06/01/2016 12:56PM

Belmont Doings: Lani settling down

Barbara D. Livingston
Lani caused horses and humans problems at Churchill Downs, but he's been on his best behavior at Belmont.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Lani may be shedding his reputation as the bad boy of the Triple Crown.

A horse who gave his handlers fits before the Kentucky Derby, would act studdish around fillies and mares, and was tough around the gate, Lani has been on his best behavior at Belmont Park.

If he didn’t wear a saddle towel with his name on it and didn’t make four laps around the track every day, it would be hard to distinguish him from any other horse.

“He has been behaving professionally,” said Keita Tanaka, agent for owner Koji Maeda. “He’s got experience, and having settled in this environment, it’s nice and quiet here, not too many horses at the track. He can go by his own pace every morning, and he’s quite happy.”

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Tanaka was quite happy Wednesday after watching Lani work five furlongs in 1:02.36 over the main track, with a final quarter in 24.55 seconds. The work came on his third lap around the track after walking one lap and jogging and galloping a second lap. Prior to the official start of the breeze, he galloped three furlongs in 40.05 seconds.

In the stretch, Lani changed to his correct lead on cue, something that hadn’t been coming easily to the Kentucky-bred, Japanese-based son of Tapit.

“He got used to the style of the races here,” Eishu Maruuchi, Lani’s exercise rider, said through an interpreter. “He changed leads this morning exactly as I wanted him to do. I’ve seen some improvement since last time.”

Lani, who won the United Arab Emirates Derby in Dubai, finished ninth in the Kentucky Derby, beaten 10 3/4 lengths by Nyquist, and fifth in the Preakness, beaten five lengths by Exaggerator. In neither race did he break well.

His connections believed all along that if he were to do well in a Triple Crown race, it would be in the Belmont Stakes at 1 1/2 miles.

“First factor is the distance,” Tanaka said. “Also, a small number in the field, and the first two races went very fast.”

The first quarter of the Preakness – 22.38 seconds – was the fastest in the 141-year history of the race. Tanaka doesn’t see that same pace developing in the Belmont.

“I looked at the past performances of the field,” Tanaka said. “This time, we’re not going to have very fast runners, so I wouldn’t think he’d be 20 lengths behind the front-runners like we’ve seen in the Preakness, which means he has less ground to make up, which will be an advantage for him.”

Though Lani has run in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and trains more than three miles every day, exercise rider Maruuchi insists the horse “still has something in the tank.”

Lani is expected to have one more work next Wednesday at Belmont. His trainer, Mikio Matsunaga, is expected to be on hand.

Stewart has two possibilities

Trainer Dallas Stewart won maiden races at two tracks 51 minutes apart on Sunday. Now, Stewart and owner Charles Fipke are toying with the idea of running the winners of those races – Forever d’Oro and Seeking the Soul – back in the Belmont Stakes on June 11.

Forever d’Oro, a half-brother to Grade 1 winners Forever Unbridled and Unbridled Forever, overcame a slow start to get up in the final strides and win a 1 1/16-mile maiden race at Belmont by a nose. He ran the distance in 1:43.22 and earned an 81 Beyer Speed Figure.

“I thought he ran great,” Stewart said by phone from Kentucky. “He wasn’t standing very well when they broke, he got off sideways, kind of stumbled, and was way back. He can be much closer than that.”

Stewart said Forever d’Oro having a race over the track “is a big positive.”

“I really, really like the horse,” he said.

Stewart, who has participated in the last three Belmont Stakes, said he would train Forever d’Oro for a week and see how the horse is doing.

“He might be tearing the barn down and he can run back, or he might need a month,” Stewart said.

Seeking the Soul, a son of Perfect Soul, won a one-mile maiden race by a neck at Churchill. He ran the mile in 1:34.15 and earned an 88 Beyer.

“We’re kicking it around,” Stewart said of the Belmont.

Fipke has run horses in two of the last three Belmonts.

◗ Preakness winner Exaggerator jogged two miles over the Belmont Park training track Wednesday. He bucked a couple of times on each of two turns around the one-mile oval. Assistant trainer Julie Clark opted to go to the training track instead of the main track so that Exaggerator could get two laps in. On the 1 1/2-mile main track, Clark said, “You’re either going too far or too short.”

Overall, Clark said she felt “that’s one of his best jog days in a long time.”

“He can be a real handful,”she said. “He had a couple of bucks in there, which I’d worry if he didn’t.”

◗ Preakness runner-up Cherry Wine, Blue Grass Stakes winner Brody’s Cause, and Arkansas Derby winner Creator all arrived at Belmont Park on Wednesday after vanning from Churchill Downs.

– additional reportingby Mike Welsch