D. Wayne Lukas vs. a bunch of long shots.
However, the New York Racing Association has corraled a new prospect, the Irish colt Off'N'Away, to take on Lukas' dynamic duo of Timber Country and Thunder Gulch in the Triple Crown's final leg.
European-trained runners seem to have a special affinity for the Belmont Stakes. In the last six years, three of a half-dozen European invaders have hit the board, including Off'N'Away's brother, Go And Go, who crushed Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled and others when he won by 8 1/2 lengths over Thirty Six Red in 1990.
As recently as three years ago, My Memoirs arrived a few days before the race from England and finished second to A.P. Indy.
Off'N'Away is trained by Dermot Weld, who also saddled Go And Go, and the horse carries the same distance-loving bloodlines. He's a son of the Northern Dancer sire Be My Guest and is out of an Alleged mare, all of which means stamina and quality. The horse won at 1 1/4 miles carrying 133 pounds in Ireland on May 1 and apparently beat a decent field.
This time Weld is straying a bit from his 1990 winning pattern.
Instead of riding an Irish jockey such as Michael Kinane, who won with Go And Go, he's using Mike Smith, who no doubt has a huge desire to reach the Belmont winner's circle after a couple of disagreeable trips aboard Talkin Man in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
Talkin Man, who stopped to a walk in the stretch of both races and has now been diagnosed as a bleeder, is recuperating in Canada from his Triple Crown trauma and will skip the Belmont.
Cuts could face challenge
Many horsemen are expected to object to cutbacks to the live racing program at Laurel Park when the topic is discussed Tuesday night at a meeting of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association in Laurel.
Track operator Joe De Francis wants to reduce the card to seven live races on weekdays and move the post time to 3 p.m. when the Laurel summer meet starts June 13. The move will cut back the number of live races from 47 to 42 per week.
He argues that live racing has been reduced at other East Coast tracks and that fans are being turned off by Maryland's small fields.
However MTHA board member Jerry Robb said he speaks for a number of his colleagues who feel management has not taken the advice of horsemen and made changes in the condition book that would help fill the cards.
"For starters, they need to cut back on the number of categories of the kinds of races that are offered," Robb said. "The menu is too big."
Horsemen are encouraged that a 40 percent purse increase in open dirt races with eight or more betting interests has boosted field size in the last few days at Pimlico. "But it's too early to tell its long-range effect, and if we'll have the money to keep it up," Robb said.
The horsemen also object that management is also considering adding two more tracks to its out-of-state simulcast schedule starting in July. That move would bring the total up to eight out-of-state cards that will be offered in addition to the live product.
L "No wonder the fans aren't betting on our races," Robb said.
De Francis also meets on Tuesday with Timonium Race Course officials about the possibility of finalizing an agreement to build an off-track betting parlor at the state fairgrounds. . . . An eight-race steeplechase card originally scheduled to be spread over two weekends at Pimlico and Laurel has been reset. The eight races will now be run entirely at Laurel on consecutive Thursday and Friday programs. The jump races will be run June 15-16 and June 22-23.
The prospective starters for the Belmont States on June 10:
Horse ...... Credential
Timber ..... Country Won Preakness, third Kentucky Derby
Thunder .... Gulch Won Kentucky Derby, third Preakness
@THE REST OF THE FIELD
Off'N'Away ..... Won in Ireland at 1 1/4 m. carrying 133 lbs.
Citadeed ....... Skipped Preakness, but won Peter Pan Stakes
Star Standard .. Fourth in Preakness after stalking pace
Wild Syn ....... Pace-setting Blue Grass winner eased in Derby
Knockadoon ..... 7th in Kentucky Derby, but has Chris McCarron
Ave's Flag ..... Finished sixth on Friday on the grass
Is Svetakis .... The "Itron" of the Belmont
*Compiled by N.Y. Racing Association