Friday, June 10, 2016
EXAGGERATOR - Connections of the favorite have to like this. Sixty-two of its first 147 runnings were won by the bettors' choice, a 42 percent success rate.
Last year, Triple Crown champion American Pharoah became the 13th of 34 odds-on favorites to win the Belmont (38 percent) since mutuels came to New York in 1940.
The numbers, however, also show that American Pharoah was only the third favorite in the last 20 years to win the Belmont. Nine others finished second or third.
Saturday will be the first time Exaggerator goes off as the favorite since his neck victory in the Delta Jackpot last November. If there is pressure on the Curlin colt or his team, it isn't showing.
"I honestly think the pressure's off. It's more excitement. It's the Belmont Stakes. It's a chance to prove my horse in yet another grade 1 event," trainer Keith Desormeaux said. "Honestly, the pressure's been off since he won the Santa Anita Derby, or since he won his first stakes. It's all gravy from here."
After walking on his day off Thursday, Exaggerator returned to the track Friday morning for an energetic gallop under regular exercise rider Peedy Landry. They went out shortly after 9 a.m. and spent 15 minutes on the main track before heading back to the barn on their usual route through the paddock.
"I told Peedy after the gallop that's about as strong as I've ever seen him in Peedy's hands. I think it had a little bit to do with the weather, also to do with the fact that there was a set of workers behind him to get him pumped up," Desormeaux said. "The cool thing about Exaggerator is that he can control his emotions. As soon as those workers went by and Peedy asked him to settle, he pulled up pretty good. I couldn't ask for a better gallop."
Exaggerator, second to Nyquist in the Kentucky Derby May 7, is attempting to become the 12th horse to win the Preakness and Belmont after falling short in Louisville and the first since Afleet Alex. In all, 18 horses have swept the final two-thirds of the Triple Crown including seven that did not run in the Derby.
"You know what's cool for me? There's no issues with this horse. He's eating well, the energy's there, the color is good," Desormeaux said. "As far as my preparation and the expectations of what we've done through the horse, I really can't ask my horse to be doing any better. He doesn't' seem to be having or showing the rigors of three top races in five weeks. That's usually the number one concern, right? It looks like he's thriving off of it, so that's pretty cool."
Exaggerator would join elite company with a victory Saturday. The last Derby runner-up to win the Preakness and Belmont was Nashua in 1955.
"He's a double crown winner if he does that. That's not bad. That's only one step away from a Triple Crown winner," Desormeaux said. "We might have coined a new phrase right there. Have you ever heard of a double crown winner before? There's a new one. He's got to win it first."
Desormeaux said Exaggerator will not go to the track Saturday but have a morning that is "as easy as possible."
"We'll walk him early. Usually when you do that, they'll get back in the stall and conk out. He'll take a nap and if he gets looking like he wants another walk, we'll do that," he said. "For the most part we'll walk him early and then stay away from him, try to keep the noise level and antics in the barn away from him and let him rest. Again, he's smart. When he knows we're not asking him to do anything, he will rest.
FOREVER D'ORO / SEEKING THE SOUL - Based most of the year in Kentucky and Louisiana, trainer Dallas Stewart is right at home in New York. For the fourth straight year and sixth time in his career, the former assistant to Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas finds himself at Belmont Park in June with a contender in the Belmont Stakes.
This year, for the first time, Stewart has two runners entered in Charles Fipke homebreds Seeking the Soul and Forever d'Oro, who will break from post 7 and 8
Both horses had routine gallops early Friday morning over Belmont Park's main track. "All is well," Stewart said. "We're sitting on go."
"They're good posts. They'll be easier to see. I'd rather be right there than way on the outside," Stewart said. "The less distance over a mile and a half that you have to run might be better. A mile and a half plus 20 yards might get you beat."
Forever d'Oro has been at Belmont since breaking his maiden going 1 1/16 mile May 29. Seeking the Soul, a one-mile maiden winner the same day at Churchill Downs, arrived from Kentucky Tuesday afternoon.
"We just had to talk about it with Mr. Fipke. He's the one that's got to put the money up," Stewart said. "We have to see how the horses are doing. They appear to be doing fine, as good as they were a few weeks ago. We're turning back in two weeks; that's when the race is, right? That was pretty much my thinking on that."
The Belmont will be the stakes debut for both Seeking the Soul and Forever d'Oro, each listed at 30-1 on the morning line, sharing the highest odds in the field with likely pacesetter Gettysburg and Trojan Nation.
"I don't think it's a stretch," Stewart said. "It's all a stretch until you run them, whether you're the favorite or 30-1. I don't sit around and wait until I'm even-money to run. If I think the horse is doing good and I think they've got the right pedigree for the race.... I hope that's the case. You can't be afraid and not run."
Stewart's best Belmont finish came when he was fourth with Dollar Bill in his 2001 debut. He was ninth with Kentucky Derby runner-up Commanding Curve in 2014 and seventh with Preakness runner-up Tale of Verve last year, both as outsiders.
"I know both of these horses can run," Stewart said. "Are they ready to win the Belmont? We'll have to find out."
Florent Geroux will ride Seeking the Soul.
"This is what a jockey wants to do - to compete at the highest level and try to win races," said Florent Geroux, who is currently based at Churchill Downs. "This weekend is a good way to get ready for Saratoga. I'm hoping that I can win because it's extremely tough here, especially this Saturday. It's a great card that NYRA has put together, with big fields and it's super competitive. It should be interesting."
Riding in his first Belmont Stakes, Geroux will pilot longshot Seeking the Soul, who he rode to a maiden win at Churchill Downs last month for trainer Dallas Stewart.
"Seeking the Soul in the Belmont . . . why not?" Geroux said. "Dallas is taking a shot, but the horse ran a good race last time, and you have to be in it to win it."
That type of thinking has yielded Geroux and his longtime agent, Doug Bredar, some amazing moments in the last few years. Geroux, whose first U.S. ride came in 2007, became a headline rider in 2014, when he won the Breeders' Cup Sprint aboard the 19-1 Work All Week.
In 2015, Geroux booted home a pair of Breeders' Cup winners, Catch a Glimpse in the Juvenile Fillies Turf, and Mongolian Saturday who upset the Turf Sprint at 16-1. The jockey also captured the 2015 Arlington Million aboard The Pizza Man.
Last year his mounts earned more than $10 million, which ranked Geroux 13th in the nation, and represented a personal-best season for the jockey.
On Saturday, Geroux will ride for the first time for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who has paired him with Cavorting in the Ogden Phipps. He will also ride Cupid, the 3-5 morning-line favorite in the Easy Goer Stakes, for Bob Baffert. Geroux and Baffert teamed up to win the Sir Barton Stakes on the Preakness undercard with American Freedom.
"It's nice when trainers like that use you; you must be doing something right," Geroux said. "I'm very excited for these opportunities."
LANI - As per usual, Lani was out bright and early at 6:30 this morning, and the Japanese invader completed four circuits of Belmont's main track while either galloping, jogging or walking at various intervals.
After being led back to Barn 6, Lani was examined by Dr. Scott Palmer, the Executive Medical Director for New York State Gaming and Racing Commission, and pronounced good to go for Saturday's Belmont Stakes.
"He's ready," said trainer Mikio Matsunaga. He said rider Yutaka Take, arrived in New York yesterday.
Lani's connections are hoping for a fast track. The son of Tapit is two-for-three under such conditions, including a win in the UAE Derby.
"A little rain would be okay, but not a heavy rain," said the owner's agent, Keita Tanaka.
TROJAN NATION - Trojan Nation galloped 1 5/8 mile this morning.
The old adage says that the third time is the charm. That's what Andrew Durnin, the assistant to trainer Paddy Gallagher, is hoping will ring true for Trojan Nation.
"This is my third Belmont," said Durnin, a former assistant to Bobby Frankel. "I came once with a horse for Beau Greely, Like A Hero in 2002 (seventh), and with Make Music for Me in 2010 (ninth) for Alexis Barba.
Trojan Nation was second in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial. After being checked at the start of the Kentucky Derby, he never picked up a hoof and wound up finishing 16th. As the only maiden in the field, he has been installed as one of the 30-1 co-long shots on the morning line.
"You never know. If you're not in it, you can't win it. We've got more of a chance here than we do of winning the lottery," said Durnin.
Trojan Nation, a son of Street Cry and maternal Summer Squall grandson who arrived from Southern California Tuesday, is signaling that he's ready for a big effort, Durnin said.
"This horse doesn't turn a hair, and that's why they're taking this big shot with him. Why not? Nothing affects him. It's absolutely a big shot, but they still write maiden races if he needs to go back to that," Durnin said. "He's got attitude, lots of attitude, and energy. He's got it all. He had his last serious work in California on Saturday, but he was actually working three-quarters because he went out to the seven-eighths pole in 12. So he was actually doing a three-quarter work but the clockers caught him in five-eighths. This horse is fit and ready."
Durnin won't get to see the race. He said that Gallagher is arriving Saturday morning on the red-eye flight from the West Coast so he's jetting home once Gallagher gets to the track.
No notes on the other Belmont Stakes horses.