Trainer Bill Kaplan participated in his first Kentucky Derby this month, finishing fourth with Imawildandcrazyguy. A native New Yorker, Kaplan is now looking forward to returning home to run Imawildandcrazyguy in the $1 million Belmont Stakes on June 9.
Imawildandcrazyguy was one of two horses Kaplan brought to the Kentucky Derby, along with Storm in May. Both are based at Calder and neither was given much chance by the experts, but Imawildandcrazyguy exceeded almost everybody's expectations by rallying to finish fourth, just a half-length behind the third-place finisher Curlin. And Imawildandcrazyguy lost considerable ground going into the stretch.
Entering Imawildandcrazyguy in the Derby was a last-minute decision by Kaplan. But the Belmont Stakes has been on his radar since early this winter.
"I've said all along that this horse is truly a cardiovascular phenomenon," Kaplan said. "He just never gets tired. Not after a work, not even after the Derby.
"By the time he got back to the barn he wasn't even blowing after having just run a mile and one-quarter. "I've believed all along the Belmont should be right up his alley."
Imawildandcrazyguy continued preparations for the Belmont at Calder on Friday, working a mile in 1:47. The work was fashioned in the same style as Imawildandcrazyguy's final drill before the Derby, starting off slowly before picking up the pace. On Friday he came home in an impressive final quarter-mile of 23.67 seconds into a moderate headwind.
"To finish that fast over this track after having already gone six furlongs was fantastic," said Kaplan. "The best thing about him is he doesn't appear to be moving that fast once he hits his stride. It's amazing how much ground he can cover so effortlessly."
Although Kaplan has received calls from jockey agents wanting the mount on Imawildandcrazyguy in the Belmont, he plans to stick with Mark Guidry.
"I was pleased with Mark's ride," said Kaplan. "He followed my instructions perfectly, and I had no problem with him taking the colt to the outside when the horse began gathering momentum on the turn. If he tried to work his way through horses he most likely would have been stopped, steadied, or intimidated."
With an extra quarter-mile for Imawildandcrazyguy to work with in New York, Kaplan is quietly confident his horse has a legitimate chance to win the Belmont.
"The whole thing will depend on the pace," said Kaplan. "If they walk early, I'm in trouble. But with a reasonable pace I have a big shot because he's such a great distance runner. He just keeps going at the same pace furlong after furlong, and should really be coming on at the end if the leaders get tired."
Kaplan, who is based year-round at Calder, said he can't wait to return to New York.
"The Belmont is even more exciting for me than the Derby because I'm going back to my hometown," he said. "I've already purchased 23 tickets, so it will be even more special for me if my horse can perform well."
Field of seven most likely
Although 11 horses are still under consideration for the 139th Belmont Stakes, there really are only seven who are likely to run, assuming the Triple Crown's big three of Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, Preakness winner Curlin, and Hard Spun all go. Only Great Hunter, Imawildandcrazyguy, Slew's Tizzy, and Tiago are set to take them on.
There are various levels of interest from the connections of four other 3-year-olds, including the Michael Matz-trained Chelokee, who won the Barbaro Stakes on the Preakness undercard at Pimlico. Chelokee, along with Circular Quay, Rags to Riches, and Sightseeing, is not likely to run unless there is an unforeseen exodus among the big three over the next two weeks.
"We haven't decided yet," said Don Little Jr., whose Centennial Farms partnership owns Chelokee. "I'll wait until the middle of next week, but I would say we are possible but not probable. It's unlikely.
"When you look at the top three, they're running Beyer Speed Figures in the 110-range. We're coming off back-to-back 95's. We don't want to be overambitious. There's a lot of other nice races."
Little said the Northern Dancer Stakes at Churchill Downs on June 16, and Delaware Park's Barbaro Stakes (formerly the Leonard Richards) on July 15, are the most tempting options. He said next weekend's Ohio Derby at Thistledown has been ruled out. "It's too close," Little saaid.
Jockeying for mounts
Jockey John Velazquez on Friday picked up the mount on Slew's Tizzy, according to trainer Greg Fox, and Velazquez's agent, Angel Cordero Jr. In his last two starts, Slew's Tizzy won the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland and the Lone Star Derby with Robby Albarado, but Albarado will be riding Curlin in the Belmont.
The move by Velazquez, might be an indicator of trainer Todd Pletcher's enthusiasm for the Belmont. Velazquez is Pletcher's No. 1 rider, and the regular rider of Circular Quay.
Pletcher's No. 2 rider, Garrett Gomez, is the regular rider for Rags to Riches, the Kentucky Oaks winner. But if she does not run in the Belmont - and Pletcher has said he wants at least two of the big three to defect in order to run her - it would free Gomez for another mount.
Earlier this week, trainer Larry Jones was noncommittal about a jockey for Hard Spun, who was ridden by Mario Pino to a second-place finish in the Derby and third-place finish in the Preakness.