The field for next Saturday’s Belmont Stakes continues to evolve with contenders coming and going almost as fast as children jumping in and getting out of chilly backyard pools that opened over the Memorial Day weekend.
Conquest Curlinate became the latest 3-year-old whose connections are opting not to try American Pharoah in his final quest to become racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner. He followed War Story, who dropped out earlier this week.
The field gained a potential starter when Ken McPeek said he planned to run The Truth of Else in the 147th running of the Belmont. So as of about 6 p.m. Thursday it’s looking like a field of 10 for the final jewel of the Triple Crown.
Here’s the scoop from the communications teams at the New York Racing Association and Churchill Downs.
American Pharoah jogs, Conquest Curlinate out
Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner American Pharoah returned to the Churchill Downs racetrack Thursday morning for a once-around clockwise jog around the 1-mile oval.
The 3-year-old, preparing for a sweep of the Triple Crown in the 147th running of the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes June 6, walked around Barn 33 Wednesday after breezing a half-mile in :48 the day before.
“He felt great, no different,” said exercise rider Jorge Alvarez. “He’s a running machine; all he wants to do is run. When we go to a different track, nothing changes. He doesn’t have to take his racetrack with him. He’ll run on anything.”
Jimmy Barnes, assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, also was pleased with how Zayat Stables’ homebred jogged during Churchill’s special training session exclusive to Belmont Stakes contenders.
“From what we saw I thought he looked very good,” said Barnes, who rode Baffert’s pony Smokey alongside American Pharoah during the exercise. “He jogged almost every step of the way and felt strong. He looked super good. I’ve been asked just about every question so far except for the big one: ‘Can he do it?’ and I think that he can.”
Barnes said American Pharoah is scheduled to resume galloping Friday at 8:30 a.m.
Baffert, who was in town for Tuesday’s workout, is scheduled to return to Louisville from his Southern California base Saturday night. Baffert said Tuesday that American Pharoah could work Sunday or Monday. Barnes speculated on Thursday that Sunday at 8:30 a.m. is the more likely of the two options.
In other Belmont news, Conquest Stables’ Conquest Curlinate has been withdrawn from consideration.
Norman Casse, assistant to his father Mark, said that the horse did not have high energy Thursday morning and simply wasn’t training in his normal manner.
“It isn’t a soundness issue,” Norman Casse said. “He just wasn’t training the way that we wanted him.”
The Ontario-bred son of Curlin instead will be pointed to the $1 million Queen’s Plate July 5, a race that his stablemate Danzig Moon, fifth in the Kentucky Derby, also is targeting.
Donegal Racing’s Keen Ice, who breezed 6 furlongs in 1:13.60 Wednesday, walked around the shedrow of trainer Dale Romans’ barn Thursday.
The Truth of Else enters the Belmont fray for McPeek
Trainer Kenny McPeek, who upset War Emblem’s bid for a Triple Crown with Sarava in 2002, said Thursday morning that he will more than likely point The Truth or Else towards the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes.
The Truth or Else, who had picked up 11 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby earlier this year, is coming out of a 1 1/2-length allowance victory May 22 at Belmont, which according to McPeek was a major deciding factor heading into the Belmont.
“My horse loves the Belmont track,” McPeek said. “He has two starts and two wins on a dry track at Belmont. And he’s out of a Colonial Affair mare [Lakenheath] so he should get the distance. His last race was a confidence builder. He got a good time and an excellent speed figure. His last two races have set him up for this. He really needed to win his last race, which he did.”
The chestnut son of Yes It’s True is owned in partnership with McPeek and New Jersey natives Harold and Helen Lerner.
“The owners are from the area, which makes the race even more special,” he said.
McPeek also trained Atigun, who finished third in the 2012 edition; Unstoppable U, sixth in 2012; Frac Daddy, 14th in 2013, and Pineaff, ninth in 1999.
“He’s just a really solid horse,” McPeek said. “The Truth or Else is bigger and stronger than both Sarava and Atigun. Weird things happen in the Belmont. You shouldn’t duck one horse in a race. American Pharoah could possibly not handle the surface. You don’t know. So long as it’s a dry track, we’ll pull the trigger.”
McPeek said that two-time Belmont Stakes winner and Hall of Famer Edgar Prado will have the mount.
Working, shipping plans for Belmont contenders
American Pharoah is scheduled to arrive at Belmont Park Tuesday, along with fellow Belmont contender Keen Ice. Coming down from Saratoga Race Course will be Frammento, trained by Hall of Famer Nick Zito, who won the Belmont in 2004 with Birdstone and again in 2008 with Da’ Tara, both times upsetting Triple Crown hopefuls.
Scheduled to breeze Friday morning for their upcoming roles in the Belmont are the Todd Pletcher trio of Madefromlucky, Materiality and Carpe Diem; the Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Frosted, and Preakness runner-up Tale of Verve for trainer Dallas Stewart.
Mubtaahij is set to work once more this weekend before galloping up to the race.