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2009 Belmont contender Dunkirk poses on the Belmont Park backstretch Sunday morning.

Photos courtesy of Nancy Rokos

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  • 2009 Belmont Weekend Workout Photos

    Date: 05/31/2009

    The weekend of May 30 and 31, five contenders for the 2009 Belmont Stakes (G1) were on the track at Belmont Park in preparation for the big race on June 6th. Entries will be taken and post positions drawn for the 141st Belmont Stakes on Wednesday, so check back that afternoon to see who actually enters the race.

    Saturday morning trainer Nick Zito's charges Brave Victory and Miner's Escape, both owned by Robert V. LaPenta, worked together after the break under jockey Rajiv Maragh and exercise rider Eddie Cruz, respectively, going a half-mile in 48.66 over the fast main track. The time was the fifth-fastest of 14 at the distance.

    Brave Victory (outside) and Miner's Escape work together on Saturday morning.

    "I was very happy with everything," said Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito of Brave Victory, who will be ridden by Maragh in the Belmont, and Miner's Escape, who will have Jose Lezcano up. "I wanted them to go even. They both went great, and they're ready to go."

    Brave Victory, third in the Peter Pan (G2), and Miner's Escape, winner of the Federico Tesio on May 9 at Pimlico, are the 21st and 22nd Belmont starters saddled by Zito. He has won the race twice with Birdstone in 2004 and Da' Tara in 2008. Zito said there remained a slight possibility My Meadowview Farm's Nowhere to Hide, 17th in the Kentucky Derby in his last start, would mark the trainer's 23rd starter in the Belmont. "He's up at Saratoga," said Zito. "He'll work either Sunday or Monday, but right now, I'm leaning against it."

    Summer Bird works on Saturday morning.
    After the renovation break Saturday morning, Kalarikkal and Vilasini Jayaraman's Summer Bird went five furlongs under Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux in 1:01.89, the fifth-fastest of nine moves at the distance. Desormeaux said he was delighted with the way Summer Bird, like Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird a son of Birdstone, went Saturday morning.

    "He breezed brilliantly," said Desormeaux, who is 0-for-6 in the Belmont. "I think what impressed me the most about Summer Bird was his energy level. He came off the track happier than he went out, which is a great indication of a healthy, happy horse, as well as a fast one."

    On Sunday morning, Charitable Man and Dunkirk, who could be the second and third choices behind Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird in the Belmont Stakes, turned in their final works. Charitable Man covered a half-mile in 49.00 with exercise rider Renzo Morales aboard, not long after Dunkirk went the same distance in 49.57 under jockey John Velazquez.

    Charitable Man works on Sunday morning.

    Owned by Mr. and Mrs. William K. Warren, Jr., Charitable Man won both his starts at age 2, including the Grade 2 Futurity at Belmont Park. He finished seventh in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland in his 3-year-old debut then won the Peter Pan (G2) at Belmont Park on May 9. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said, "Last week he went off a little fast for our liking, so in coaching him, he went off better today and therefore, a little slower, but we were very happy with it. We believe he's a fit horse, happy and healthy, and he doesn't need those :46 works. We're ready to go."

    "We feel we've got the horse to beat," added McLaughlin, who won the 2006 Belmont with Jazil. "Mine That Bird we have a lot of respect for, Dunkirk, and other horses, but I wouldn't trade places with anyone. We've got a fresh horse, he's 2-for-2 on this racetrack, just won impressively here four weeks ago and he couldn't be training any better. We're very confident."

    Dunkirk (outside) works in company with Monba on Sunday morning.
    Trainer Todd Pletcher said he was happy with Dunkirk's maintenance move, accomplished in company with Monba, the 4-year-old who won last year's Blue Grass Stakes.

    "He did it very easily," said Pletcher of Dunkirk, who won his first two starts this year, finished second to Quality Road in the Florida Derby (G1) and was then 11th over a sloppy, sealed track in the Kentucky Derby (G1). "He's got terrific action, a smooth, fluid strike. I feel he's a top-quality horse, and has run well in three of his four races. The Derby, to me, I have to put a line through that race. I felt he didn't handle the surface at all in that race."

    Pletcher said he thought Charitable Man was the horse to beat in the Belmont Stakes. "At this point, Charitable Man is going to be on an uncontested, easy lead," said Pletcher, winner of the 2007 Belmont Stakes with the filly Rags to Riches. "That's my biggest concern, aside from the fact he's probably the horse to beat to begin with, and now he's got a pace advantage. He's coming off a Peter Pan win, he's 2-for-2, and basically he's never been beaten on the dirt ... it's going to be hard to catch a quality horse like Charitable Man if he gets a half in :49."

    Although remote, the trainer did not rule out the possibility of entering a "rabbit" to ensure an honest pace in the Belmont, which last year was won in wire-to-wire fashion by longshot Da' Tara. Pletcher said, "I might talk to (owners) Mrs. John Magnier, Mr. Michael Tabor and Mr. Derrick Smith, and see what their thoughts are, but at this point, we haven't talked about it. Probably not."

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