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Jun 05, 2009

A "Charitable" Belmont?

By: by Jeff Frank, Contributing Editor


Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird is the 2-1 morning line favorite to win the Belmont Stakes.

Even though the Preakness runner-up cannot win the Triple Crown, his jockey Calvin Borel could make history by becoming the first rider to pilot two different horses to victory in the series.

Borel went on record guaranteeing a win for Mine That Bird after the gelding worked four furlongs in 50 seconds flat at Churchill Downs this past Monday morning. Who can blame him? It seems everything he touches these days turns to gold.

Mine That Bird shocked the nation on May 2 with his overpowering 50-1 victory in the Kentucky Derby. The general consensus after the race was that of sheer astonishment, since the May foal wasn't even a contender until the second half of April when it appeared he had enough graded earnings to qualify for the race. Heck, even his trainer wasn't thinking "Derby" since he entered the gelding in a pair of ungraded races at Sunland Park in New Mexico.

Now, less than three months later, Mine That Bird is the star of the show and "the little horse that could" has every right to win the Belmont Stakes. However, it's not a forgone conclusion he'll be in the winner's circle come Saturday, even though he's defeated six of the other nine horses in the race.

One of the colts he has yet to beat is Charitable Man, who is undefeated at both Belmont Park and on conventional dirt.

The $200,000 yearling purchase has raced only four times with three wins, including a pair of grade II stakes. His last effort in the Peter Pan was nothing short of sensational, as he pulled away through the stretch for a 3 3/4-length victory in 1:47 for the mile and one-eighth event.

It's been a long time since the Peter Pan winner has won the "Test of Champions."

A.P. Indy was the last horse to accomplish the feat way back in 1992. However, 10 years ago, Lemon Drop Kid used a third-place finish in the Peter Pan to win the Belmont. Coincidentally, Lemon Drop Kid is Charitable Man's sire.

Kiaran McLaughlin, who trained Jazil to win the Belmont in 2006, has always been very confident in Charitable Man's abilities, but a major injury last September stifled his plans for a huge run at the Kentucky Derby.

Two weeks after winning the Futurity at Belmont Park last September, shin surgery forced the colt out of training until late January. It took him almost three months to make his three-year-old debut in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 11. It was an ambitious spot for his first race in seven months, going nine furlongs around two turns on a Polytrack surface he had never seen before.

Charitable Man was no longer undefeated after the seventh-place finish. However, he returned to his home track at Belmont Park and won the Peter Pan Stakes four weeks later as the 8-5 favorite. He received the perfect trip that afternoon sitting well behind Hello Broadway, who opened up an eight-length lead down the backstretch. Jockey Alan Garcia then reeled in the front-runner at the top of the stretch, and had more than enough left in the tank to hold off Imperial Council through the lane.

It's true Charitable Man has never faced Mine That Bird, but he did knock off a horse that finished ahead of the Derby winner. Scorewithcater, who defeated Mine That Bird in both the Borderland and Sunland Derbies, finished a well- beaten fifth in the Peter Pan, outrun by over a dozen lengths.

Another advantage Charitable Man has over the field is his running style. Eight of the 10 starters lack any type of early speed, which will place the bulk of them at an immediate disadvantage. It's entirely possible for Charitable Man to have a five-length lead heading into the homestretch of the 141st running of the Belmont Stakes.

THE OTHER SPEED

Nick Zito, who decided against running Nowhere to Hide, will still have two chances to win with Brave Victory and Miner's Escape, the latter being expected to set the early pace.

Miner's Escape lost his first five races, not to mention getting abused by Charitable Man in his debut by 28 lengths. However, he's rebounded with a pair of victories by a combined 8 1/2-lengths in his last two starts. His latest win came in the Federico Tesio at Pimlico on Kentucky Derby day, a race in which he battled for the early lead and pulled away through the stretch to win by 4 1/2-lengths.

Last year, the Tesio produced a couple of decent runners as Icabad Crane finished third in the Preakness, while runner-up Mint Lane ran second in the Peter Pan and then prevailed in the Dwyer Stakes.

Miner's Escape has been a different horse since stretching out in distance, and should love the 12 furlongs of the Belmont Stakes. His sire was 2003 Horse of the Year, Mineshaft, whose own sire, A.P. Indy, won this race back in 1992. A.P. Indy's sire, Seattle Slew, also brought home the bacon in the 1977 Belmont Stakes.

The bay colt's dam, Spy Novel, is a half-sister to Indian Charlie, who was the post time favorite in the 1998 Kentucky Derby. And her sire, Broad Brush, won five stakes races at the 1 1/4-mile distance.

There is a chance Miner's Escape could fold like a cheap suit if Charitable Man blows right by around the far turn, but if he continues to improve, there's a possibility for him to hang on for second at a huge price.

WHAT ABOUT DUNKIRK AND CHOCOLATE CANDY?

Can the highly-regarded Dunkirk atone for his 11th place finish in the Kentucky Derby? Some might say he was pushed too fast into the race after just three career starts. However, his race was essentially over at the start after stumbling a couple of jumps out of the gate with his nose almost touching the dirt on the sloppy racecourse.

Trainer Todd Pletcher immediately brought him to Belmont Park with the third leg of the Triple Crown on his mind. The son of Unbridled's Song has been working very well in the Empire State and has license to improve immensely off his disappointing Derby effort. The $3.7 million yearling has never run a poor race on a fast track and must be considered a major player this Saturday.

Chocolate Candy returns from the Kentucky Derby wars with a new jockey.

Garrett Gomez, who rode the bay colt to victory in the Real Quiet Stakes last November, replaces Mike Smith, who piloted the Jerry Hollendorfer-trainee at Churchill Downs.

Chocolate Candy's running style is extremely similar to most of the horses in this race. He has sat near the back of the pack in three of his last five starts, making bold late moves to hit the board in four of those five outings. In fact, the only time since last August he has not finished first, second or third came in the Kentucky Derby.

On the other hand, all but one of his 10 career efforts came on synthetics out in California, so he must be able to prove he can run on traditional dirt in order to finish ahead of the top three favorites.

THE PICK

There is a tremendous lack of quality in this race as only three horses - Mine That Bird, Charitable Man and Chocolate Candy - have ever won a graded race. Furthermore, the other seven horses are all eligible for "non-winners of two other than" allowance conditions, meaning all seven have yet to win three lifetime races.

Mine That Bird should be favored after winning the Kentucky Derby and running second in the Preakness, but the Belmont may a bit out of his reach. In addition, favorites have not fared well in recent years, with only one victory (Afleet Alex) over the last seven runnings.

The choice to win the Belmont is Charitable Man with Dunkirk second and Mine That Bird third. Don't forget about longshot Miner's Escape, who could wreak havoc with the "chalky" trifecta.



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