- The Washington Times - Friday, June 8, 2007

Two horses who finished in the top three of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes are competing.

A star filly who has destroyed her own gender this year is taking on the guys for the first time.

And a few horses who have been resting up for the Derby hope to grab a classic race.

What today’s Belmont Stakes lacks in drama — no Triple Crown on the line, no Street Sense in the field — it makes up for in intrigue.

Curlin (third in the Kentucky Derby, first in the Preakness) and Hard Spun (second in the Derby, third in the Preakness) are the deserving favorites. Rags to Riches, the dominant filly, could be in the mix.

“I think the race will be extremely competitive,” Curlin trainer Steve Asmussen said. “Hard Spun is a very formidable horse who could be awfully hard to beat in the Belmont. Rags to Riches is very intriguing. She’s just another quality horse in the race and Curlin is going to have to run really well to win.”

Question: Everybody knows about Curlin and Hard Spun. Who are the other horses in the Belmont that should be considered serious contenders?

Answer: It’s not a deep field in terms of numbers (only seven starters) but there are a couple of intriguing runners that skipped the Derby and Preakness or ran in the Derby and have re-energized with a five-week break.

Imawildandcrazyguy finished fourth in the Derby and his closing style should fit Belmont Park. Tiago was seventh in the Derby and C P West a surprising fourth in the Preakness. Imawildandcrazyguy is the best of those options.

Rags to Riches will get heavy consideration. Throw out Slew’s Tizzy even though he has won the Lexington Stakes and Lone Star Derby in his last two starts.

Q: What’s your take on Rags to Riches being put in the Belmont? Is Todd Pletcher that desperate to break his Triple Crown O-fer?

A: For a 3-year old filly at this point of the year, Rags to Riches had done everything — three consecutive Grade I wins. Why not take a shot? There are only six other horses in the field and if some things fall her way, she could get into the top three.

Pletcher is desperate to win a Triple Crown race, but that had little to do with this decision. He saw a rare opening to run a filly in a classic race and not be embarrassed and he jumped at it.

Q: Street Sense is taking it easy in Kentucky while Curlin and Hard Spun give the Belmont a shot. Were you surprised that Street Sense was pulled from consideration?

A: For the good of the sport, owner/breeder Jim Tafel and trainer Carl Nafzger should have answered the challenge from the Curlin and Hard Spun camps and traveled to New York for Round 3 of their could-be-great rivalry.

I wasn’t surprised and I can understand why they’re not running the colt. The Street Sense Camp has been very specific and public about its goals: Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Kentucky Derby, Triple Crown, Travers, Breeders’ Cup Classic. The Triple Crown didn’t happen so it opted to re-group and go for the Travers and Classic.

Q: A few weeks ago, after the thrilling Preakness, you wrote that a rivalry between Street Sense, Curlin and Hard Spun could help the sport. Now Street Sense and Hard Spun are likely to be retired. What happened?

A: Money happened. Both Street Sense and Hard Spun were sold (wether entirely or just a percentage is unknown) to Darley Stable in Lexington, Ky. The stable is owned by Sheik Mohammed, the deep-pocketed sportsman. Financial details weren’t disclosed but the rumor going around is that Street Sense went for somewhere in the $20 million neighborhood and Hard Spun around $10 million.

For that kind of money, the horses’ owners couldn’t say no. That would have been bad business. It’s just plain stupid. The bad part is it deprives the sport from seeing two new stars thrive as 4- and 5-year-old runners. But it’s not a surprise.

Q: Hard Spun gets a new rider today, Garrett Gomez replaces Mario Pino. What was you take on Rick Porter’s decision to remove Pino?

A: It was pathetic and unprofessional. When is finishing second in the Derby and third in the Preakness not good enough? If this is the start of a developing trend, it’s a sad commentary on the sport.

I don’t believe trainer Larry Jones — this was completely Porter’s call. He read the horse racing publications and message boards that said Pino moved Hard Spun too early and he actually believed them. Pino was a perfect fit for the colt and vice versa and they stood a good chance to win today.

Q: Curlin can join Point Given and Afleet Alex since 2001 as horses who won the Preakness and Belmont. How impressive would that feat be?

A: Because of Curlin’s inexperience at the start of the spring, it would be a stunning feat and show just how talented this colt is and will be. Remember, when he started the Derby, he was making only his fourth career start. A win today would put into a different stratosphere.

Q: Prediction time. Who wins?

A: Picking Curlin would be too easy although he’s the best horse. Picking Hard Spun would be easy because he’s the second-best horse. So I’m going out on a limb.

1. Imawildandcrazyguy: He’s 12-1 but will be bet down once the rail birds look at his Derby effort, rallying from last to finish fourth at 29-1. He’s fresh, can run a long way and has shown he can travel in between horses.

2. Hard Spun: There is 1½-mile efficiency in Hard Spun’s pedigree and he also likes to run all day. If the pace sets up right, he’ll be near the front the entire race.

3. Curlin: He’s due for a bounce back after working hard to finish third in the Derby and first in the Preakness. Plus, it’s likely he won’t get a swift pace up front to allow him to make a big finishing move.

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