Belmont Stakes Notes

Gal trainer eyes hers-toric win at Belmont Stakes


Eight women have tried without success to train the winner of the Belmont Stakes, but the ninth shooter could prove the charm when Alexis Barba saddles Make Music for Me in Saturday's 142nd running.

The closest any woman has gotten to the winner's circle was Dianne Carpenter, who saddled the 17-1 shot Kingpost to get second behind Risen Star in 1988. But if the oddsmakers are any guide, Barba might have the best chance of all with her Music man.

In the lush quiet and beauty and space of the Belmont backstretch, Barba stood back yesterday, looked around her and said, "This place is awesome. The grounds are so beautiful."

She might also have been speaking of her horse. Few colts have come to New York's great classic with a background anything like Make Music for Me.

Barba launched the colt's career in a maiden special at Hollywood Park last July, when he finished fourth. She promptly ran him back in a bunch of graded stakes, getting two seconds and a third.
The scoreboard: six races as a 2-year-old, four in graded company, no wins -- but three of them right on the heels of a colt named Lookin At Lucky, who would go on to win the Preakness.

After a rest, Barba returned Music to the races in March. In a maiden? Not likely. She sent him in a grass stakes at Santa Anita. Hello. He won it, so he broke his maiden in a stake.

She then shipped him to Keeneland for the Blue Grass, which he detested, then into the Kentucky Derby, where he ran the best race of his life, to come from dead last, 28 lengths behind, to grab fourth at 30-1, beaten by less than five.

We are familiar with D. Wayne Lukas' strategy of tossing promising young horses early into the deep end to test their mettle, but he is the soul of caution next to Barba.

"We ran Music in those graded races because he has so much talent," she said. "I've been around a lot of good horses, but he showed me right from the beginning how good he was."
To date, he has not fulfilled the potential. He still has won only one race, but he has earned more than $362,000, a nice return on the $95,000 purchase price.

"I had him just right on Derby day and knew he was going to run a big race," Barba said. "I was thrilled to hit the board."

She skipped the Preakness, preferring the Belmont. She shipped him to New York on May 17 to get him accustomed to Belmont's demanding sandy track. Six days later, she drilled him a mile in 1:43.3. Over the weekend, he fired a bullet five furlongs in 1:01.2 on the training track.

Like nearly everyone else in town, Barba does not know what to make of this Belmont.

"We hope to win it, but I can't even guess how it is going to unfold," she said. "It's a funny race on pace. Very tricky.

"First Dude may go to the lead, but how far can he go? Nobody knows who can get the [mile and a half] distance. All I know is that it's tough to get our horse tired."

The only time Music has run on a dirt track was in the Derby -- and that was a slush pile. He still has not run over a fast dirt surface.

Barba, a 57-year-old Californian, learned much of the business working for the late Eddie Gregson for 20 years. She has been running her own operation for 10 years. She has nine horses in her care now, including another top 3-year-old, Alphie's Bet, who won the $200,000 Snow Chief at Santa Anita in April.

But Music is the man of her hour. He's aptly named. He's by Bernstein, after Leonard Bernstein. If he can win the million-dollar Belmont, it's going to be one sweet tune all around.


Preakness runner-up could give Romans his first classic


The old powerhouse training brigade -- Todd Pletcher, Bob Baffert and Nick Zito -- have dominated the Triple Crown trail leading up to Saturday's grand finale, the 142d Belmont Stakes.
Between them, they have won the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, the Florida Derby, the Wood Memorial, the Louisiana Derby, the Lone Star Derby, the Dwyer, the Fountain of Youth -- and finished second in the Derby and third in the Preakness. They seem to own the franchise.

But not quite. Sandwiched between them and lost in the shuffle is a relative newcomer to the classics, Kentucky trainer Dale Romans, who is having the season of his life. He punched home a nifty third in the Derby with Paddy O'Prado, and went within an inch of springing the biggest upset of the season with 23-1 shot First Dude in the Preakness.

In this Belmont, Dale's the male with a tale -- and the horse who could upset them all.
He has brought First Dude to New York to go the mile and a half around the big old sandy track at Belmont, and if he does not start favorite, he won't be far behind.

Romans, 43, has been around for more than 20 years. He has won a fistful of training titles at Churchill Downs, Keeneland and Turfway Park. He won the Dubai World Cup in 2005 with Roses in May and took home an Eclipse Award when Kitten's Joy was crowned the male turf horse of the year in 2004. He has won a bunch of stakes in New York, including the Whitney.

But when it comes to the classics, he's strictly a greenhorn. He ran a horse in the Derby in 2006, Sharp Humor, at 30-1, who dribbled home 19th in a field of 20. He has started one horse in the Belmont, Nolan's Cat, a 20-1 shot, who limped home third, 14 lengths behind the winner, Afleet Alex.

This year is different. He's got First Dude, a huge (17 hands) colt who seemed to come from Mars to give Lookin At Lucky the race -- and fright -- of his life in the Preakness.

Starting from the impossible Post 11, jockey Ramon Dominguez, gunned First Dude out of the gate to grab the lead, which he had never before held in six starts. They burned the stopwatch, flying a half in 46 seconds and change and six furlongs in 1:11.1.

At the top of the stretch, First Dude had a license to quit. Instead, he kept flying and it took all of Lucky's grit and talent to beat him to the wire by less than a length.

It earned First Dude a Beyer speed fig of 101 -- the highest in the Belmont field. Ice Box is on 100.

Because First Dude went into the Preakness with just one win, a maiden special, his performance stunned the betting fraternity. Not Dale Romans.

"He's always trained like a top-shelf horse," Romans said. "He had some problems in his previous races, the Florida Derby and the Blue Grass, but I thought that if he got a clean trip in the Preakness, he'd be a force to be reckoned with."
So much so that in the NBC-TV broadcast of the Preakness, which concentrated on Romans' other horse, Paddy O'Prado, Romans warned viewers not to be surprised if First Dude "ran big."
Romans told Dominguez to get the lead if he could. Get the lead? He just cruised there and was never challenged again, until Lucky loomed in the final furlong.

First Dude appears the big speed, if not the only speed, in the Belmont, a huge advantage in a marathon race where tactical speed is historically much superior to late speed.

"He doesn't have to be on the lead," Romans said. "It will depend on how the race sets up. We'll leave that up to Ramon. We keep thinking the Belmont's mile and a half will be right up his alley.
"We think the Preakness was his breakthrough race," he said. "He came out of it great. He's showing no signs of being tired."

There's the rub. If his Preakness drained him, you can forget First Dude. But if it has moved him forward, he could be the horse to beat.


Zito heads to Belmont with two legit contenders


Hall-of-Fame trainer Nick Zito has become "Mr. Belmont’ ever since he saddled his first runner in the Belmont Stakes, Morning Bob, who ran third in 1984. In the intervening years, Zito has started 21 more horses in the mile-and-a-half "Test of the Champion," earning a bridesmaid's reputation with five second-place finishes before he finally reached the altar with Birdstone in 2004.

Birdstone, at 36-1, squelched the Triple Crown bid of Smarty Jones. Likewise, Zito won the Belmont again in 2008 with 38-1 Da' Tara, who trounced Triple Crown flop Big Brown.

So in the 142nd Belmont Stakes this Saturday at Belmont Park, Zito finds himself in the unusual situation of saddling not a 30-1 outsider, but two of the top three betting choices.

He trains Ice Box, the hard-luck runner-up in the Kentucky Derby, and Fly Down, the runaway winner of the May 8 Dwyer (formerly the Peter Pan, Belmont Park's traditional Belmont prep).

Three days after Ice Box fired a bullet four-furlong blowout in 46.65 seconds over Saratoga's Oklahoma training track, Zito sent out Fly Down yesterday to zip a half-mile at Oklahoma in a best-of-the-day 47.50 seconds. The son of Mineshaft galloped out five furlongs in 1:01.15.
"He looked pretty good to me this morning," said Zito, who will be saddling a multiple entry in the Belmont for the seventh time. "The main thing is, he came home good and looked good doing it. That's all you can ask. I'm pretty happy about everything and hope we get a good week, that's all."

After Derby winners Strike the Gold, the 2-1 favorite in 1991, and Go for Gin, the 3-2 second choice in 1994, Ice Box figures to be the shortest-priced horse Zito has run in the Belmont.

"You have to put everything in proper perspective," he said. "As long as they look good, as long as they run good, come back good, hit the board, whatever. And if they win, obviously, you have to thank your lucky stars."







Last Race


Dave in Dixie

Calvin Borel



5th in Illinois Derby 4/03


Spangled Star

Garrett Gomez

Dutrow, Jr.


3rd in Withers 4/24



Rajiv Maragh



3rd in Lexington Stakes 4/17


Make Music for Me

Joel Rosario



4th in Kentucky Derby 5/01


Fly Down

John Velazquez



1st in Dwyer Stakes 5/08


Ice Box

Jose Lezcano



2nd in Kentucky Derby 5/01



Mike Smith



2nd in Dwyer 5/08


Game On Dude

Martin Garcia



1st in Lone Star Derby 5/08


Stately Victor

Alan Garcia



1st in Blue Grass Stakes 4/10


Stay Put

Jamie Theriot



1st in Alw at Churchill 5/01


First Dude

Ramon Dominguez



2nd in Preakness 5/15



Javier Castellano



4th in Blue Grass Stakes 4/10


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