05/30/2014 1:43PM

Another second chance for Stewart


ELMONT, N.Y. – Though Dallas Stewart is bringing the Kentucky Derby runner-up to the Belmont Stakes for the second consecutive year, the trainer believes the similarities between Commanding Curve and Golden Soul end there.

Stewart said that Commanding Curve, second to California Chrome at odds of 37-1 in the May 3 Kentucky Derby, came out of his effort better than did Golden Soul, second to Orb at odds of 34-1 in last year’s Derby. Golden Soul, who like Commanding Curve skipped the Preakness, finished ninth in the Belmont Stakes as the sixth betting choice in the 14-horse field.

Stewart said he was only able to work Golden Soul once in the five weeks between the Derby and the Belmont. Commanding Curve has already worked twice at Churchill Downs and was scheduled for another timed breeze on Sunday at Belmont Park in preparation for next Saturday’s $1.5 million Belmont Stakes where California Chrome will attempt to become the sport’s 12th Triple Crown winner.

“I think this horse came out of the race better than Golden Soul weight-wise,” Stewart said Thursday on a national conference call. “Golden Soul had lost some weight, I only worked him one time, struggled to get the weight back on him.

“This horse,” Stewart said, referring to Commanding Curve, “looks like he’s put on a lot of muscle since the race. He’s trained very steady, looks great to me, lot of things we like to see. He’s eating well, we’re coming up to the race in good shape.”

On Friday, Commanding Curve visited the Belmont main track for the first time and inadvertently galloped 2 3/8 miles because exercise rider Emerson Chavez backed up to the seven-furlong pole.

“He backed up just a little bit further than he was supposed to, no big deal,” Stewart said at Belmont on Friday. “He just went off like a hobby horse. He traveled well. He’s an easy horse. He doesn’t have a lot of particulars about him.”

Commanding Curve, a son of Master Command owned by the West Point Thoroughbreds, will attempt to become the first Kentucky Derby runner-up to win the Belmont since Empire Maker did it in 2003, upending the Triple Crown bid of Funny Cide. Since then, Derby runner-ups are 0 for 4 in the Belmont, including a ninth-place finish by Ice Box as the favorite in the 2010 Belmont.

Stewart was one of those who doubted California Chrome could win the Derby. He thought the combination of an inauspicious pedigree and conditioning based on easy victories in Kentucky Derby prep races might work against him.

“Oh yeah, I was wrong,” Stewart said. “The horse is just a runner.”

On Friday, California Chrome and Preakness runner-up Ride On Curlin both visited the starting gate.

California Chrome, who has had a little trouble in the gate in some previous races, walked right in and stood perfectly. Alan Sherman, the assistant trainer for California Chrome, said his biggest concern is to make sure the horse is standing square in the gate.

“He has a tendency to spread his front feet a little bit, so as long as he stays square, that’s my main concern,” said Sherman, who added that he may take him to the gate one more time next week.”

After visiting the gate, California Chrome galloped 1 1/4 miles.

“He was really good today, he’s mature now. He’s figuring out what the gate is for,” said exercise rider Willie Delgado. “He goes into the gate, he thinks it’s time to run.”

Delgado said that California Chrome was so strong galloping through the stretch that “my arms were burning today. I really had to stand up to pull him up.”

Later in the morning, California Chrome was equipped with a new set of glue-on shoes that are affixed using nails. Blacksmith Judd Fisher said he first did this without telling the connections of California Chrome, and it began a week before he won the King Glorious Stakes, the first of six straight wins.

“I wanted to get him up off his sole a little bit more than he was,” Fisher said explaining why he uses nails to affix glue-on shoes.

Ride On Curlin, who broke a step slow in the Preakness, went to the gate after he galloped 1 3/8 miles, nearly running off with exercise rider Bryan Beccia around the clubhouse turn near the end of his session.

Kid Cruz, whose status for the Belmont is uncertain, worked six furlongs in 1:14.53 over the Belmont training track in company with the 3-year-old maiden A Marked Man. Kid Cruz, who began his work at the half-mile pole, galloped out seven furlongs in 1:28.17.

Afterward, trainer Linda Rice, who called the work “okay,” was noncommittal about running.

“Probably make a decision on whether we do or don’t go to the Belmont over the weekend,” Rice said.

After staying in the barn on Thursday, Wood Memorial winner Wicked Strong had a solid 1 3/4-mile gallop over the training track.

– additional reporting by Mike Welsch