Based most of the year in Kentucky and Louisiana, trainer Dallas Stewart is right at home in New York. For the fourth straight year and sixth time in his career, the former assistant to Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas finds himself at Belmont Park in June with a contender in the Belmont Stakes.
This year, for the first time, Stewart has two runners entered in Charles Fipke homebreds Seeking the Soul and Forever d'Oro, who will break side by side from post 7 and 8, respectively, in Saturday's 1 ½-mile ‘Test of the Champion.'
Both horses had routine gallops early Friday morning over Belmont Park's main track.
“All is well,” Stewart said. “We're sitting on go.”
The 13-horse field is the second-largest in the last 20 years of the Belmont, topped only by the 14 that ran in 2013, the last time a horse didn't arrive in New York with Triple Crown aspirations.
“They're good posts. They'll be easier to see. I'd rather be right there than way on the outside,” Stewart said. “The less distance over a mile and a half that you have to run might be better. A mile and a half plus 20 yards might get you beat.”
Forever d'Oro has been at Belmont since breaking his maiden going 1 1/16 miles May 29. Seeking the Soul, a one-mile maiden winner the same day at Churchill Downs, arrived from Kentucky Tuesday afternoon.
“We just had to talk about it with Mr. Fipke. He's the one that's got to put the money up,” Stewart said. “We have to see how the horses are doing. They appear to be doing fine, as good as they were a few weeks ago. We're turning back in two weeks; that's when the race is, right? That was pretty much my thinking on that.”
The Belmont will be the stakes debut for both Seeking the Soul and Forever d'Oro, each listed at 30-1 on the morning line, sharing the highest odds in the field with likely pacesetter Gettysburg and Grade 1-placed Trojan Nation.
“I don't think it's a stretch,” Stewart said. “It's all a stretch until you run them, whether you're the favorite or 30-1. I don't sit around and wait until I'm even-money to run. If I think the horse is doing good and I think they've got the right pedigree for the race [I'll run]. I hope that's the case. You can't be afraid and not run.”
Stewart's best Belmont finish came when he was fourth with Dollar Bill in his 2001 debut. He was ninth with Kentucky Derby runner-up Commanding Curve in 2014 and seventh with Preakness runner-up Tale of Verve last year, both as outsiders.
“I know both of these horses can run,” Stewart said. “Are they ready to win the Belmont? We'll have to find out.”
In addition to the Belmont, Stewart has Grade 1 winner Forever Unbridled, Forever d'Oro's 4-year-old half-sister, in the Grade 1, $1 million Ogden Phipps, and Tom's Ready in the Grade 2, $500,000 Woody Stephens on the Belmont undercard.
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