If Benny the Bull's victory in the $250,000 True North Handicap (gr. II)(VIDEO) at Belmont Park June 7 is any indication of how trainer Rick Dutrow and owner IEAH Stables will fare with Big Brown later in the day in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), things are looking good for the Triple Crown-chasing team.
With an unbelievable turn of foot, the 5-year-old son of Lucky Lionel-- who has stamped himself as the top sprinter of 2008 thus far--made up several lengths from the eighth pole to the finish of the six-furlong race to post a neck win over pacesetter Man of Danger.
Making his first start since winning the March 29 Dubai Golden Shaheen (UAE-I) at Nad al Sheba Racecourse in Dubai, the Dutrow trainee settled in fourth under jockey Edgar Prado as Man of Danger shot straight to the front. That one led through fractions of :22.06, :44.98, and :56.61 as Saint Daimon tracked in second and Thor's Echo, the Eclipse Award-winning sprinter of 2006, ran third.
Rolling into the stretch, it looked as if Man of Danger would hold off a bid from Thor's Echo and the late-closing Abaaj. But Benny the Bull kicked into another gear as he swung five wide with a powerful move, just getting up to claim the victory by a neck. The final time was 1:09.06 over a fast track.
“I wasn’t concerned about him coming into this race off his Dubai win because he had been training so well," Dutrow said. "I was more concerned with him at the eighth-pole, that he wouldn’t win. We let him run his own race, and he got up there just in time. Obviously, he’s better than he was last year. He has been coming around the right way at the right time. We’ll have to see how he comes out of this race to see what’s ahead.”
Man of Danger finished a neck in front of the third-place finisher, Abraaj. Thor’s Echo was fourth, 1 ¼ lengths behind Abraaj. Council Member, Suave Jazz, and Saint Daimon completed the order of finish. Storm in May scratched.
Following the gallop back, it became apparent that Saint Daimon, trained by H. Allen Jerkens for Hobeau Farm, was suffering from heat exhaustion. The temperature had been a concern to horsemen all day, as the index at Belmont Park soared into the mid-90s.
NYRA veterinarians attended to the overheated runner, giving him a tranquilizer and placing an ice pack on his back, according to reports from ESPN television sportscasters. Though the equine ambulance was prepared to transport Saint Daimon off the track, he was able to leave under his own power, drawing a cheer from the crowd.
Benny the Bull returned $3, $2.40, and $2.10. Man of Danger paid $5.50 and $3.30, while Abraaj brought $2.90.
Bred in Florida by Tomoka Farms out of the Birdonthewire mare Comet Cat, Benny the Bull now owns a 8-1-2 record and earnings of $1,983,550 from 16 starts.
Karen M. Johnson contributed to this story