Edited by Dick Downey - Abbreviated Notes
BOURBON WAR -- One of three Tapit colts in the field, Bourbon War will be looking to rebound from a poor performance in the Preakness Stakes when eighth of 13. One start prior, he finished fourth in the Florida Derby, just missing a chance to qualify for the Kentucky Derby.
"He's good, all's well. I wouldn't change a thing," trainer Mark Hennig said of his second Belmont starter. "I think being based here helps. He stayed pretty busy at Pimlico. He's an active horse and stayed kind of busy (in the stakes barn) because there's a lot going on. Here you don't have to disrupt their routine, which is pretty nice.
"We tried the blinkers in Preakness and that didn't pan out too well. We're taking those off this time. For me, he's a horse that likes to run on the inside of horses. In the Preakness, he found himself out in the middle of the track again. Hopefully, we're going to resolve that Saturday."
INTREPID HEART - Intrepid Heart was a bit behind schedule going through the sales ring, but he still fetched $750,000 at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's Two-Year-Olds in Training Sale last April.
While most 2-year-olds in training sales begin their heavy lifting toward the end of the prior calendar year, Intrepid Heart didn't begin breezing until February. However, that didn't concern consigner Niall Brennan, who believed that buyers at the sale would be attracted by his pedigree. By Tapit, Intrepid Heart is out of the two-time stakes winning Touch Gold broodmare Flaming Heart, who produced three-time graded stakes winner and 2014 Belmont Stakes runner-up Commissioner.
"We got him after Christmas, and many 2-year-olds that go through the sales are already breezing by then," Brennan said. "He didn't get to start breezing until February. In his case, nothing was wrong, he was just a little behind the eight ball. He was always improving with each work, and I knew that when I saw him work that he would be a good horse."
Tapit's progeny have a reputation of being difficult, but Intrepid Heart was an exception, according to Brennan.
"He was very nice to be around, especially for a Tapit. He was a gentleman," said Brennan. "Tapits can be tough-minded and tough to deal with. Intrepid Heart was good feeling and had good energy. He had a lot of class and was focused, putting his mind to his business and behaving himself."
Intrepid Heart's conformation was as attractive as his pedigree.
"People saw a big, growing horse and the smart buyers took a closer look and realized that he had the potential," Brennan said. "There were four or five legitimate buyers."
Bloodstock agent Jacob West purchased the colt on behalf of owners Robert and Lawana Low.
"He was a May foal, and life for him would start after Saratoga and after the fall because of his physical makeup. It didn't really affect our decision," West said. "When you have that pedigree, by Tapit out of a Touch Gold mare, it was a very easy determination. We just gave him some time to grow up and mature."
Brennan takes pride in developing young horses and hopes that the future continues to be bright for Intrepid Heart.
"It gives credibility to what we're doing," Brennan said. "We're around these horses and obviously they have to be good and sound, but talent is key. Hopefully he becomes a good stallion one day."
TACITUS - Juddmonte Farms won the 'Test of the Champion' when Empire Maker spoiled Funny Cide's bid for a Triple Crown in 2003. This year, with homebred Tacitus, it owns the 9-5 morning line favorite.
Named after a senator in ancient Rome, Tacitus seeks to improve on his finish in the Kentucky Derby, fourth moved up to third following the disqualification of Maximum Security.
His sire, Tapit, has produced three of the last five Belmont Stakes winners and currently leads all sires in North America in black-type winners. Tacitus' dam, Close Hatches was voted Champion Older Filly in 2014, and was a five-time grade I winner.
"Everything has gone smooth since the Derby," said Juddmonte Farms' General Manager Garrett O'Rourke. "He tried really hard and took a lot of the worst of a bad track that day. He's a big horse and to me, that's the biggest factor. Now, Bill seems to be passing on the vibes that the horse has blossomed with the extra time. He's been working well over the Belmont track. We just hope that the extra month and extra fitness can suit him well.
"The real pride in our operation is the effort that goes into developing these families, sowing the seeds and having it come into fruition," O'Rourke said. "In this case, Close Hatches was one of Prince Khalid's all-time great mares and it's exciting for her to produce a horse of this caliber. It's interesting that on the same day five years ago, she put up one of her greatest performances against Beholder and Princess of Sylmar in the Ogden Phipps. It was a very memorable performance."
O'Rourke said he hopes Honest Mischief can give 23-year-old Honest Lady another grade I winner when he makes his stakes debut in the Woody Stephens. A grade I winner, Honest Lady is out of the prolific Juddmonte broodmare Toussaud, who also produced Empire Maker and grade I winners Chester House and Chisseling. Honest Lady also produced First Defence - the maternal grandsire of Tacitus.
Honest Mischief enters the Woody Stephens from an eight-length maiden victory at Keeneland, which earned a 97 Beyer Speed Figure.
"Honest Lady was a tremendously campaigned race mare and broodmare, but she's probably the favorite mare of about 80 percent of the farm," O'Rourke said. "She has the temperament of a dog, is very intelligent and just a sweetheart of a mare. It would be great to have a son of hers at a high caliber given her age, and a grade I win would make him an excellent stallion prospect. We'd love for him to pull it off."
TAX - Trainer Danny Gargan said Tax has stepped up his training the week leading into the Belmont.
The gelded dark bay son of Arch, nowhere close in the Kentucky Derby last out, has recorded two breezes at Belmont Park, the latter of which was a half-mile move in 49.03 over the main track, where he was sporting new glue-on shoes.
"He trained great all week long. I'm really happy with how he has been doing," Gargan said. "This last week might be the best he's trained since the Derby. I think he's really come around, maybe putting the glue-ons on turned him around more than anything, but he's done tremendous this week."
REMEMBERING RAGS TO RICHES - For Todd Pletcher, it's been a dozen years, more than 2,700 victories and $233.6 million in purses since Rags to Riches won the 2007 Belmont Stakes, but after all that time the trainer still can't help but smile when recalling his first victory in a Triple Crown race.
"One of the amazing things about it, especially in the year afterward, is how people would come up to me and recall where they were and what they were doing when she won," said Pletcher.
The now seven-time Eclipse Award-winning conditioner did not make a final decision on whether to start Michael Tabor's chestnut filly until the week of the race, not long after it was announced that Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense would not be running. The field remained a tough one by any standards, including, among others, Preakness winner Curlin, Derby runner-up Hard Spun and Santa Anita Derby winner Tiago.
Pletcher recalled how his heart sank the moment the gates opened, when Rags to Riches stumbled badly, then put herself back into contention and went throatlatch-to-throatlatch battle with Curlin through the stretch to win by a head.
"There were so many emotions packed into two-and-a-half minutes," recalled Pletcher. "You went from thinking she lost all chance when she fell on her head at the start, to thinking maybe she can hit the board after she recovered, to thinking she was going to win, to holding your breath when Curlin came on ...it was a mile-and-a-half roller coaster."
The victory not only gave Pletcher, who had been 0-for-28 in the Derby, Preakness and Belmont and John Velazquez, who was 0-for-20, their first Classic win, Rags to Riches became the first filly to win the Belmont since Tonya in 1905.
"And, to look back and see what Curlin went on to do made it even more special," said Pletcher. "It was a chance to make history."