A sampling of trainers seemed to indicate that “Bird” would be the word, but there were some reservations from others. The sampling of the responses as to who wins the Belmont:
Carl Nafzger, trainer of Kentucky Derby winners Unbridled and Street Sense: “The winner? The one that gets there first! It is a difficult race to handicap. People thought Alydar would catch Affirmed (with the added distance). I am pulling for the Bird, but speed in the Belmont is dangerous and Kiaran McLaughlin’s horse (Charitable Man) has it. Class, Mine That Bird’s got it. It is going to be interesting to watch.”
David Carroll, trainer of 2008 Belmont runner-up Denis of Cork: “Charitable Man. I think he is going to lay off the pace. He is bred to get the trip and he is a fresh horse.”
Hal Wiggins, trainer of Rachel Alexandra when she won the Kentucky Oaks (GI): “Mine That Bird.”
Ken McPeek, trainer of 2002 Belmont Stakes winner Sarava: “Dunkirk.”
Tom Amoss, a new member of the 300-win club at Churchill Downs: “Mine That Bird. He’s the best 3-year-old boy in the country.”
Lynn Whiting, an even newer member of the 300-win club at Churchill Downs and conditioner of 1992 Kentucky Derby winner Lil E. Tee: “It will be an interesting race. The little horse (Mine That Bird) makes you respect him. The mile and a half is a different kind of race and not many want it.”
Forrest Kaelin, eighth-leading trainer all time at Churchill Downs with 312 victories: “Mine That Bird. I don’t see anything in there that can close like him.”
Scooter Dickey, who was on the Kentucky Derby trail this spring with Flat Out: “The Bird! He’ll gallop.”
Steve Penrod, veteran Churchill Downs conditioner: “Mine That Bird’s a solid horse, but for an upset special look for something of (Nick) Zito’s. One of his horses (Brave Victory or Miner’s Escape) has a shot.”
Greg Foley, who got Churchill Downs career victory No. 292 on Thursday: “I kind of like the little ol’ Bird. I hope he wins it.”
Buff Bradley, trainer of millionaire and recent Louisville Handicap winner Brass Hat: “I think Charitable Man has a pretty good shot. His only bad race has been on Polytrack at Keeneland. But if you listen to Calvin (Borel), you think it is his horse (Mine That Bird).”
PERFECT ON TURF, TIZAQUEENA FACES HUGE TEST IN MINT JULEP – Darley Stable’s Tizaqueena stepped up admirably in her first foray into graded stakes company when she won the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (Grade II) on the Kentucky Derby undercard on May 2.
On Saturday, she will be asked to step up again when she faces such accomplished rivals as Pure Clan and Acoma in the 33rd running of the Early Times Mint Julep Handicap (Grade III) at a mile and a sixteenth on the Matt Winn Turf Course.
Tizaqueena arrived at Churchill Downs on Thursday from Arlington Park, where she has had four works since her Derby Day triumph.
“The Mint Julep was one of the races we looked at,” trainer Mike Stidham said of Tizaqueena. “We also looked at the Just a Game (Grade I at Belmont Park on Saturday), but that was a little tougher than what we wanted. But the Mint Julep is tough, too.”
Tizaqueena, a 4-year-old daughter of two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) winner Tiznow out of the Mr. Prospector mare Issaqueena, broke her maiden at first asking on the main track at Fair Grounds last December. After two more dirt starts, Tizaqueena moved to the turf, where she is undefeated in three starts.
“The condition she was eligible for was on the turf,” Stidham said of the move to the grass. “She has turf breeding on the female side of her family.”
In the Distaff Turf Mile, Tizaqueena pressed the pace and then withstood a challenge from the more experienced Dawn After Dawn in deep stretch to win going away.
“I am not surprised by her success,” Stidham said. “She had always shown she had ability. When they take that next step, you never know if they are going to take it, but she sure did when (Dawn After Dawn) got to her neck.”
Brian Hernandez Jr. will ride Tizaqueena for the first time Saturday and break from post position seven. Tizaqueena will carry 119 pounds, three fewer than Pure Clan who has won four of six turf starts, and one fewer than Acoma, who is 2-for-2 on turf.
‘SECONDITIS’ GETTING A LITTLE OLD FOR MARGOLIS – The 2009 Spring Meet got off to a great start for trainer Steve Margolis with four winners from his first seven starters.
Five weeks later, Margolis still has four wins … to go with 13 second-place finishes, more than any conditioner on the grounds.
“My horses have been running very good, I couldn’t ask for any more,” said Margolis, who has 36 horses stabled here. “We have had some very tough beats.”
Perhaps the toughest beat Margolis had came in a May 7 allowance race when Northern Belle was nipped by the smallest of noses by Oculuna right on the wire.
“She is entered for the main track only Friday, but I think I am going to send to her to Philadelphia Park for a $200,000 stake (the Jostle) next Saturday,” Margolis said. “(Owner) Mr. (Martin) Cherry is from up there and it will give him a chance to be with his family and see the horse run, too.”
Adding to the run of bad luck for Margolis for the disqualification of Lady Chace from second to third in the May 25 Winning Colors (Grade III) and Cash Refund had the misfortune of hooking up against Capt. Candyman Can in the May 16 Matt Winn to suffer his first defeat in three starts.
Margolis is pointing Cash Refund to the $200,000 Jersey Shore (Grade III) at six furlongs at Monmouth Park on July 5.
“I hope to start turning some of these seconds and around and finish with a real good meet,” said Margolis, who sends out Wild Bushrose in Friday’s opener.
AMOSS JOINS BYRNE FOR SATURDAY’S ‘GET IN THE GAME’ SEMINAR – Trainer and television racing analyst Tom Amoss will discuss the Belmont Stakes and more when he joins Churchill Downs’ Jill Byrne for her weekly “Get in the Game” handicapping seminar on Saturday, June 6.
Amoss, a New Orleans native who is a two-time leading trainer at Churchill Downs, also serves as a racing analyst for TVG and will offer his perspective on Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird’s bid for the second jewel of the Triple Crown.
Byrne’s recent guests in the seminar have included two-time Derby-winning jockey Calvin Borel and Bennie “Chip” Woolley Jr., trainer of Mine That Bird.
MILESTONE WATCH – Trainer David Vance has two shots Friday at getting his 300th victory at Churchill Downs. Vance sends out My Little Connor in the second race and Closetoaten in the ninth.
BARN TALK – Leroidugazon became the second offspring to 2005 champion turf male Leroidesanimaux to reach the races when he ran third to stablemate Grand Slam Andre in Thursday’s seventh race. Cathy and Bob Zollars own Leroidugazon, who is trained by Steve Asmussen. Elegant Beauty is the first Leroidesanimaux to race, having finished fourth and fifth in two Calder starts last month. …
Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird is scheduled to return to Louisville at 9:30 a.m. Monday from Belmont Park. Coming on the same flight with Mine That Bird is Stephen Foster Handicap (Grade I) candidate Arson Squad.
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said that Asiatic Boy would ship to Churchill Downs on Wednesday or Thursday for the Stephen Foster, which will serve as the 6-year-old’s U.S. debut. A winner of 7 of 15 career starts, Asiatic Boy has earned more than $3 million in his career.
WORK TAB – West Point Thoroughbreds’ Macho Again, prepping for next Saturday’s $600,000 Stephen Foster Handicap, worked five furlongs in 1:00.20 over a fast track Friday morning. The move was the fastest of 18 at the distance. Macho Again won the Derby Trial (GIII) and was runner-up to Big Brown in the Preakness (GI), and took this year’s New Orleans Handicap (GIII) at Fair Grounds.