For a trainer to find success in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes (gr. I) it might be good if their horse is familiar with “Big Sandy.” At least that’s the conventional wisdom for 3-year-olds taking the one-lap tour of the main track at Belmont Park.
The track is sandier than most surfaces and just the general size and scope of the layout is something most horses—and humans--aren’t familiar with. It is advisable horsemen not stabled at the New York Racing Association track get Belmont contenders to New York early to get a good look at the track.
One trainer familiar with Belmont Park and the Belmont Stakes is Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey. He won “The Test of the Champion” in 1989 with Easy Goer, breaking up Sunday Silence’s bid for the Triple Crown.
“The one thing is…it’s so big,” McGaughey said. “And the other thing is it has a lot of sand in it. It can get deep and get away from the horses some. It’s a great track, don’t get me wrong, but it is a bit different from a track like Churchill Downs where they kind of run over the top of it. The size of it is the main thing, and the fact it is a little bit looser kind of track.
“I think that some horses come in here and they don’t like it. It also helps if a rider has been here and ridden over it and has confidence over the racetrack.”
Trainer Steve Margolis, a native of New York but a Churchill Downs-based trainer, came to Belmont last week with Stay Put. Richard, Bertram, and Elaine Klein’s homebred colt has raced earlier this year at Fair Grounds in Louisiana and Churchill Downs in Kentucky.
He said you can tell the difference in the surface by what’s on a horses’ bandages after they come off the track.
“Richard (Klein) and I were talking about it before we came up here,” Margolis said when asked about the track surface at Belmont Park. “I told him: ‘This is different than New Orleans and Churchill.’ There is a lot of sand and it’s deeper. You can tell on the bandages. They’re all heavy when they come back from galloping. It is a track that you need to train, and gallop, and breeze over.
“Some trainers may like to stay where they are and where their horses are comfortable, but I think when you come to this track particularly, it is a track that you have to have some training over. At Churchill Downs when they come back, they might have a little dirt on the back of the bandage, but when they come back from the track here at Belmont, a lot of it lays on there because it is a deeper surface.”
Some other non-Belmont-based connections feel the need to get to New York early.
“Churchill is little different than this race track,” said trainer Dale Romans, trainer of Preakness (gr. I) runner-up First Dude . “Churchill has a little more bounce to it this year; they’re keeping it a little firmer this year. I wanted to make sure we got up here early to train over a deeper and sandier track. Horses need to get used to going around this mile and half oval where they’ll be on their left lead longer than on other race tracks.”
Donald Dizney, the breeder and owner of First Dude, concurs.
“Horses need to get acclimated to this track,” he said. “Dale’s happy with the fact that he came up a little early. It is a big ol’ track, isn’t it? I’m sure that getting acclimated to it makes a big difference.”
One trainer isn’t so sure a trip over Belmont is necessary. However, Kiaran McLaughlin, the trainer of Uptowncharlybrown , might be a bit biased. The conditioner won the Belmont in 2006 with Jazil , a colt who was based at Belmont Park.
“Uptowncharlybrown came from Tampa, and I think it’s similar to Belmont in that it’s a little deeper track,” McLaughlin said. “It’s a great place to train and a great facility, but don’t think it’s a racetrack you have to work over before you race. It’s not like a Delaware Park where you don’t know if a horse is going to handle it or not.”
Handling the track or not, 12 horses are slated to go postward June 5 for a $1-million purse and a chance to be a classic winner.