Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones, who will arrive at Belmont on Wednesday, continues to thrive at Philadelphia Park. "Super," commented trainer John Servis, following Smarty Jones' morning exercise on Memorial Day Monday, where he galloped a mile and a half alongside America's most famous lead pony, Butterscotch. "He was just aching to go," continued Servis. "He pulled me around every step of the way. My hand and arm were so tired when we got back to the barn I couldn't even drink my coffee." Servis finished up by saying that everything is right on schedule for Saturday's attempt at history. Smarty Jones will gallop again tomorrow and be ready for his trip up to Belmont Park either late in the day on Tuesday or early on Wednesday.
Rock Hard Ten
Preakness runner-up Rock Hard Ten worked five furlongs in :59, breezing, with exercise rider John Byrne up this morning. "He was just cruising," trainer Jason Orman said. "Johnny said he never changed his hold the whole way. He just looked like he was doing it so easy. He's really getting around there good. I've never seen him work as good as he did today. As long as he comes out of the work fine tomorrow, it will be a perfect work." As far as Rock Hard Ten getting the mile-and-a-half Belmont distance, Orman said he has not given that much thought. "You just have to have them fit and either the horses have the stamina to do it or they don't," he said. "I don't think it's something you can train into them."
Trainer Nick Zito was well satisfied with Monday's final pre-Belmont Stakes workout of Royal Assault, the winner of Pimlico Race Course's Sir Barton Stakes on Preakness day. The son of Kris S. covered five furlongs in 1:00 1/5 over the Belmont Park main track shortly after the mid-morning renovation break. Regular exercise rider Eddie Cruz was in the irons for Zito. Zito expressed pleasure with the progress the colt has been making, praising, particularly, his Sir Barton victory. "That was a big step," the trainer said. "That earned him a shot in the Belmont. He's bred to go the [1 1/2-mile] distance, and we've had this race in mind since last winter." Hall of Fame rider Pat Day gets the call on the colt for the Belmont, replacing his Sir Barton pilot Javier Castellano.
Zito's other Belmont prospect, Birdstone, will be vanned to Belmont from Saratoga on Tuesday, the trainer said Monday morning. The son of 1996 Kentucky Derby winner Grindstone galloped Monday at Saratoga and will follow that pattern again Tuesday morning before shipping to Zito's barn at Belmont. The trainer expects Birdstone to arrive in early afternoon. Zito said owner-breeder Mary Lou Whitney was on hand for the colt's final workout for the Belmont on Saturday. "She is very knowledgeable about horses and she was very happy with what she saw," Zito said. The colt was clocked in 1:15 1/5 for six furlongs over Saratoga's Oklahoma training track.
Starlight Stable's Purge breezed five furlongs in company this morning in 1:01 3/5 with jockey John Velazquez aboard. "The work went perfectly," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "The idea was that we wanted to sit behind another horse and see how he reacted to that and how kind he was. It went in 1:01 and change, which is what we were looking for. I liked the way he sat behind the other horse kindly. Obviously, now what we have to see is how the horse came out of the work." John Velazquez, who would ride Purge if he runs in the Belmont, was also pleased with the work. "He went very good," the jock said. "I let the other horse go in front of me and put him right behind so he could take some dirt and to try to make him settle down a little more. He seemed to handle everything very well." How Purge handled sitting behind another horse was important to Pletcher because if he does run in the Belmont Stakes, the plan is for Purge to sit just off the lead. It appears more likely that Purge, once considered a possible starter, will run in the Belmont. "We'll make a decision tomorrow," Pletcher said. "Jack (owner Jack Wolf) is leaning towards wanting to run. The one thing I'm pretty sure of is that we are going to enter. God forbid anything happens to Smarty Jones, you'd hate to not be in the race. I think by the time we enter, we'll have made a decision about whether we're going to run or not. At that point, we'll know if we're entering to run for sure, or if we're entering just in case Smarty Jones comes out."
There is no question that Belmont Stakes starter Tap Dancer, who has yet to hit the board in three starts this year and is winless since last August, will have to improve a ton just to finish in the top four. Many jockeys might have turned down the mount on Tap Dancer, who could easily be in the vicinity of 80-1 Saturday afternoon, but jockey Javier Castellano, who enters Monday's Memorial Day at Belmont second in the standings behind John Velazquez, did not hesitate to take the call on Tap Dancer. "I looked like I had Eurosilver for the Kentucky Derby, but that horse got hurt. It was pretty disappointing," Castellano said. "After the Preakness, I hoped I would get to ride something in the Belmont the last minute and this horse turned up. He's got to improve, but the race is a mile and a half and anything can happen."
Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel is still undecided about running Master David in the Belmont Stakes. The colt worked six furlongs in 1:13 Sunday morning. "He came out of the work fine," Frankel said. "We're still playing it by ear. I'll know at entry time if I'm entering. And if I do enter, I won't know until Saturday morning if we're running." Peter Minikes of Georgica Stable was also was not sure about the Belmont Stakes. "I think it comes down to whether or not we think we can beat Smarty Jones," Minikes said. "We don't want to run to be second. The horse isn't a graded stakes winner yet, and that's something we could take care of next week." Master David could run in the Grade 3, $200,000 Northern Dancer going a mile and a sixteenth at Churchill Downs June 12th.