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

Lady Eli ends skid with win in Grade 1 Gamely at Santa Anita

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ARCADIA, Calif. — Lady Eli won the $300,000 Gamely Stakes for fillies and mares by a half-length at Santa Anita, ending a two-race skid as the heavy 3-5 favorite.

Ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr., Lady Eli ran 1 1/8 miles on turf in 1:45.29 on Saturday.

Goodyearforroses was second, followed by Avenge, Mokat and Pretty Girl.

Lady Eli paid $3.20, $2.20 and $2.10. All but $18,388 of the total show pool of $315,505 was wagered on her in the Grade 1 race.

The 5-year-old dark brown mare has eight wins in 11 career starts and has never finished worse than second for New York-based trainer Chad Brown, who won the Preakness with Cloud Computing last weekend.

Lady Eli was coming off two close losses: by a nose in the Jenny Wiley Stakes at Keeneland in April and by a head in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf last November.

Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming to skip Belmont Stakes

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NEW YORK — Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming will skip the Belmont Stakes next month after finishing eighth in the Preakness.

Trainer Todd Pletcher says the 3-year-old colt will be pointed toward either the $600,000 Jim Dandy at Saratoga on July 29 or the $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth on July 30, according to the Daily Racing Form.

Trainer Chad Brown says he will wait until after the Memorial Day weekend to announce where Preakness winner Cloud Computing will run next. However, it appears unlikely he will run in the Belmont.

The Belmont field is limited to 16 starters. Besides Classic Empire, who came in second at the Preakness Stakes, other horses expected to run are Conquest Mo Money, Japan-based Epicharis, Gormley, Irap, J Boys Echo, Lookin At Lee, Meantime, Multiple, Patch, Senior Investment, Tapwrit, True Timber and Twisted Tom. Other possibilities are Irish War Cry and Hollywood Handsome.