Field still strong at Belmont

RICHARD MAUNTAH, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:51 PM ET

ELMONT, N.Y. - What do we do?

Horse racing has lost its latest meal ticket. Those who travelled to this cavernous venue in the outskirts of America’s largest metropolis will watch a race their hearts just aren’t into anymore.

Those who have patiently waited 34 years and those not old enough to have seen Affirmed win the last U.S. Triple Crown will have to wait at least another year.

So what do we do?

Horse racing, a centuries-old sport that is dying by the day, basked in the spotlight of an owner who began his association with the game campaigning standardbreds at Windsor Raceway, a trainer who may not have the cleanest past, but embodies everyone who gets up before sunrise to make the sport work, and a jockey of rural Mexican roots who cut his teeth trying in vain to win the British Columbia Derby, but instead won the Kentucky Derby.

So what do we do? What we’ve always done, through every disappointment, through every setback, in times when 10,000 people crammed the betting windows and in times when tracks needed slot machines to stay afloat.

We move on.

We still have a Grade 1, $1-million (U.S.) race on this 11/2-mile circumference on the edge of Long Island on Saturday, the history of which contains some of the best horses the sport has seen. And someone’s name has to be added to the list, even if it isn’t this year’s Derby and Preakness winner.

Will that name be Dullahan, who inherits the favourite’s role? His detractors say he just passed tired horses in the Derby. That means he has good stamina. Stamina in the Belmont Stakes is a good thing.

Perhaps it’s Union Rags, who went to the Derby as the favourite and who made a dazzling run to win the Champagne Stakes on this track as a two-year-old. His critics say sons of Dixie Union can’t get this distance. But this is still a very tough and talented runner who still finished seventh in the Derby after taking more shots than an MMA fighter. A clean trip could bring out the real Rags. Both main contenders had eye-catching workouts last weekend.

What about Paynter, son of Canadian star Awesome Again? Hard to get excited about a Pimlico allowance race, but the Bob Baffert trainee does appear to be an improving runner and a fresh horse as well, something that will come into play as the distance starts to take its toll.

Street Life is given a shot off his last-to-third effort in the Peter Pan on the same track. But he may need some pace to run at and that could be missing here.

The rest would have paid a big price on the toteboard and may have received a passing glance among handicappers, but are now worth a closer look.

Optimizer is back again. His Derby and Preakness efforts both feature trouble lines, so a clean run could help the D. Wayne Lukas pupil.

My Adonis was the odd horse out of the Kentucky Derby due to his lack of graded stakes earnings, so he went to Pimlico and finished third in a minor stake on the same day. His only notable win was an ungraded stake at Delta Downs.

Unstoppable U and Atigun’s trainer Ken McPeek gets attention as he was the architect of the Sarava upset after War Emblem stumbled in the 2002 edition. Though he only has run twice, Unstoppable U could be the controlling pacesetter and get away with soft fractions. Atigun looks like he can run all day, but hasn’t got the job done when facing significant company.

Ravelo’s Boy hasn’t run since the Tampa Bay Derby. Five Sixteen also comes off a long layoff. Guyana Star Dweej has a single win in nine starts. Even with Friday’s developments, they will likely be footnotes by tomorrow evening.

Former jockey Richard Migliore, who now works on the television side of things, put Friday’s turn of events in proper perspective.

“You know what? This isn’t a tragedy,” he said. “We’re all disappointed because we’d all like to see a Triple Crown. But it’s not the end of the world.”

And with that, we move on.

REVISED MORNING LINE FOR THE 144th BELMONT STAKES

1. Street Life (Chad Brown/Jose Lezcano) 8-1

2. Unstoppable U (Ken McPeek/Junior Alvarado) 20-1

3. Union Rags (Michael Matz/John Velazquez) 3-1

4. Atigun (Ken McPeek/Julien Leparoux) 15-1

5. Dullahan (Dale Romans/Javier Castellano) 9-5

6. Ravelo’s Boy (Manuel Azpurua/Alex Solis) 30-1

7. Five Sixteen (Dominick Schettino/Rosie Napravnik) 30-1

8. Guyana Star Dweej (Doodnauth Shivmangal/Kent Desormeaux) 30-1

9. Paynter (Bob Baffert/Mike Smith) 7-2

10. Optimizer (D. Wayne Lukas/Corey Nakatani) 15-1

11. I’ll Have Another - SCR

12. My Adonis (Kelly Breen/Ramon Dominguez) 15-1


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