ELMONT, N.Y. – After Belmont Stakes morning-line favorite Ice Box and stablemate Fly Down schooled in the gate and galloped this morning, Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito was asked if his late closers would be closer to the pace in Saturday's 1½-mile race.
“It depends,” said Zito. “Obviously, Ice Box has a great kick. I don't want to do anything to compromise his style of running. I've seen that before, changing styles, and it never works. Never, never, never. I hope he gets in position where he can run his race; that's all we can hope for. And, basically, he and Fly Down are the same type of horse.
“I guess everyone is going to pay attention to First Dude,” he added. “He's got a good post  because he'll probably try and gallop out there. But I wouldn't change my horses' styles. I just hope my horses run the same way they have been.”
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As First Dude galloped around Belmont Park's 1½-mile oval, trainer Dale Romans did nothing to refute the perception his horse is going to the front on Saturday.
“We're definitely going to be on, or close, to the lead,” he said. “If someone wants to get out of their game and set him down inside of us, we'll let him go and sit right off.
“This horse doesn't have to be on the lead. If they let him get three-quarters in 1:14 like Seattle Slew, he'll be tough to catch. I don't think there's anyone in there that wants to sacrifice themselves and get out of their game and go chase him.”
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Interactif will break from the far outside in Saturday's Belmont Stakes, which could give his rider Javier Castellano options on where to place the Wertheimer and Frere homebred in the field of 12.
“It's a 1½-mile race, and there's an eighth of a mile run into the first turn,” his trainer Todd Pletcher said. “We'll have to secure some kind of position. On paper, First Dude (post 11) is the speed, so we hope we can just follow him over. Or maybe we'll just go to the lead.”
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Kiaran McLaughlin coveted Uptowncharlybrown since seeing the colt win his first two races by a combined 15 lengths at Tampa Bay Downs. The trainer, however, had no desire to take charge under the subsequent circumstances — the sudden death of his friend, Alan Seewald, on April 12.
“I had offered to buy the horse through Alan Seewald after his first two races,” McLaughlin said Friday morning at his Belmont barn. “I thought he might be a good 3-year-old, maybe a Derby horse.”
Seewald, the long-time New Jersey-based conditioner, had purchased Uptowncharlybrown out of an Ocala 2-year-olds in training sale in April 2009 and run him four times at Tampa, culminating with a close-up fifth-place finish in the Tampa Bay Derby in which the colt was crowded much of the race.
Five days after Seewald died on April 12, Uptowncharlybrown ran third in an emotional Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, saddled by Seewald's assistant trainer, Linda White.
All of Seewald's horses with Fantasy Lane Stable were turned over to White, but McLaughlin said a mutual friend of him and the stable's manager, Bob Hutt, suggested he call about Uptowncharlybrown.
“Being that I did make an offer on this horse might have helped me get him,” McLaughlin said.
The connections, however, were even closer: Althea Roy, the girlfriend of McLaughlin's assistant, Art Magnuson, is best friends with White and helped her saddle Uptowncharlybrown at Keeneland.
McLaughlin said he paid close attention to the race, in which Uptowncharlybrown had a slow start but was closing fast at the finish.
“I liked what I saw,” McLaughlin said. “He was the best horse making up a lot of ground, flying late. I was in the race with my own horse, Krypton.”
McLaughlin, who won the Belmont in 2006 with Jazil and finished fourth last year with Charitable Man, said he wished the race wasn't his first with Uptowncharlybrown, “so I'd learn a little from a race with him. But we're ready to go, and I think we'll get the distance.”
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Trainer Michael Maker sat serenely is his barn office Friday morning while Tom Conway, the co-owner of his Belmont entry Stately Victor, relaxed outside, catching some morning sun.
“Everything went according to schedule, and he's done everything we've asked,” Maker said of the Blue Grass winner's preparation for the final leg of the Triple Crown. “You couldn't ask for more than that.”
Conway owns the colt, a son of Ghostzapper, with his son, Jack, the Kentucky attorney general who recently won a pretty big race himself — the Democratic primary in that state May 18 for a U.S. Senate seat.
Tom Conway said he had been in town since Tuesday and marveled repeatedly at Belmont Park's beauty and grandeur. “I love it here,” he said.
Son Jack, however, is yet to make it out to the track. “He's in New York raising money,” Tom Conway said.
Alan Garcia rides Stately Victor, 15-1 in the morning line, and Maker said he has no plans to offer instructions. The jockey first took the colt's reins at Keeneland and won the Blue Grass at 40-1. In their next outing, Garcia and Stately Victor finished eighth in the Kentucky Derby after a bumpy journey.
“Alan knows the horse, and there's nothing we could tell him he doesn't already know,” Maker said.
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When Joel Rosario rides Make Music for Me in Saturday's Belmont Stakes, it will be the first time the 22-year-old jockey has competed over Belmont's expansive 1½-mile main track.
Trainer Alexis Barba is unconcerned.
“This kid is going to be a superstar,” Barba said of Rosario.
Rosario and Make Music for Me closed from last of 20 to finish fourth at 30-1 in the Kentucky Derby. On Saturday, Rosario has one other scheduled mount at Belmont Park, as he is named on Kells Blues in the third race, a maiden event on the Widener turf course.
Rosario, who rides year-round in Southern California, is currently third in the jockey standings at Hollywood Park and was the second-leading rider at Santa Anita during the meet that concluded in April.
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Horses rarely race 1½ miles on the dirt, but WinStar racing manager Elliott Walden – who saddled Victory Gallop to a Belmont Stakes win in 1998 – has been waiting for the opportunity to stretch Drosselmeyer out.
“We're really excited about the mile and a half,” Walden said of Drosselmeyer, who is trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott. “We wanted to get past the mile and an eighth threshold for a few months. We were hoping it was going to happen in the Kentucky Derby, and it didn't, so we're real excited about the Belmont.”
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To Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, it's simple.
“Either you can go that far, or you can't go that far,” he said after Belmont contender Game On Dude galloped Friday. “You can't get fit in a few days. I just want to keep him happy and fresh.”
Baffert said he is pleased with the way Game On Dude has progressed in the weeks he's had him.
“He's a very laid-back horse. He's got a good mind. He's very plain. But he's matured since I've had him, and, he gets over this track really well. It only took him one time around to get used to it.”
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Belmont long shot Stay Put galloped 1½ miles on the main track Friday morning in preparation for the Belmont Stakes. Jockey Jamie Theriot, who has ridden the homebred colt, owned by Bertram, Elaine and Richard Klein, in each of his seven races, will arrive Saturday morning, trainer Steve Margolis said.
“We will talk tomorrow,” Margolis said. “Everything went well this morning, and we're excited and looking forward to it very much. We haven't plotted out the strategy, and we'll see what the weather looks like and figure out what we want to do.”
Stay Put finished a close-up fifth in his two stakes tries and comes off an allowance victory at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day.
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John Sadler, trainer of Dave in Dixie, was scheduled to arrive in New York at 5 p.m. on Friday.
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There is no other race Larry Roman would rather win than the Belmont, and the owner believes his entrant Spangled Star could have a pedigree edge over his 11 opponents.
Roman noted how his long shot colt has the highest Tomlinson pedigree rating (386) for the 1½-mile distance in this year's Belmont field, but he also knows genetics are often inexact science.
“My mother was beautiful and my father was handsome, and look at how I turned out,” quipped Roman.
Spangled Star is by Distorted Humor, the sire of Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Funny Cide. His dam Spangled won twice going 1 1/8 miles on the turf and is by Kris S., a notable stamina influence. The horse with the second highest Tomlinson in the field is First Dude with a 352.
Roman, a graduate of nearby Hofstra University, will be accompanied by 16 guests on Saturday.
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