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Horse racing: Luck, breeding, distance make Triple try tough

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A lot more horses are eligible for the Triple Crown these days, too.

There were just 2,128 foals the same year as Sir Barton; 32,187 thoroughbreds were born three years ago, and only 20 of those earned enough money to qualify for the Kentucky Derby.

At a glance

Belmont odds

The field for Saturday’s 144th Belmont Stakes, with post position, horse’s name, jockey’s name and odds:

1. Street Life J. Lezcano 12-1

2. Unstoppable U J. Alvarado 30-1

3. Union Rags J. Velazquez 6-1

4. Atigun J. Leparoux 30-1

5. Dullahan J. Castellano 5-1

6. Ravelo’s Boy A. Solis 50-1

7. Five Sixteen R. Napravnik 50-1

8. Guyana Star Dweej K. Desormeaux 50-1

9. Paynter M. Smith 8-1

10. Optimizer C. Nakatani 20-1

11. I’ll Have Another M. Gutierrez 4-5

12. My Adonis R. Dominguez 20-1

Belmont Stakes

Saturday, 4:30 p.m. post time, TV » Ch. 5

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Barclay Tagg, who oversaw Funny Cide’s failed Triple bid in 2003, doesn’t believe it’s anything in particular about the Belmont that does in potential history-makers, but rather the tight schedule of winter prep races followed by the three races in quick succession.

"Before those murderous five weeks come up, you’ve got to be in probably three preps against much tougher competition." Tagg said. "Races like the Florida Derby, the Wood, the Fountain of Youth, the Louisiana Derby, they are major races and take a lot out of you."

Nicknamed "The Test of the Champion," the Belmont is uncharted territory for 3-year-olds who have never run that far and likely won’t again.

"It’s such an odd distance in American racing," said trainer Dale Romans, who will saddle Dullahan on Saturday. "I don’t think any of us have a really good handle on it."

Doug O’Neill, who trains I’ll Have Another, said, "I don’t think you can take a horse that can’t get a mile and a half and do anything special training-wise to make him get a mile and a half. It’s just a matter of how they’re feeling that day."

Jockeys aren’t used to riding races that long, either. The Belmont has undone both rookies and Hall of Fame riders alike. Some have mistakenly moved too soon and burned out their horses before the 1,097-yard stretch run. Others have moved too late and let the leaders get away.

"More riders lose this race than horses," said trainer D. Wayne Lukas, a four-time Belmont winner who lost a Triple Crown attempt with Charismatic in 1999.

The deep, sandy surface can prove tiring to run on, the turns are sweeping, and the poles used by jockeys to judge their location are placed differently than at the mile tracks where most of them ride.

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"It’s very deceiving," said Mike Smith, who is 1-for-13 in the Belmont and will be aboard Paynter on Saturday. "Where the half-mile pole is on a normal track, it’s the three-quarter pole at Belmont, so it can throw you off. You can use those big turns to do different things and throw a race wide open depending on the pace."

I’ll Have Another’s California-based jockey Mario Gutierrez planned to ride a few races at Belmont on Friday for practice before the big day.

In the Belmont, I’ll Have Another will break from the No. 11 post, with most of the field inside of him, giving Gutierrez room to position his colt out of trouble early. What happens the rest of the way is left to chance.

"The ifs have to happen," Baffert said.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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