The Belmont is usually the least publicized of the Triple Crown races, but for horsemen it is the premier event on the Thoroughbred calendar. The reasons are simple: it is the longest classic race for 3-year-olds (a mile and a half) and is run over the country's finest racing surface. Belmont's track has a fluffy three-inch cushion that is not doctored to suit any particular horse. The winner in this Saturday's race will be the fittest 3-year-old in action, brought to that condition by expert training.
Each Belmont starter must be ready to exploit everything that breeding has put into him. Over long weeks his latent ability should have been slowly developed so that it will reach its peak on the day of the race. "To train a winner of the Belmont Stakes," says Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, the only living man to have trained six of them, "a man must have a way with a horse and not let the horse have its way with the man."
This Belmont may draw as many as 12 entries or as few as seven. In the field will be Decidedly, the winner of the Kentucky Derby, and Greek Money, victor in the Preakness. Oddly enough this will mark only the sixth time in 55 years that winners of the other two Triple Crown races have met to help dispute the Belmont. They will be joined by Jaipur, Crimson Satan, Admiral's Voyage, David K. and, possibly, Vimy Ridge, Daddy R., Roman Line, Green Hornet, Stinson Beach and Cyrano. Some of these horses have survived a demanding campaign that began in early winter at Hialeah or Santa Anita. Others were rested until spring for their assault on the rich 3-year-old purses. Some horsemen believe the way to a Belmont win is through racing hard and often; some don't. "It is my theory," says Johnny Nerud, who trained Gallant Man perfectly to win the 1957 Belmont, "that you can't dance every dance in the winter and spring and still win the Belmont."
This year's field comprises not only a diversified lot of runners but a colorful, successful and varied group of trainers. Decidedly's trainer, Horatio Luro, a 61-year-old Argentine, has long been one of the delights of the stable area. He rides to workouts on a stable pony, sometimes in chamois, sometimes in tweeds, but always in a cap. Luro resembles a Latin lover sent to the lot of a grade B movie by Central Casting and is known around the racetracks as The Good Se�or. He went to Europe when he was 10, accompanying his father, who owned and bred horses, then came to this country to stay in 1940. Two years later he claimed Princequillo for $2,500 and with him won the Jockey Club Gold Cup in 1943. Luro saddled seven horses for seven stakes at Saratoga in 1947 and won them all, including a stunning victory over Stymie and Gallorette with Rico Monte.
Luro takes lightly the excellent time of Decidedly's Kentucky Derby win. "I care only about the competition. My horse, he was a fit horse. That day, when I take him to the races, he does not know he is going to run until they play My Old Kentucky Home." After working Decidedly seven furlongs for the Belmont recently, Luro smiled and said, "It was a nice leetle work but seven furlongs is only the appetizer."
A few days later Luro worked Decidedly a good mile and a quarter and pronounced his colt ready to run the race of his life. "I throw out his Preakness race [in which Decidedly finished eighth], or I wouldn't be running him in the Belmont," says Luro.
Thoughts on strategy
The same day that Decidedly worked in preparation for the Belmont, Preakness winner Greek Money spun a mile and a quarter under Johnny Rotz in 2:04[2/5] It was, according to another veteran Belmont Stakes trainer, Max Hirsch, one of the best works he's ever seen on that track. Later, when discussing strategy, Trainer Buddy Raines suggested that it would be Roman Line (if he goes) and Jaipur who will set the pace. "And I'll let Rotz do what he wants," said Raines. "The rider wins the Belmont anyway. I saw Arcaro win when everyone else took back, and Jaipur could do the same thing if everyone takes back from him." As for Rotz, he says he'd like to lay fourth or fifth for the first part of it. "But," he adds, "if the pace is too slow, I'll go right up with the leaders."
Raines is a man who will dance all night himself but uses his horses sparingly. His only previous Belmont starter was Greek Money's sire, Greek Song, who finished fourth in 1950. Raines went with horses when he was 10 years old. "I didn't have any education and the horses were a good life," he says. "I used to be out on the frying-pan circuit in Oklahoma. The only way you could cook anything was to stand with a fryin' pan in your hand and an egg in the pan. You'd catch some sagebrush, and by the time you lit it and cooked the egg, the brush would roll eight miles up the road from where you started."
Raines wanted to be a rider. He once galloped the mighty Cavalcade but, by his own admission, "I was a bad jockey." He is famous for wearing flat gray hats that give him the appearance of Hiram Hayshaker. "I wear these hats," he says, "for two reasons. The first is they go with anything you wear, and the second is that they don't cost very much."