ELMONT, NY -- When word came that longshot Dave in Dixie would be shipping in from Hollywood Park to run in Saturday's Belmont Stakes, the New York Racing Association's publicity department announced he would be stabled in Barn 1, along with fellow out-of-towners First Dude and Stately Victor. For reasons unbeknownst to us or NYRA, however, trainer John Sadler opted to keep his colt in Barn 58, quite a hike from the aforementioned location. Because of this and based on his performance (or lack thereof) in his last two races, Dave in Dixie has been somewhat of a mystery.
Owner Ike Thrash decided to enter the colt in the Belmont last Thursday based off a handy one-mile work in 1:39 and three-fifths of a second. The May 27 move impressed Thrash and Sadler, and left them wondering if they might have a better runner than they first considered. Since running a respective 17th and 18th with Sidney's Candy and Line of David (the latter also owned by Thrash) in the Kentucky Derby, and missing the Preakness when Thrash's contender Hurricane Ike defected with a minor left leg injury, Sadler is still gunning for his first career Classic victory. Could this one spring the upset?
In the San Felipe two starts back, the son of Dixie Union ran sixth after pacesetter Sidney's Candy snuck away to a front-running score after an easy mile in :48.55, giving late closers no chance. In the Illinois Derby, American Lion practically crawled the half in :49.32 as he wired the field, again leaving the closers at his mercy. In that race April 3, Dave in Dixie finished fifth.
"Those two races, you've just got to throw them out," Thrash said. "He was grinding away. They were merry-go-round races. We don't have enough to go on."
But this past winter, Dave in Dixie was ranked among the most promising 2-year-olds in California after a strong second in the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis Stakes, a few races after his maiden score. Maybe he's really a talented runner who just hasn't had a chance to show his stuff. Tomorrow, breaking from post position one under jockey Calvin Borel, he'll have a chance to prove himself again. "You wish you knew," Sadler said. "I think I have a horse that's a natural at the distance, but there are a lot of things we don't know."
This morning I took the Hertz rental car for a spin over to the far side of the track, where trainer Steve Asmussen keeps his New York string. Dave in Dixie was walking the shed row, rather incognito, staked out by a lone ESPN cameraman. No reason to hide away; he's a solid, fine-looking colt who strode along with mental comportment, alert but not overly on-the-muscle, until Asmussen assistant Toby Sheets arrived on the pony to accompany him for a gallop across the main oval. No sight of Thrash or Sadler. Are they in town?
In keeping with this week's theme surrounding the 20-1 shot, no one seems to know.
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