Focused on first
Two trainers have second thoughts about Belmont stakes
NEW YORK (AP) -- You can't blame trainers Nick Zito and Bob Baffert for having second thoughts about the Belmont Stakes.
"The Belmont for me is a hard race to grasp," Zito said. "I see the horse running second."
Zito, of course, thinks A P Valentine can give him his first Belmont victory Saturday, but second-place finishes in the final race of Triple Crown have to be on his mind.
In nine previous Belmonts, Zito has seen four of his starters finish second, including Kentucky Derby winners Strike the Gold, by a head in 1991, and Go For Gin, by two lengths in 1994.
While A P Valentine has won only an allowance race this year, he did finish second in the Preakness, and he won both of his starts at Belmont Park last year, including a 1 3/4-length score over Point Given in the Champagne.
Baffert will try for his first Belmont victory with Preakness winner Point Given, who finished fifth in the Kentucky Derby.
It will be the third Belmont favorite for Baffert, but the other two both finished second -- Silver Charm by three-quarters of a length in 1997 and Real Quiet by a nose in 1998. Both colts had been bidding to become a Triple Crown champion.
"Real Quiet getting beat on the wire [by Victory Gallop] was disappointing," Baffert said. "You sort of forget about your Derby wins when that happens.
Point Given will try to become the first Belmont favorite to win since his sire, Thunder Gulch, did it in 1995.
To do it, he will have to beat eight other 3-year-olds, including Monarchos, the Kentucky Derby winner, who was sixth in the Preakness and is the early second choice at 5-2. A P Valentine is the third pick at 5-1.
Others entered Wednesday for the 1 1/2-mile Belmont were Dollar Bill, Invisible Ink, Thunder Blitz, Balto Star, Buckle Down Ben and Dr Greenfield.
Dollar Bill finished 15th in the Derby, then rebounded to be fourth in the Preakness. Invisible Ink hasn't raced since finishing second in the Derby. Thunder Blitz also will be racing for the first time since finishing fourth in the Derby.
Balto Star, a front-running winner of the Arkansas Derby, suffered heat exhaustion while finishing 14th in the Kentucky Derby, then skipped the Preakness. Buckle Down Ben has not won a stakes this year, but he did win the Laurel Futurity last year. Dr Greenfield will be making his U.S. debut.
Buckle Down Ben is trained by D. Wayne Lukas, without a starter in the Derby or Preakness this year. This will be Lukas' 80th starter in his 52nd Triple Crown race. The trainer has won 13 of them, including four Belmonts.
The Irish-bred Dr Greenfield won three of four career starts in Britain. One of them was a one-mile maiden stakes last year on the dirt.
The field is a solid one. Only Invisible Ink among the U.S.-based horses has not won a graded stakes. The other seven have a total of 14 graded-stakes wins, six of them in Grade I -- Point Given in the Hollywood Futurity, Santa Anita Derby and Preakness; Monarchos in the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby; and A P Valentine in the Champagne.
"Just my luck to be in the toughest crop of 3-year-olds in 25 years," said John Ward, trainer of Monarchos.
While giving Point Given his due, Ward also thinks A P Valentine is a horse to watch.
"Nick has been playing catchup," Ward said.
After winning the Champagne, A P Valentine, a son of 1992 Belmont winner A.P. Indy and grandson of 1977 Triple Crown champion Seattle Slew, finished 14th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, in which he bucked his shins.
Zito started A P Valentine for the first time as a 3-year-old in an allowance race Feb. 17, finishing third. Not ready for the Florida Derby, the colt won an allowance March 24, then finished fifth in the Blue Grass Stakes April 14. He finished seventh in the Kentucky Derby, where he had serious traffic problems, then closed well to finished second 2 1/4 lengths behind Point Given in the Preakness.
"Nick is where the rest of us were going into the Kentucky Derby," Ward said. "He probably has a horse that is peaking right now."