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Jun 05, 2009

Not a strong Belmont Stakes field

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor

Elmont, NY (Sports Network) - This is not a great Belmont Stakes field. Maybe not even good.

Kentucky Derby champ and 2-1 favorite Mine That Bird headlines a field of 10 three-year-olds. None of the entrants won any of the major Kentucky Derby prep races, not even the favorite. Flying Private, 12-1 in the program, joins Mine That Bird as the only horses who will have run in all three Triple Crown races.

Dunkirk will attempt to redeem his reputation following his 11th place finish in the Kentucky Derby. The colt received a ton of hype after he began his career this year with two wins by a total of 10 1/2-lengths. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Dunkirk was second behind Quality Road in the Florida Derby. He was one of the favorites in the Run for the Roses at 5-1. Like all the other horses, Dunkirk will run at a distance Saturday, 1 1/2 miles, that is farther than covered before and after.

"I worked him last week for the first time. He worked really well and galloped out great," said Dunkirk's rider John Velazquez. "A mile-and-a-half seems to suit Mine That Bird better than anyone, but we still have to go a mile-and-a- half and see what happens."

Chocolate Candy is the top three-year-old from Northern California. He won the California Derby and El Camino Real at Golden Gate Fields. He then finished second to Pioneerof the Nile in the Santa Anita Derby. Sent off at 10-1 in the Kentucky Derby he finished a respectable fifth.

Lightly raced Charitable Man is the 3-1 second choice behind Mine That Bird. Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, Charitable Man won both 2008 starts and did not come back until the Blue Grass Stakes in April. He was seventh in the Keeneland race and then won the Peter Pan Stakes last month at Belmont Park.

"He's 2-for-2 at Belmont," noted McLaughlin, "3-for-3 on the dirt, his sire won the Belmont (Lemon Drop Kid in 1999), he's a fresh horse, he's training great."

Owner Robert LaPenta and trainer Nick Zito have the two horses in the outside posts. Miner's Escape, winner of the Federico Tesio Stakes, will break from post nine with Jose Lezcano, and Brave Victory will leave from the 10-hole. Brave Victory is coming off a third in the Peter Pan Stakes and will be ridden by Rajiv Maragh.

"I think it's Mine That Bird's race to lose," said Zito. "It's a good field, it's wide open."

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who has won the Belmont four times, also has two thoroughbreds entered. Flying Private was last in the Kentucky Derby and fourth in the Preakness. Julien Leparoux is being reunited with the colt and the pair will break from post eight. Luv Gov, eighth in the Preakness, has Miguel Mena back in the saddle and will start from post five. Each horse has just one career win.

Mr. Hot Stuff returns from a five week rest to start on Saturday. He was 15th in the Run for the Roses after posting a pair of third-place finishes in the Sham Stakes and Santa Anita Derby. A winner of just one race, Mr. Hot Stuff will be ridden by Edgar Prado from post three. Prado won the 2004 Belmont Stakes with Mine That Bird's sire Birdstone.

Another Birdstone progeny, Summer Bird, rounds out the field. Kent Desormeaux will ride the colt from post four. Summer Bird was third in the Arkansas Derby and sixth in the Run for the Roses.

A total of four entrants have just one lifetime victory. Brave Victory and Charitable Man are the only two who have raced at Belmont Park.

As Nick Zito said, the Belmont Stakes is Mine That Bird's to lose. I plan to use Chocolate Candy, Charitable Man and Miner's Escape along with the favorite in exactas and trifectas.

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