Sunday Break makes Triple Crown debut in Belmont
By Beth Harris
NEW YORK - Neil Drysdale has been down this path before. It turned into a winning one for him in 1992, and 10 years later he's in position to repeat.
Drysdale will saddle Sunday Break in Saturday's Belmont Stakes, where War Emblem is attempting to become the first Triple Crown winner in 24 years.
Sunday Break is the 6-1 third choice on the morning line. War Emblem is the even-money favorite.
"Everybody says I'm playing spoiler,'' Drysdale said in a clipped British accent. "My horse is not in there to play spoiler, my horse is in there to try and win a classic race.''
It'll be the first Triple Crown race for Sunday Break, whose graded-stakes earnings weren't high enough to qualify for the 20-horse Kentucky Derby field.
Owner Koji Maeda, a Japanese businessman, brought 15 friends to Churchill Downs only to watch the Derby go off without his colt.
Drysdale then decided to skip the Preakness and head straight for Belmont Park. The 3-year-old bay colt won the Peter Pan Stakes in New York two weeks ago, and has been training at the track since.
"I felt that he needed to win a race and there would be less stress coming to Belmont and staying at Belmont,'' he said Thursday. "He's a late-developing horse, so the more time he has really the better.''
In 1992, Drysdale had A.P. Indy ready to go in the Derby. But the colt was scratched on race day because of a foot problem. Like Maeda, A.P. Indy's owner had shown up too, only to be disappointed.
The bad foot also kept A.P. Indy out of the Preakness. Then, in a scenario Drysdale hopes is repeated Saturday, A.P. Indy won the 1 1/2-mile Belmont and went on to become Horse of the Year.
Not that Drysdale is looking for signs, but he's got Gary Stevens riding Sunday Break.
Stevens missed out on winning the Triple Crown in 1997, when Silver Charm was beaten in the Belmont. A year later, he spoiled Real Quiet's Triple Crown bid by winning the Belmont with Victory Gallop.
While Sunday Break is taking on War Emblem for the first time, D. Wayne Lukas is bringing Proud Citizen back for a third try at beating the speedy black colt.
``We're going to take the race to War Emblem,'' he said.
Proud Citizen was second in the Derby and third in the Preakness. Lukas expects his horse to sit just off the early pace -- most likely to be set by War Emblem and Wiseman's Ferry.
`"There is a perception in the Belmont that you can come from left field and run down tired horses in front,'' Lukas said. "But the truth is that, at a mile and a half, you really have to be in the mix.''
And Proud Citizen has shown he's capable of winning wire-to-wire, the style he used in his only two victories.
"I think that the Belmont is the fairest of the Triple Crown races,'' said Lukas, who has four Belmont wins among his 13 Triple Crown victories.
"The track is big, with sweeping turns and you don't get jammed up like you do in the Preakness because of tighter turns. You get more spread out and you get a more realistic pace.''
Drysdale outright resents the spoiler label, as does Niall O'Callaghan, who trains Wiseman's Ferry, another newcomer to the Triple Crown series.
"I'm running to win,'' he said.
O'Callaghan plans to send Jorge Chavez out of the paddock Saturday without any instructions, having given the jockey what he called wrong advice in Wiseman's Ferry's last two races. The colt won both, anyway.
"I'm confident the horse will get 1 1/2 miles,'' he said. "He's not a typical speedster who drags you all the way. He relaxes. Relaxing is the key when you're going a mile and a half.''
For horses, and for trainers.
Especially Bob Baffert, who's going for his third try at the Triple Crown since 1997 with War Emblem.
"People around me say I'm more nervous with this horse than with any other and that's because I don't want to mess it up,'' he said. ``It's no gimme. All those other trainers want to beat him, so it's going to be a great race.''