Even when he's not here, they can't stop talking about Bodemeister.
But his stablemate could finish what Bodemeister couldn't. Paynter, last seen breezing past the field in a race on the Preakness undercard, is the 8-1 fourth choice on the morning line and will start the Belmont from post position No. 9.
"[Trainer] Bob Baffert, from Day 1, thought Paynter was the better horse," owner Ahmed Zayat said.
Paynter led the whole way in his 5 3/4–length win in an allowance race May 19 at Pimlico, where he'd briefly been considered a possibility for the Preakness. His performance that day — his Beyer Speed Figure of 106 is the second highest in the field, behind Triple Crown contender I'll Have Another — set him toward this race.
Like Bodemeister, he'll be ridden by Mike Smith. Paytner will likely be on the lead at Belmont, as Bodemeister was in the first two legs of the chase.
Affirmed won the last Triple Crown, in 1978, by beating Alydar in all three races and forming one of the most intense rivalries in the history of a sport that rarely narrows on two competitors in that way.
This time, only the connections are the same. Zayat said Paynter, who raced only once last year and three times in 2012, is a better horse than people realize.
"He's more versatile than people think," he said. "He can probably do anything, but it looks like we have drawn a nice post. There is a lack of speed, so maybe he'll be on the lead, but I'm not sure."
Union Rags arrives
Michael Matz made it on time, and Union Rags will get his chance to run.
The horse installed as a 6-1 third favorite on the morning line began Wednesday morning with a mile gallop at 5:30 at Fair Hill in Elkton, Md. After cooling, eating and boarding a van, he headed for New York needing to check in at the stakes barn by noon. He arrived shortly after noon, and Matz was left praising the driver, saying he did a "wonderful job."
Now, Union Rags will spend a few days returning to the track where he won the Champagne Stakes a year ago. The only other horse entered in the Belmont who has already won here is Unstoppable U, who did so in an optional claiming race in late April.
Owner Phyllis Wyeth said after the horse drew the No. 3 position that she's been disappointed that her colt has not had what she felt was a fair chance to show his abilities in the last two races. He was one of the favorites going into the Kentucky Derby but was never in position to make a run.
Matz would have preferred more of an outside position but said he trusts new jockey John Velazquez to put the colt in proper position.
The field of challengers for I'll Have Another grew to 12 Wednesday when My Adonis made a late entrance into contention. He's owned by George and Lori Hall and trained by Kelly Breen; the same connections won last year's Belmont Stakes with 24-1 longshot Ruler On Ice.
"We think he's a good horse," George Hall said. "We think he's got some class, and even though some of his races were disappointing, we think he's shown enough talent that we can make a case that he belongs in the field."
An ownership/trainer team has not repeated at the Belmont since Riva Ridge and Secretariat in 1972-73.
"Of course we have incredible memories of the Belmont, so just being in the paddock will be a privilege," Hall said. "But, again, we wouldn't do it just for the sake of doing it if we didn't think we had a horse with enough class."
My Adonis last ran in the Canonero II Stakes at Pimlico, finishing third, and is a 20-1 pick on the morning line starting from gate 12.
The Belmont is now scheduled to begin at 6:40 on Saturday … Dale Romans said the track, known for being sandy, has been in good shape because of recent rain. … D. Wayne Lukas, who will be looking for his fifth win at Belmont when he saddles Optimizer, returned to the track Wednesday a day after requiring stitches to close a gash left on his forehead when a horse kicked him. His usual self, he joked that'd he'd secured a date with the head nurse and sold horses to two doctors.