BALTIMORE - After finishing third in the Kentucky Derby, and then second in the Preakness Stakes, trainer Dale Romans is hoping he can finally get to the top in the last leg of the Triple Crown, the June 5 Belmont Stakes, which will not have the Derby winner nor the Preakness winner.
Romans trains First Dude, who finished second in the Preakness on Saturday and will go on to the Belmont. He also trains Paddy O'Prado, who was sixth in the Preakness after finishing third in the Derby for Romans, and who will likely return to turf racing.
With Super Saver, the Derby winner, and Lookin At Lucky, the Preakness winner, both bypassing the Belmont Stakes, the 1 1/2-mile race will be headlined by Ice Box and First Dude, the second-place finishers from the first two Triple Crown races. They are a contrast in styles. Ice Box, the Derby runner-up, closed furiously in that race despite significant trouble, then was kept out of the Preakness in order to point for the Belmont. First Dude set the pace in the Preakness, and did not go down without a fight.
"My horse ran super," Romans said. "It was an excellent race. I couldn't be happier with him. A mile-and-a-half race is a speed race. If he can get out there with a little slower fractions, he'll be tough to catch."
What Romans said seems counterintuitive to unsophisticated handicappers - after all, the Belmont is the longest of the Triple Crown races - but with a slower pace going one lap around Belmont Park, the Belmont often is won by horses in a forward, contending position. Deep closers can win, such as Jazil in 2006, but not as often as one might expect. It's true - pace makes the race.
First Dude returned to Churchill Downs on Sunday morning, but Romans said he was inclined to send First Dude to Belmont Park by the end of this week.
"He'll go to Belmont early," Romans said. "I think that's a racetrack you benefit training over."
After a full field of 20 at the Derby, and then 12 at the Preakness, another large field - 13 as of Monday - is expected for the Belmont. In addition to First Dude and Ice Box, the prospective Belmont field currently includes Drosselmeyer, Dublin, Fly Down, Game On Dude, Make Music for Me, New Madrid, Setsuko, Spangled Star, Stately Victor, Stay Put, and Uptowncharlybrown.
New Madrid is scheduled to run in a turf allowance race on Thursday at Belmont Park as his final prep for the race. All other Belmont prospects have had their final prep.
Make Music for Me, fourth in the Derby, was sent from Kentucky to New York on Monday.
The filly Devil May Care, 10th against the boys in the Derby, is likely to await the Mother Goose Stakes on June 26, according to trainer Todd Pletcher.
With her out of the race, jockey John Velazquez would be available. There are several riding assignments still pending. Most notably, Drosselmeyer will have a new rider. Kent Desormeaux rode him to a second-place finish in the Dwyer Stakes on May 8, but Elliott Walden, the racing manager for Drosselmeyer's owner, the WinStar Farm of Bill Casner and Kenny Troutt, on Sunday said Desormeaux would be replaced.
Desormeaux could be a hot commodity himself. He won last year's Belmont on Summer Bird, and is currently without a mount.
Drosselmeyer worked a half-mile in 47.64 seconds at Belmont Park on Monday morning for trainer Bill Mott.
A prime mount still open is for Fly Down, the Dwyer winner. Nick Zito, who also trains Ice Box, said Jose Lezcano would remain with Ice Box. As for a replacement for Fly Down, "please tell all the wonderful jockeys that I've got their numbers," Zito said.
Lookin At Lucky, who got a Beyer Speed Figure of 102 in the Preakness, returned to California on Sunday morning and will be freshened at Santa Anita by trainer Bob Baffert.
"One thing we do know, we will be at the Haskell," Baffert said, referring to Monmouth Park's biggest race of the season, on Aug. 1.
But Baffert, and Preakness-winning jockey Martin Garcia, will have a Belmont representative in Game On Dude, who won the Lone Star Derby on May 8. So, Baffert and Garcia will be going for their second straight victory in a Triple Crown race.
Super Saver returned to New York, but is being given a rest following his eighth-place finish in the Preakness.
Pletcher said the two weeks from the Derby to the Preakness was "the biggest thing" regarding Super Saver's performance on Saturday.
"The thing is, you don't know until you get to the three-eighth pole," Pletcher said.
"Not only was it the two weeks from the Derby to the Preakness, but the three weeks from the Arkansas Derby to the Derby," Pletcher said.
Pletcher said Super Saver's next major goal will be the Breeders' Cup Classic.
"We know he likes Churchill Downs, and with the Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs, we have to figure out the best way to get him there," Pletcher said.
Walden said races like the Haskell and Travers, on Aug. 28 at Saratoga, would be considered.
Pletcher is unlikely to have a Belmont runner. But WinStar Farm, which owns Super Saver, will have Drosselmeyer.
"We wanted to win the Preakness. There's nothing more I would have liked to have done than to come back to Belmont Park with a chance to win the Triple Crown," Pletcher said. "But he won the Derby, so it's hard to be disappointed with what he does from this point on. That softens the blow a little bit. We can always look back and say he won the Derby. That's paramount."
- additional reporting by David Grening