Much has been made about the Belmont Stakes Barn, an idea introduced last week by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board as a way to make it clear to the public how serious the state is about cleaning up horse racing.
None of it has been quite this honest.
"The barn is ridiculous," Dullahan trainer Dale Romans said Thursday during a news conference. "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 everything trying to walk in the afternoons and grace. 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."
The rarely-short-on-words Doug O'Neill responded to the rant thusly: "Wow. I love that. That's great. I mimic that."
Barn 2 -- the stakes barn -- has been referred to mostly as the detention barn. Jerry Bossert of the New York Daily News has dubbed it "Little Alcatraz." The New York Post will try to out-do him any second, in an absurd way. Wait for it.
The barn itself is your standard issue horse barn, but they've erected an ominous looking white tent accessed by a thin opening in the impromptu fence. Indeed, there are dozens of people moving around inside, trying to do what it is they do with their horses.
Training thoroughbreds is one of those things that, at first glance, seems sort of simple. Everybody seems to be doing the same thing. You feed the horse, you make it run, you clean the horse, you let him nap, you hope he's up to doing it again the next day. But upon closer inspection, you realize that every trainer deals differently with every horse and that their methods are, if not a bit mystical, then certainly based on feel. They're always reacting and adjusting to how the horse acts, and it's very difficult to get a clean reading of a horse kept in such a tight, tense place.
Trainers also hate being interrupted. And they like to have their space, because they're dealing with 1,200-pound animals but also because they prefer to go unnoticed by competitors.
But Romans said sequestering the Belmont entrants in one place won't have an impact on the race (O'Neill, of course, joked that he'd blame the barn if his horse, I'll Have Another, loses out on the Triple Crown.)
"The horses seem to be fine," Romans said. "It's not going to affect the outcome of the race, I don't believe. It's just not right to take them out of their environment and move them out somewhere else three days out from the biggest day of their life."
Indeed, I'll Have Another has settled in just as O'Neill thought he would.
"We had a really good day of training today," he said. "I thought he showed good energy and he cooled out really well. So we are very happy with where we are here two days out."