A familiar plan for First Dude

ELMONT, N.Y. -- Considering how well he ran on the front end when finishing second in the Preakness Stakes three weeks ago after drawing post 11, there is little doubt what the strategy will be for First Dude in the 142nd Belmont Stakes on Saturday after he again drew post 11, this time in a field of 12, on Wednesday for the 1 1/2-mile circuit of expansive Belmont Park.

The last thing trainer Dale Romans wants to see happen is for First Dude to get caught behind horses. After all, it might take him a while to get going again.

"He's 17 hands tall, has a big, loping stride," Romans said. "You don't want to get him stopped and have to restart. He's always trained like a top-shelf horse. We thought if he got a good trip in the Preakness, he'd be a force to be reckoned with."

He figures to be a major player again Saturday, in the final leg of the Triple Crown. First Dude is the 7-2 second choice on the morning lines of both Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form's national handicapper, and Eric Donovan, who makes the line at Belmont Park. Both linemakers have Ice Box, the Kentucky Derby runner-up, favored at 3-1.

As expected, a field of 12 was entered Wednesday morning for the $1 million Belmont. Minutes later, post positions were drawn, and Ice Box landed post 6, right alongside his Nick Zito-trained stablemate, Fly Down, who is in post 5. Both Watchmaker (5-1 odds) and Donovan (9-2) have Fly Down, the Dwyer winner, as their third choice.

Fittingly, jockey Calvin Borel found himself on the rail with the longshot Dave in Dixie. The outside post is occupied by Interactif, who starts just to the right of First Dude.

Don Dizney, who bred and owns First Dude, was at Belmont Park on Wednesday morning, watching his colt train. He said First Dude "always has been pretty big."

"His dam just had a Dixie Union colt who was big, too. He weighed 130 pounds," Dizney said.

That dam, Run Sarah Run, gave Dizney the creative spark for naming First Dude. When names were due to be submitted to The Jockey Club in fall 2008, when First Dude was a yearling, the presidential campaign was in full force, so Dizney named First Dude after Sarah Palin's husband, Todd.

"If you watch TV, it was the only name you could give him," Dizney said.

"I'm sure there will be a lot of Republicans cheering for him," Romans said.

Romans said he has yet to weigh First Dude.

"It's a good idea. I'd like to," he said. "Maybe someone back here has a scale."

First Dude has won just once in seven starts but has finished second four times. He has steadily improved against top-shelf company in recent starts. Before the Preakness, he was fifth in the Florida Derby and third in the Blue Grass Stakes, all with Ramon Dominguez riding.

"When Ramon jumped off him after the Florida Derby, he said, 'the Belmont is his race. He'll love that track,' " Romans said.

In the Preakness, at 1 3/16 miles, First Dude broke sharply and went right to the front. Despite being headed at the top of the stretch by the eventual winner, Lookin At Lucky, First Dude fought back bravely and appeared to regain the lead briefly inside the furlong pole, but eventually fell short by three-quarters of a length.

"At the head of the lane they gathered all around him, but he dug back in," Romans said.

Immediately following the Preakness, First Dude went to Churchill Downs -- where Romans is based -- for one week, then came here.

"It's a funny racetrack, a mile and a half is unusual for a horse and jockey," Romans said. "That's why I sent him up early, to get a couple of trips around it."

As big as First Dude is, Stately Victor is not far behind. They are just a few stalls from one another in Barn 1.

"Probably just an inch or two separates them," said Mike Maker, the trainer of Stately Victor, who said Stately Victor weighs "about 1,200 pounds."

Stately Victor, who drew post 9, was eighth most recently in the Kentucky Derby. He won the Blue Grass prior to that.

"Turning for home in the Derby, he was behind a wall of horses," Maker said. "It takes him a while to build back up. But we don't have any false illusions that it cost him the race."

Fly Down and Ice Box have been training at Saratoga for the past several weeks but were sent by van to Belmont on Wednesday. Also arriving here, on a flight that began in California, were Dave In Dixie and Game On Dude.

Spangled Star, who is expected to be the longest shot in the race, is stabled at Aqueduct, where he worked a half-mile in 51.13 seconds on Wednesday morning for trainer Richard Dutrow Jr.

The Belmont is the final leg of pick-six and pick-four wagers that each consist entirely of stakes races and offer guaranteed pools of $1 million. Post time is 6:32 p.m. Eastern. ABC will telecast the Belmont, beginning at 5 p.m. The undercard races scheduled between noon and 5 p.m. will be seen on ESPN.

It was warm but dry at Belmont Park on Wednesday, with a high temperature of 84 degrees. Isolated thunderstorms and scattered showers are forecast for Thursday and Friday, with highs in the low- to mid-80s, according to the National Weather Service. The forecast for Saturday is for a high temperature of 77 degrees and a 30 percent chance of isolated thunderstorms.