Venezuela.