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May 29, 2007

Through The Binoculars


Burning Issues And The Belmont

There have been many burning issues through the years:

Will Patterson fight Liston?

Damascus or Dr. Fager?

DiMag vs. Jeter?

Why does the NBA home team get every call in crunch time?

Hill or Rudy?

Will Street Sense run in the Belmont?

The Louisville Courier Journal appears to have the answer to the last question.

Trainer Nafzger is quoted in Thursday's editions of the Journal as follows:

"More than likely Street Sense won't go to the Belmont. We want to balance out what we want to try to get achieved by the end of the year. You have to start thinking about the end of the year now if you want to be ready for it."


He's not going.

At the same time that the Journal was hitting the street, trainer Barclay Tagg said that No Biz Like Showbiz will skip the Belmont. Makes one wonder that maybe the connections of No Biz should have taken that $17 million from the Sheiks when they had the  chance.

Of course, the Belmont would be a major event with Street Sense on hand. After all, the whole free world - this writer included -- wants nothing more than a rematch of the Derby and Preakness Top Three.

But even without Street Sense, the Belmont will be above the fold material.

At this writing, the Belmont field will include Curlin, Hard Spun, Rags to Riches, Great Hunter, Tioga, Imawildandcrazyguy, Slew's Tizzy, and possibly Chelokee.

Historians will note that Kentucky Oaks winner Rags to Riches, who will be trying to break trainer Pletcher's 0-for-28 schneid in the Triple Crown, will be the first filly to compete in the Belmont since Silverbulletday in 1999, which was a very good year.

Of the 21 fillies who have run in the Belmont, only two - Ruthless in 1867 and Tanya in 1905 - got the money. Let's give the Todd Squad points for taking the shot. It would be one thing to run a filly in an off-year, another to run her in the deep, talented field we'll see in Belmont 2007. 

But Curlin will be odds-on, and many of the media folks who didn't know Curlin from Curling until they put up "the four" at Pimlico last Saturday, will be falling over themselves calling him a lock in the Belmont.

Maybe yes. Maybe no. On sheer talent, Curlin towers over his peers at the present time. But you have to wonder what kind of toll the Preakness took.

Then again, some of the media will be dismayed because Curlin won't be flying the Midnight Cry silks he flew in the Preakness. We're back to square one now. In the Belmont, jockey Albarado will sport the Jess Jackson silks that Curlin wore when he won the Rebel at Oaklawn back in mid-March.

That was the race in which Flying First Class (thank you D. Wayne) actually was favored over Curlin!

For Curlin, the Belmont will be his fifth two-turn graded stake in 11 weeks...a schedule unheard of in this day and age.

One could not blame trainer Asmussen and his Who's Who Ownership of sitting out the Belmont. Don't want to sound premature, but Steve and the boys deserve credit for bringing  Curlin to Broadway.

Without Street Sense, and with no Triple Crown at stake, the numbers for the Belmont obviously will be a bummer for NYRA and ABC. But for the folks who enjoy seeing a great horse (Curlin) and a fine supporting cast go once around Big Sandy on the second Saturday in June, it's a big deal.

In the meantime, count this writer among those who are sick and tired of reading and hearing the jockey-bashing going on in the wake of the Preakness.

It says here that Pino and Borel gave their horses flawless rides.

Their only crime is they got beat. And by the best horse. And if you don't think Curlin is the best horse, then cue up the '07 Arkansas Derby. In '04 and '05, nice colts named Smarty Jones and Afleet Alex won the Arkansas Derby...and, as brilliant as both colts were in Hot Springs, neither was as impressive taking the AD as Curlin.

We won't have to wait to the June for good theater at Belmont.

They will run the Met Mile there on Monday, and it's shaping up - as usual - as a corker.

The 6-year-old Silver Wagon and the 5-year-old Sun King, who finished one-two, a head apart, in the Met last year, are back...which in itself is unusual. How many good horses their age are still running?

And how many trainers would publicly tout their horse?

"If I were a handicapper," says Richard Dutrow Jr., the trainer of Silver Wagon. "...I would bet on my horse."

Silver Wagon will be the co-119-pound topweight with Lawyer Ron, whom, as we all know, is the only one of the last four Arkansas Derby winners not to win the Preakness.

But that was this writer on the roof at Oaklawn Park a month back when Lawyer Ron blew away a strong field in the Oaklawn Handicap.

Moments later, trainer Pletcher, who was watching on TV from Keeneland, said that Lawyer Ron would go next in the Met Mile.

You don't need to be a rocket scientist to realize that Lawyer Ron will be in his best element going a one-turn mile at Belmont.

And you need to know that trainer Bob Holthus already has won a Met Mile - with Proper Reality. Oops. I forgot. Holthus doesn't trainer Lawyer Ron any more.

Besides Lawyer Ron, Silver Wagon and Sun King, the Met field will include Corinthian, Half Ours, Ah Day, Latent Heat, Political Force, and Silent Name.

That's a helluva group.

And if that wasn't enough, NYRA will be giving away a Belmont Park baseball cap with each paid admission.

One would think that the accomplished Park Avenue Ball would be going to the Met Mile. But trainer Ryerson instead will run PAB on the grass Saturday in the Elkwood Stakes at Monmouth.

Over the winter, Monmouth spent millions on the grass course in order to have it up and running for the Breeders' Cup in late October. And the mile Elkwood (and two other races) will mark the first test for the new lawn.

"A mile is a good distance for Park Avenue Ball," says Ryerson, he of Unbridled's Song fame. "That's where he fits the best. So now's the time to explore how he'll like a mile on the turf.

The Elkwood comes up strong. In addition to Park Avenue Ball, the field includes Host from the Todd Squad, and Classic Campaign from The Boss and Bill Mott.

Note that Chris DeCarlo, given a choice, will ride Host rather than Park Avenue Ball. Steady Eddie Castro, a premier turf rider, gets the call on Park Avenue Ball.


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