By Chris Korman, The Baltimore Sun
8:33 PM EDT, June 7, 2012
ELMONT, N.Y. —
No, New York State Racing and Wagering Board, Dale Romans does not like your innovation known as the Belmont Stakes barn.
"The barn is ridiculous," Romans, trainer of Belmont second-favorite Dullahan, said Thursday. "There's too many horses in there doing the same things at the same times. There's too many people in there. There's three or four people for every horse, and then everyone trying to walk in the afternoons and graze. It's just ridiculous."
"They could have found such an easier way to accommodate the horse," he said. "I don't think anybody who set the barn up or made the rules was thinking about the horse."
Usually loquacious trainer Doug O'Neill, whose Triple Crown contenderI'll Have Another moved into the barn right before a Wednesday noon deadline, didn't feel the need to add much more.
"Wow. I love that," he said following Romans' rant. "That's great. I mimic that."
Barn No. 2 at Belmont Park now houses all 12 of the horses set to run in Saturday's marquee race. Though it has been painted, surrounded with fences, is generally crowded and requires sign-in under a white tent, it is otherwise nondescript. Most refer to it as the "detention barn."
Romans thinks that forcing the trainers and horses to be in a central location has backfired. After Gov. Andrew Cuomo took control of the state's racing operations, the wagering board announced the change as a way to ensure that the horses were clean — or at least show that New York took the matter seriously.
"They could have quietly put guards on every horse and [it would have] never been talked about in the paper," he said. "I think this causes poor perception and it makes people think even worse of the game when, really, this is a very clean sport. It's run properly. There's enough regular checks and balances put into place to make sure it's an even playing field. The whole thing isn't really necessary."
Romans predicted the sequestering of horses in the barn would not have an impact on the running of the Belmont.
"The horses seem to be fine," he said. "It's not going to affect the outcome of the race, I don't believe."
Ken McPeek has been here before.
In 2002 , he brought long shot Sarava to a Belmont that most believed would be the end to a long Triple Crown drought. But his colt, with 70-1 odds, beat War Emblem.
As McPeek worked his way to the winner's circle and later through the crowd, he did not sense anger from a crowd robbed of a chance to see history.
"Not one negative comment from anyone," he said. "It would have been one thing if we had beaten him in a photo [finish.]"
McPeek has entered two horses in this year's Belmont, but both Atigun (30-1) and Unstoppable U (30-1) are considered long shots — even by their trainer.
"These horses, admittedly, are not of the caliber of I'll Have Another, Dullahan, Union Rags," he said. "They are not proven at this level."
And yet he does have hope for untested Unstoppable U, who has started only two races but won both. The colt has struggled with switching leads and can be rambunctious but has the talent.
"The horse is a monster," McPeek said. "He's never been outworked in the morning or the afternoon."
Unstoppable U also has the advantage of feeling at home.
"He's trained here his whole career, and that's a big edge," McPeek said. "You have to train over this track to win over this track. It's nicknamed 'Big Sandy' for a reason, and if we don't get any rain between now and Saturday, I think it's going to give an edge to horses who have been here."
Unstoppable U is out of 2001 Preakness and Belmont winner Point Given mare Naseem.
No nasal strip allowed
In all four of his wins so far this year, I'll Have Another has worn a nasal strip meant to help him with his breathing. The product is not all that different from what some human athletes use.
But New York's racing stewards — in charge of ensuring safety and fairness at the track — have banned its use.
Ted Hill, the Jockey Club steward at Belmont Park, told the Daily Racing Form the nasal strip issue has been reviewed a number of times through the years but that regulation remains a problem.
James R. Chiapetta, founder of Flair, the company that makes the strips, maintains that his product helps prevent bleeding in a horse's lungs and otherwise does not give any more of a strategic advantage than other pieces of equipment.
Napravnik takes spill
Rosie Napravnik, the former Hereford student who began her racing career in Maryland, was thrown from her ride early in the seventh race at Belmont on Thursday. She got up quickly, though, and was cleared to continue riding. She is scheduled to be on board 50-1 long shot Five Sixteen in the Belmont on Saturday.
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