Because it will not be run at Belmont Park, for the first time since 1904, this week's 95th running of the Belmont Stakes at Aqueduct is being referred to by racetrack wags as either the Belduct or the Aquemont. Nevertheless, it is still serious business to its participants. The Belmont, no matter where it takes place, is at the European classic distance of a mile and a half, and the winner is likely to be crowned the year's 3-year-old champion: a runner of proven ability and a sought-after stud.
The Belmont's heavy favorite is sure to be Rex Ellsworth's Candy Spots. He has lost only once in his life, to Chateau-gay in the Kentucky Derby. Since then he has come back brilliantly to beat Chateaugay in the Preakness, and last week he won his fourth $100,000 race of the year (bringing his total earnings to $555,-527) by beating Maine Chance Farm's Get Around in the mile-and-an-eighth Jersey Derby at Garden State. Some thought Candy Spots should have won more impressively in the Jersey than he did, but Trainer Mesh Tenney is satisfied. "He ran his usual race, I thought," said Tenney later. "Bill [Shoemaker] saw Howard Grant coming up on Get Around in the far turn and yelled over, 'Where you going, jock?' and then just let out a rap on Candy Spots."
It has been said that the Belmont beats many a good horse because it beats many a trainer. This should not apply to Tenney and Candy Spots. Tenney feels strongly that a mile and a half should be to Candy Spots's advantage, because "he's done all his running in the late stages of his races."
Tenney also has no qualms about training for this classic distance. "I don't like to work a horse hard or long," he says, "and I never work him farther than a mile. A horse runs his distance on conformation and breeding, and no conditioning helps him beyond a mile. I really believe that if you get a horse dead fit to run three-quarters of a mile he'll go as far as he can." Tenney, without ever working his horses more than a mile, won the mile-and-three-quarters San Juan Capistrano with Olden Times and twice won the mile-and-five-eighths Sunset, with Swaps and Prove It.
Another fit horse this Saturday, says Trainer Jimmy Conway, will be Darby Dan's Chateaugay. "Between the Preakness and the Belmont he'll have had four works in three weeks, and the little time he's had away from racing has done him some good. He was slow to get his run going in the Preakness, and once he did it wasn't as good a run as we expected." Neither Conway nor Owner John W. Galbreath doubts Chateaugay's ability to go the distance, but they may surprise the field by running Ornamento as part of an entry.
Maine Chance Farm's trainer, George Poole, is hesitant about sending Get Around out to tackle Candy Spots in the longer race. But George D. Widener's Top Gallant, Greentree's Outing Class (the stable is in top form) and C. V. Whitney's Tom Cat are probable starters. One trainer who is not embarrassed about showing his hand is Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons. "I hope to start Wheatley Stable's Insurrection in there to see what he can do," he says.
Running the race at smaller Aqueduct means the Belmont will start midway around the far turn. The gate will probably be drawn to the outside rail to give the field as straight a starting run as possible. Still, this hasn't noticeably depressed any of the Belmont trainers. And, as usual, Fitzsimmons had the sagest observations to make: "Remember, for years and years they used to start the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup on the turn at Belmont Park and I don't think anybody ever got too upset over it. If you've got the horse the start doesn't matter." Ellsworth and Tenney seem to have the horse again.