Belmont Stakes not the same without a Triple Crown at stake

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NEW YORK (AP) A year ago, the joint was jumpin’.

Belmont Park, where Triple Crown hopes have been dashed so many times over nearly four decades, was the center of the sports universe. American Pharoah had done it. Kentucky Derby. Preakness. And now, he had come through with a sensational victory in the Belmont Stakes to claim the first Triple Crown in 37 years. A packed house of 90,000 jubilant fans stood and roared.

“Wow! Wow, is all I can tell you,” were among the first words from winning jockey Victor Espinoza as the cheering grew louder and louder, rocking the rafters of the historic racetrack.

The wow moment of a repeat Triple Crown vanished in the Preakness, when Exaggerator defeated Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist. Now it’s time for the year-after-Pharoah Belmont next Saturday, with no Triple try, no Nyquist and certainly no sellout.

Just likely favorite Exaggerator against a field that could total 10 3-year-olds when post positions are drawn on Wednesday.

“That’s the only bad thing, and I’m a big fan, too, about beating the Derby winner in the Preakness,” Exaggerator’s trainer, Keith Desormeaux, said during a conference call this week. “You lose a lot of the mainstream media and maybe the casual fans that might turn on the TV to watch a potential Triple Crown event. I’d think we lost a few fans.”

Then again, every year can’t be Triple time because as trainer Dale Romans says, “then it wouldn’t be special and it wouldn’t get all the hype to go along with it.”

Romans, still on the mend from a car accident hours after the Derby last month, will send out Preakness runner-up Cherry Wine and Derby also-ran Brody’s Cause in a bid for his first Belmont win.

“We’ve got to have these years where we don’t have the Triple Crown on the line,” he said, “where we still have a great race and we have a great card.”

And who knows? Exaggerator, a son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, may have plenty of victories left in the tank.

After winning the Santa Anita Derby by a smashing 6 1/4 lengths over a sloppy track, he rallied from 15 lengths back to finish second in the Derby. Two weeks later, he ended a personal 0-4 record against undefeated Nyquist with a 3 1/2-length win in the Preakness, also in the slop. He’s won five of 11, with three second-place finishes and earnings of nearly $3 million.

Among Exaggerator’s rivals in the Belmont, Cherry Wine and Derby also-rans including Suddenbreakingnews, Brody’s Cause, Creator and Lani, are closers as well. That could make for a dramatic finish over the longest distance horses are likely to ever run.

“Nobody’s going to tower over the field because the mile-and-a-half is the question,” Romans said, “It’s something no one’s done yet. He should do it with his pedigree, but I don’t think he towers over the field.”

There’s also Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux, Keith’s older brother, who has ridden in some of the most memorable Belmonts in the 148-year history of the race. In 1998, he was aboard Real Quiet and was beaten by a nose by Victory Gallop to spoil a Triple try; and in 2008, he surprisingly pulled up Big Brown around the final turn to end another Triple attempt.

No matter how many fans show up on Saturday, though, the “Test of the Champion” usually comes through with a race to remember. For his part, Keith Desormeaux is enjoying the most rewarding time in his 28 years as a trainer with the best horse he’s ever had.

“I am so close to the situation, but it sure seems like Exaggerator has jazzed up some people,” the 43-year-old trainer said. “Maybe they like the name. Or they like his running style, or they like the distance of his wins. Maybe they like this brother-brother thing.

“Hopefully we can get some fans that are not every day fans to come in and watch us compete. And hopefully we could provide them with a good show.”

For the past two years, the New York Racing Association stages a three-day racing festival from Thursday-Saturday, with on-track entertainment, food truck courts and plenty of first-class racing. The Belmont undercard, for example, includes five additional Grade 1s – the Metropolitan Mile, the Acorn, the Manhattan, the Ogden Phipps and the Just a Game. After the races, the band Daughtry will perform.

“We knew we weren’t going to have a Triple Crown every year,” said NYRA President Chris Kay. “That’s why we put in so many Grade 1 races on the card, so this is the place to be whether there’s a Triple Crown or not.”

Romans is impressed.

“NYRA has a done a special job of putting the card together,” he said. “This whole three days is like a mini-Breeders’ Cup, and the race fan is going to have a lot to look forward to.”

Follow Richard Rosenblatt on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/rosenblattap

Baffert hoping Arrogate gives him third Dubai World Cup win

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Having taken over the mantle as the world’s best racehorse from California Chrome, Arrogate will attempt on Saturday to wear another crown that last fitted his illustrious American compatriot, the Dubai World Cup.

All eyes are on the 4-year-old Arrogate, who lost on debut 11 months ago but hasn’t lost since.

He’s won the Breeders’ Cup Classic and the inaugural $12 million Pegasus World Cup this year to stretch his unbeaten streak to six. In both races, Arrogate defeated Chrome, who won the Dubai World Cup last year at Meydan Racecourse by five lengths despite jockey Victor Espinoza hanging on to a loose saddle for most of it.

Under jockey Mike Smith, Arrogate has forged a winning combination in his last three Group 1 races: Travers Stakes, Breeders’ Cup Classic and Pegasus World Cup.

In Dubai, they have drawn stall nine among 14 contenders, a position which fails to douse the confidence of his trainer Bob Baffert.

“Nine is fine,” said Baffert, who also trained 2015 U.S. Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.

“He’s settled in pretty well. As long as he shows up, that’s the key. If he runs his race, we know what he can do.”

Smith was all praise for his mount, ranked the No. 1 racehorse in the world.

“I have been blessed with some really, really good horses, but I am not sure I have ever sit on one like this,” Smith said.

“Everything about him, his disposition, his mechanics, the way he gets over the ground … at times you feel as if you are running downhill instead of a level ground. What amazes me most is when the race is over, it looks as if he did not put much effort into it. His recovery time is so quick.”

Arrogate’s Breeders’ Cup Classic and Pegasus World Cup wins came over 2,000 meters on dirt, the same distance and conditions as the $10 million Dubai World Cup.

Baffert hopes Arrogate can give him a third Dubai World Cup victory after Silver Charm (1998) and Captain Steve (2001).

He suffered a heart attack during his last visit to Dubai in 2012, and watched the World Cup five nights later with stents in two of his blocked arteries. He also watched from even farther afield last year as his other horse, Hoppertunity, finished third behind Chrome and Mike de Kock’s Mubtaahij.

He’s giving Hoppertunity another chance.

“Both my horses are happy and healthy,” Baffert said. “He (Hoppertunity) should be collecting a check again. That is what he does, picks up the pieces in these big races. He reminds me of Pac-Man, he just keeps going. A Dubai World Cup 1-2, that would be something.”

Mubtaahij is also back, although he will start under Christophe Soumillon from the widest of stalls.

“Like everyone, we wanted low,” the Belgian jockey said. “I will have to … hope for some luck.”

The Dubai World Cup features a nine-race card offering $30 million across six Group 1 and three Group 2 races on turf and dirt.

Six three-year-olds nominated late to Triple Crown series

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Thunder Snow, winner of the UAE 2000 Guineas, is among six 3-year-olds made eligible to compete in the Triple Crown series during the late nomination period.

The late nominees, which required a payment of $6,000 each, raise the total nominations to 425 for the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. The late nomination period closed Monday. The early nomination window closed in January and required a payment of $600.

Ireland-bred Thunder Snow, owned by Godolphin Racing, is set to run Saturday in the $2 million UAE Derby in Dubai. The colt has three wins in seven career starts for trainer Saeed bin Suroor.

The other late nominees are Hollywood Handsome, trained by Dallas Stewart; More Than Words, trained by Charlie LoPresti; Parlor, trained by Eddie Kenneally; Rapid Dial, trained by Ingrid Mason; and Stretch’s Stone, trained by Bruce Levine.

Thoroughbreds that weren’t nominated to the Triple Crown have one final chance by paying a supplemental fee. The fee for the Derby is $200,000; $150,000 for the Preakness; and $75,000 for the Belmont.