Race of the Week 2017

Ice Box, First Dude Top Belmont Probables

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The Triple Crown trail comes to an end at Belmont Park on Saturday, June 5, with the 142nd running of the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Stakes, which is expected to draw several contenders from the Kentucky Derby and Preakness as well as a number of 3-year-olds just rounding into top form.


First Dude, runner-up to Lookin At Lucky in Saturday’s Grade 1 Preakness, is among the horses who will target the 1 ½-mile Belmont, trainer Dale Romans said Sunday morning.


“I think he’s going to move forward again,” Romans said. “The mile and a half suits him and we’re excited to go up there.”


First Dude, owned by Donald R. Dizney, would be the second Belmont starter for Romans, who finished third when he saddled Nolan’s Cat in the 2005 edition of the race.


“I think it’s going to end up being a pretty good field of horses,” Romans said. “With horses like Ice Box, Fly Down and my horse, it’ll be a good race.”


Romans referenced the expected Belmont starters for Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito; Robert LaPenta’s Kentucky Derby runner-up Ice Box, and Richard Pell’s Fly Down, impressive winner of the Grade 2 Dwyer Stakes on May 8 at Belmont Park.


Zito will be trying for his third Belmont Stakes win this year, having won the race with longshots Birdstone in 2004 and Da’ Tara in 2008, upsetting Triple Crown hopefuls Smarty Jones and Big Brown in their respective years.


“Three weeks is an eternity, for horses,” said Zito Sunday morning. “If all goes well over the next three weeks, we hope to have two solid contenders, and I think Ice Box will be a legitimate favorite.”


Jackson Bend, third in the Preakness, may get some time off after the race, but Zito did not entirely rule out the Belmont for the son of Hear No Evil, who is owned by LaPenta and Fred Brei.


“I never say never, but I doubt it,” Zito said. ‘I think he needs a rest. But you never know with him, he’s very, very, very tough. He wants to fight all the time.”


As well, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, having won his fifth Preakness with Lookin At Lucky, could be going for his second Belmont Stakes victory with Kuehne Racing’s Grade 3 Lone Star Derby winner Game On Dude.


Baffert, whose Silver Charm, Real Quiet and War Emblem were denied Triple Crowns in the 1997, 1998 and 2002 Belmonts, won the race in 2001 with Point Given.

“I like the Belmont,” he said Sunday morning before shipping Lookin At Lucky back to California, where he will rest up for a potential summer campaign on the East Coast. “It’s a long, tough race. When I ran my other horses for the Triple Crown, I had to give them a break. It’s tough on them.”


Baffert’s most recent Belmont starter was Bob and John, who finished eighth in 2006.


Should both First Dude and Game On Dude go onto the Belmont, Baffert said the race could shape up as a “Battle of the Dudes.”


Trainer Todd Pletcher, who sent out both WinStar Farm’s Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver and Dogwood Stable’s Derby Trial runner-up Aikenite in Saturday’s Preakness, said neither horse would run in the Belmont Stakes. Super Saver faded to finish eighth in the Preakness, while Aikenite was 10th.


“As I said after the race, there’s nothing more that I would have loved to have done than to come back to Belmont with a chance at the Triple Crown, but we are so happy with the way he ran in the Derby and so thankful about that, that it would be hard to be disappointed about anything he does from this point on,” he said.


Pletcher has not ruled out going for his second Belmont Stakes victory with the filly Devil May Care, owned by Glencrest Farm. The trainer won his first Classic in 2007 with Rags to Riches, who became the first of her sex to win the Belmont in 102 years.


“I have not decided on her, but I would say she’s more likely for the [Grade 1] Mother Goose [June 26 at Belmont Park],” he said.


Both Super Saver and Aikenite returned to Pletcher’s Belmont Park barn on Sunday morning, arriving by van just after 10:30 a.m.


“They just arrived, but both seem to have shipped in well,” said assistant trainer Jonathan Thomas.


With his sights set on the Belmont Stakes, Grade 1 Toyota Blue Grass winner Stately Victor earned a bullet for his 1:00.20 five-furlong breeze at the Churchill Downs Trackside Training Center on Saturday, his first published workout since finishing eighth in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby.


“He had a little bit of trouble, but it wasn’t too bad,” trainer Mike Maker said of Stately Victor’s trip in the Derby.


Dismissed at 40-1 two starts back in the Blue Grass, the son of Ghostzapper ran away to a 4 ¼-length victory under Alan Garcia.


“He had a clean trip [in the Blue Grass] and a bigger track he could race on as he had been racing on the turf course at Gulfstream Park,” said Maker. “He’s a big, imposing horse with a long stride, and hopefully he can get into a rhythm in the Belmont Stakes.”


Owned by Tom and Jack Conway, Stately Victor was beaten less than nine lengths in the Derby. The colt would be the first Belmont Stakes starter for Maker.


Also working Saturday was Fantasy Lane Stable’s Uptowncharlybrown, a new addition to the barn of Kiaran McLaughlin. Working in company with another promising McLaughlin 3-year-old, Mill House’s Trappe Shot, Belmont Park clockers caught Uptowncharlybrown covering four furlongs in 47.82.


“Very nice,” McLaughlin said after the work. “He’s a nice mover with a big stride. We’re on course for the Belmont.”


Stay Put, most recently an allowance victor in the slop on the Kentucky Derby undercard at Churchill Downs, will also point for the Belmont Stakes, trainer Steve Margolis said by phone Sunday.


“We’re still deciding when to ship, and if we’ll fly or van up,” Margolis said. “Rich [co-owner Richard Bertram] and I definitely want to set it up so he has a work over the Belmont track, but he’s doing well and we’re going to take a shot.”


A Kentucky Derby hopeful early in his 3-year-old season, Stay Put did not collect enough graded stakes earnings to make the starting gate in the “Run for the Roses” after finishing fifth in the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby, both Grade 2 prep races run at Fair Grounds. The son of Broken Vow has won three of seven lifetime starts, all around two turns, but has never run farther than the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Louisiana Derby.


“I certainly don’t think the distance will be a problem for him,” Margolis said. “He’s a big, strong colt, he’s training well, and we hope he’ll continue to move forward. We think he deserves a chance.”


Also pointing to the Belmont are Make Music for Me, who was fourth in the Kentucky Derby, New Madrid, who will prep on the grass Thursday at Belmont Park and Dwyer runner-up Drosselmeyer. Santa Anita Derby and Sham runner-up Setsuko was listed as possible along with Dublin, who was fifth in the Preakness, and Bank the Eight, according to New York Racing Association Stakes Coordinator Andrew Byrnes. Bank the Eight, most recently the winner of the Federico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico on May 1, would have to be supplemented to the race as he is not Triple Crown-nominated.  




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Older Comments about Ice Box, First Dude Top Belmont Probables...

Shaping up as a good betting race. Looking forward to the Test of Champions.

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