Thursday, April 14, 2005
Bellamy Road is Zito's third 3-year-old in Derby field
By Ed McNamara
Special to ESPN.com
NEW YORK -- Long before he reached the finish line, Bellamy Road was long gone. Midway on Aqueduct's far turn, the powerfully built dark bay colt effortlessly opened an insurmountable lead that kept getting bigger. Near the sixteenth pole, Javier Castellano glanced at the infield television screen and saw nobody else in the picture. Whoa. Since he had no other use for his whip, he waved it over his head and played to the crowd before gliding to an insanely easy domination of the 81st Wood Memorial.
The margin was an otherworldly 17½ lengths. The time of 1:47.16 for 1 1/8 miles equaled the 32-year-old track record set by Hall of Famer Riva Ridge. When a 3-year-old can do this four weeks before the world's most cherished race, people go nuts.
Beneath a TV in the paddock, Bellamy Road's groom yelled, "Do it, Bellamy! Come on, Papi!" At home in Tampa, owner George Steinbrenner and his son Hank shared a glorious moment. In the crowded winner's circle, Jessica Steinbrenner dabbed away tears of joy as she exulted with her two sons.
Jessica said she had called her father four times in the 15 minutes since Bellamy Road bolted into serious contention for the 131st Kentucky Derby on May 7. The Boss was in a glorious mood.
"He's absolutely ecstatic about this," she said. "If you compare it to the World Series, his emotions are right up there with that."
Castellano sent Bellamy Road to the lead from the gate on a lightning-fast track, and he looked like a winner every step of the way as he cranked out quick fractions of 23.13 seconds for a quarter, :46.08 for a half-mile and 1:09.34 for 6 furlongs. That's when he began to stretch a 2½-length lead to a ridiculous 10 at the eighth pole, with very little encouragement. He finished with something left and Castellano had trouble pulling him up, a very encouraging sign.
"He wasn't pressured," said Castellano, a 27-year-old Venezuelan. "He wants to go longer, no question about it. The more distance, the better. He's an impressive horse, really unbelievable. He looked beautiful today."
Bellamy Road, who paid $7.10 as the favorite, won for the fourth time in five starts Saturday and improved to 2-for-2 under Nick Zito, one of Steinbrenner's longtime trainers for his Ocala, Fla.-based Kinsman Stable. Zito received the colt after he went 2-for-3 with Michael Dickinson last year. Bellamy Road was injured in his last 2-year-old race, a seventh-place effort in October in the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland. In his 2005 debut, he aired by more than 15 lengths at Gulfstream.
Zito smiled and accepted congratulations in what has become a familiar ritual for him this year. Just as Steinbrenner didn't need the winner's share of $450,000, Zito was hardly desperate for another Derby prospect, considering he already was loaded with High Fly, Sun King, Noble Causeway and Andromeda's Hero.
"Those five horses are in our stable and they are like our kids," Zito said. "I don't know any parent who chooses one child over another. I'm just glad to be in the game with this many horses at this time.
"I'm just glad this one is in the family. He is a tremendous horse. I thank Mr. Steinbrenner and his family for sending him to us."
The late John Galbreath, owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, took the Kentucky Derby with Chateaugay in 1963 and Proud Clarion in 1967, and won the World Series in 1960, 1971 and 1979. Nobody has ever hit the ultimate All-American double in the same year. If Steinbrenner could pull it off, there wouldn't be enough diamonds in South Africa's mines to decorate that ring.
The Yankees' longtime dictator will turn 75 on the Fourth of July, and he'll probably never have a better chance at America's Race than this year. He's tried five times, once in 1997 with Concerto, Bellamy Road's sire. He ran ninth, as Diligence did the year before. Three years ago, Blue Burner finished 11th, and in 1985, Eternal Prince was 12th. Steinbrenner's best Derby finish was in his first attempt, when Steve's Friend came in fifth in 1977 behind Seattle Slew. Jessica Steinbrenner, an equestrian for most of her life, recalled that as a girl she led Steve's Friend around the paddock at Churchill Downs.
"Winning the Derby -- it's the American dream,'' Jessica said. "My dad is always hopeful but he realizes how hard it is. He's getting up there in years, and this is something he's always wanted to do."
If you believe in omens, here's one nobody could make up. A minute or so before Bellamy Road hit the wire in the Wood, another Steinbrenner-owned 3-year-old colt won an allowance race on the grass at Keeneland. His name? Classic Campaign.