Updated on 06/09/2012 11:31AM

Belmont Stakes 2012: Dullahan tops cast of Triple Crown spoilers

Tom Keyser
Dullahan is the 5-1 second choice on the morning line for the Belmont Stakes.

ELMONT, N.Y. – On June 9, 2011, Dullahan made his first career start at Churchill Downs. He was sent off at odds of 4-1 in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden race. Expectations among his connections were modest, so there was little disappointment when he finished third.

“I thought we had a talented horse that wanted to stretch out,” trainer Dale Romans said. “I just wanted to get a good race into him that day.”

On June 9, 2012 – Saturday – Dullahan will make his 10th career start in the $1 million Belmont Stakes at 1 1/2 miles at Belmont Park. He is listed as the 5-1 second choice on the morning lines of both Daily Racing Form ’s Mike Watchmaker and NYRA’s Eric Donovan. Expectations among his connections are exceedingly high.

“I think we’re the horse to beat,” Romans said. 

When he says that, Romans means no disrespect to I’ll Have Another, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner who seeks to become racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner in Saturday’s Belmont. Romans just believes Dullahan is coming into the race in excellent form, having had five weeks to recover from his third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.

[BELMONT STAKES: Past performances, video updates, contender profiles, odds]

“If I wasn’t in the race, I’d be on his bandwagon 100 percent thinking he is going to be tough to deny the Triple Crown,” Romans said of I’ll Have Another. “I just like my horse; I like the way he’s doing.”

Speaking of I’ll Have Another, Romans said, “I haven’t seen a chink in his armor, we just have to be better than him.”

Dullahan is a half-brother to Mine That Bird, the 2009 Kentucky Derby winner who finished second in the Preakness and third in the Belmont. Dullahan, owned by Jerry Crawford’s Donegal Racing, has won two Grade 1 races over Keeneland’s synthetic surface, but is winless in four starts on dirt, all at Churchill Downs.

His first two races were in sprints. He finished fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and third in the Derby.

There is a widely held belief that turf horses handle Churchill’s dirt surface better than any dirt surface. Romans has seen that to be the case in some instances. But he also believes Dullahan can handle any surface.

“I was never really sold on the fact that he had to run on turf or Poly,” Romans said. “I think he’s a talented horse who ran very well at Churchill; his brother won the Derby, he ran well on dirt his whole life.”

Noting that Dullahan worked four furlongs in 45.82 seconds at Belmont – the fastest of 66 works at the distance Sunday – Romans said that “was good enough to think that he is going to handle the dirt here no problem.”

Dullahan was only beaten 1 3/4 lengths in the Kentucky Derby, forced to come to the stretch seven wide under Kent Desormeaux. Javier Castellano rides Dullahan in the Belmont.

While Romans wanted to wheel him back two weeks later in the Preakness, Crawford wanted to skip it.

Five of the last 12 Belmont winners ran in the Derby, skipped the Preakness, and won the Belmont – Summer Bird, 2009; Jazil, 2006; Birdstone, 2004; Empire Maker, 2003; and Commendable, 2000. Two other Belmont winners in that span – Rags to Riches and Ruler On Ice – also were running back in the same five-week time frame.

Crawford also noted that Take the Points, a son of Even the Score – the same sire as Dullahan – finished last in the Preakness Stakes but had previously won over Belmont’s dirt surface.

“Genetically, this surface seemed to be stronger for him than the Pimlico surface, which is so speed favoring,” Crawford said. “Running a horse three times in five weeks often knocks a horse out for some or all of the rest of the year or even the rest of their career. I thought the fairest thing for Dullahan was to bring him to the sire-making race and see what he could do here.”

Romans has since come around to believe that skipping the Preakness was the right move.

“Jerry was right about it,” Romans said. “This gives us the best opportunity to win a classic race. It gave me time to do more with him and train him to go a mile and a half.”

Toward that end, Romans worked Dullahan a mile at Churchill, a bit of an old-school move in an era where five-furlong works are the norm.

“He was doing so good, he seemed like the more I did with him the better he got,” Romans said. “I didn’t think it would knock him out at all. I thought it would do him a lot of good.”

Since racing has not had a Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978, some people believe it would be good for the sport if I’ll Have Another completes the Triple Crown on Saturday.

If someone beats him, there are likely to be plenty of boos cascading down at the winning connections from the expected 100,000 fans at Belmont Park.

Romans says bring it on.

“A hundred thousand New Yorkers booing me would be just fine,” Romans said. “They’re all sportsmen though; they’d get over it the next day.”