Trainer Kenny McPeek was on hand Monday morning at Belmont Park as Fern Circle Stable's Grade 3 Lexington winner Senior Investment got back to the track following a routine walk day on Sunday.
Senior Investment, who hit the board with a third-place finish at 31-1 in the Preakness, is scheduled to turn in his final breeze for the Belmont Stakes Tuesday morning, said McPeek, who saddled Sarava to a 70-1 upset of the 2002 Belmont Stakes.
“He looks good, he had a nice gallop this morning,” he said. “I'm probably going to work him just an easy half tomorrow. It's a similar routine that worked for us with Sarava.”
Senior Investment, a chestnut colt by Discreetly Mine, will be McPeek's sixth Belmont starter, and the first for Fern Circle Stable and jockey Channing Hill.
“Anytime you can position yourself to where you've got a chance in one of these big races, it's exciting,” McPeek said. “It's not easy, but he's a good horse and he's improving. I think he'll handle the distance really, really well. We're going to fire away.
“On the gallop-out in the Preakness, he made up even more [ground on the leaders] and that's kind of his style,” he added. “The hard part in this race will be how the pace unfolds and whether it works for him or against him, but he's a horse that will keep going and going, and hopefully he can outgallop them.”
Classic Empire, the expected favorite for the 149th Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets, had another aggressive 1 1/2-mile gallop at pre-dawn Monday under exercise rider Martin Rivera at Churchill Downs.
“He looked really good, so we leave first thing in the morning,” said Norman Casse, who runs the Churchill operation for his dad, trainer Mark Casse. “It's basically what you want to see a horse doing when they come into a race like this. You don't want them to be lethargic. You want them to show energy, show you're holding them together, trying to slow them down. And that's the way he looked.”
Mark Casse said the well-documented issues that last year's 2-year-old champion had over the winter – foot bruise, back soreness, not wanting to work – now could play in their favor. The setbacks that followed in the wake of a third-place finish in Gulfstream Park's Grade 2 Holy Bull forced Classic Empire's camp to back off, skip Gulfstream's Grade 2 Fountain of Youth and wait until the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby on April 15, which he won.
Now, in spite of an eventful Triple Crown that saw him finish fourth in the Kentucky Derby after a brutal trip and then lose the Preakness by a head, Classic Empire is a relatively fresh horse heading into the 1 1/2-mile Belmont.
“If he had run more early winter, maybe he wouldn't be as good as he is right now,” Casse said. “Sometimes the road to where you want to go is not always the easiest road. But if you end up liking where you're at … and that's where we are right now.”
Grade 3 Illinois Derby winner Multiplier had an easy morning Monday, jogging once around the main track at Churchill Downs ahead of his next engagement in Saturday's Belmont Stakes.
Multiplier has been at Churchill since Sunday after putting in a half-mile breeze in 48.60 seconds Saturday at Keeneland for trainer Brendan Walsh. The gray or roan son of The Factor is scheduled to be on a flight early Tuesday morning headed for New York.
“I sent him to Churchill because they're going out of Louisville tomorrow and I didn't want to add another two-hour trip on a van to the flight and everything as it was,” Walsh said. “It was just easier to have him at Churchill, and he's so adaptable anyway.”
Joining Multiplier on the Tex Sutton flight from Louisville to Long Island's MacArthur Airport in Islip will be fellow Belmont contenders Classic Empire, the expected favorite, and J Boys Echo. Assistant trainer Tom Molloy will look after Multiplier at Belmont until Walsh arrives for training Friday.
“He should be there around lunchtime tomorrow,” Walsh said. “He'll just gallop away there for the first few mornings. We'll probably bring him out there Wednesdaymorning and back him up to the mile pole and just gallop him around nearly a full circle.”
Multiplier was purchased privately by the partnership of Gary Barber, Adam Wachtel and George Kerr prior to the May 20 Preakness, where he gained ground late to be sixth, beaten less than six lengths. Joel Rosario, aboard in the Preakness, gets a return call in the Belmont.
“He's doing great. I'm delighted with him,” Walsh said. “He worked great on Saturday and he's in really good shape, as good a shape as he can be in, so we're really looking forward to it.”
Albaugh Family Stables' J Boys Echo will be the ninth Belmont Stakes runner trained by Dale Romans, who has an unusual statistic in the Triple Crown finale. Four of his prior eight starters finished third, his best finish to date. Romans' first two Belmont horses were third: the maiden Nolan's Cat in 2005 and First Dude in 2010, followed by Medal Count in 2014 and Keen Ice, who later handed 2015 Triple Crown American Pharoah his only defeat that year in Saratoga's Travers Stakes.
“It's not Woody Stephens' record, but it's an odd record,” Romans said, in reference to his lifelong idol, the late Hall of Fame trainer, who won five Belmonts in a row from 1982-86. “I sure would love to move up a notch or two. I think you just have to have a little more horse, and hopefully we're taking the right one up there.”
J Boys Echo jogged a mile Monday morning at Churchill Downs after a day off following Saturday's five-furlong workout in a minute. He will fly to New York early Tuesday.
“It's going to be a big field of horses, a lot of good horses,” Romans said of the Belmont. “You might not have the two marquee names out there right now [Derby winner Always Dreaming and Preakness victor Cloud Computing], but you might have some horses who will be marquee names by the fall. I think a lot of people would like to say they were there when that horse had its breakthrough race, so people should show up. A star could be born. Maybe it's J Boy.
“It's a hard race to predict,” he added. “Unless there's a stone-cold standout, it's such an outlier for what horses have done or will do again. It's definitely a great race, and hard to win. Hard to have the right kind of horse.”
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