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Pletcher gives Stradivari the go-ahead for Belmont Stakes

ELMONT, N.Y. -- Stradivari was the wild card entering the Preakness Stakes. Brilliant in his first two starts this year, Stradivari was sent off as a solid third choice in the wagering for the middle jewel of the Triple Crown behind Kentucky Derby one-two finishers Nyquist and Exaggerator.

While he didn't win the Preakness, Stradivari ran well enough in trainer Todd Pletcher's eyes to prove he belonged competing at this level. Almost immediately after the Preakness, Pletcher wanted to run Stradivari back in the Belmont Stakes. He just needed cooperation from the horse and the blessing of his owners.

Pletcher got what he was looking for Friday, and after Stradivari put in a satisfactory workout over the Belmont Park training track, Pletcher confirmed him as a runner for next Saturday's 148th Belmont Stakes.

"Everybody's on board," said Pletcher, who trains Stradivari for John Gunther, Derrick Smith, Susan Magnier, and Michael Tabor. "Everybody was happy to proceed with the idea if we liked what we saw this morning -- which I did -- and assuming he comes out of it well, the plan is to run in the Belmont."

Stradivari worked a half-mile in 50.51 seconds, according to Daily Racing Form's Mike Welsch. But the key to the workout, which was done in company with the stakes winner Decorated Soldier, was how well Stradivari galloped out under John Velazquez. Though a head shy of Decorated Soldier on the wire, he pulled away from his workmate while going five furlongs in 1:03.28, six furlongs in 1:15.46, and seven-eighths in 1:29.69.

"He was well in hand throughout, seemed to be moving well, galloped out strongly," Pletcher said.

The key to Stradivari's success in the Belmont will be Velazquez's ability to get him to relax. In the Preakness, Stradivari got too aggressive from getting mud kicked back into his face. Velazquez had appeared to do a terrific job of working his way over to a ground-saving position from post 11, but that might have backfired. Stradivari tossed his head about as he got hit with the Pimlico slop.

"He reacted opposite of the way most horses react when they get hit with slop in the face for the first time," Pletcher said. "Most horses back off and climb a little bit. He actually got a little more aggressive, so I think that was an education for him."

In his 11-1/4-length maiden win at Gulfstream and his 14-1/2-length allowance win at Keeneland, Stradivari raced right up on the pace. With a dearth of speed in this year's Belmont, Stradivari is likely to be in a forward position again next Saturday.

"I think he could potentially be the pacesetter," Pletcher said. "If not, he's going to be forwardly placed. The key is if he'll just turn off a little bit and get into a comfortable rhythm. We feel like he'll keep galloping."

Pletcher's other Belmont Stakes starter, Tampa Bay Derby winner Destin, is also likely to be prominent early. He also breezed Friday at Belmont, going four furlongs in 49.51 seconds, and again with a strong gallop-out. He worked outside of Awesome Gent, and after getting their last quarter in 24.29 seconds, Destin, under jockey Javier Castellano, and Awesome Gent galloped out five furlongs in 1:02.90, six furlongs in 1:15.44, and seven-eighths in 1:28.98.

"He did what I was hoping he would do -- get in a nice, steady rhythm," Pletcher said. "He was well in hand throughout and kept clipping along. That's what we were looking for. I thought it was a good breeze, I was happy with it, and Javier seemed particularly pleased with it."

Awesome Gent is being pointed to the Grade 2, $500,000 Woody Stephens on the Belmont undercard.

About an hour before Pletcher's pair worked over the training track, Belmont Stakes hopeful Governor Malibu worked five furlongs in 1:00.29 over the main track.

Governor Malibu, equipped with blinkers and ridden by his regular jockey, Joel Rosario, began his move about two to 2-1/2 lengths behind Silver Beach, a 3-year-old Tapit colt who is 1 for 2.

Governor Malibu tracked Silver Beach through a quick opening quarter in 22.99 seconds. He came into the stretch still behind Silver Beach, whose rider took a snug hold as Governor Malibu, under mild urging from Rosario, inched closer. Governor Malibu hit the wire in 47.73 seconds, about a head in front. Governor Malibu went his final eighth in 12.56 seconds for a final time of 1:00.29. He galloped out six furlongs in 1:14.14 and pulled up seven furlongs in 1:29.76.

"Typical Governor Malibu -- steady," trainer Christophe Clement said. "Further the better. He looked very sound, looked very fit."

Clement said he is toying with the idea of giving Governor Malibu a short blowout next Thursday or Friday.

* Following a walk day Thursday, Exaggerator returned to the track Friday for a 1-1/2-mile gallop over the main track following the 8:45 a.m. renovation break. He went nice and easy down the backstretch and picked up the pace slightly through the stretch.

"I think this is the happiest I've been with the horse," said Julie Clark, assistant to trainer Keith Desormeaux. "He looked super-relaxed. He got a little sweaty as he galloped, but by the time we got through the tunnel, he was dry again."

Exaggerator was scheduled to do a faster gallop Saturday and have his final breeze for the Belmont on Tuesday.

* Cherry Wine and Brody's Cause, the Belmont pair for trainer Dale Romans, both galloped Friday over the main track in advance of their scheduled Saturday workouts. Creator, wearing blinkers, bucked and kicked a little before leaving a stable pony and galloping a mile on the training track.

-- additional reporting by Mike Welsch