05/31/2013 4:00PM

Belmont Stakes: Stevens wants to get reacquainted with tricky track

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Barbara D. Livingston
Gary Stevens, winning the Preakness aboard Oxbow, says Belmont Park is a tricky place to ride because of its configuration.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Though his three Belmont Stakes victories tie him for third most of any jockey, Hall of Fame rider Gary Stevens isn’t taking anything for granted when it comes to the third leg of the Triple Crown.

Having not ridden at Belmont Park since 2005, Stevens – who rides Preakness winner Oxbow in Saturday’s 145th Belmont Stakes – said he is coming to New York early to reacquaint himself with the 1 1/2-mile oval, the largest racetrack in North America.

“Belmont is like the ocean. You can have a lot of fun in it, but it can also hurt you if you don’t respect it,” Stevens said Thursday during a national conference call. “I usually take off seconds from what I think I’m going. If I feel like I’m going 24-and-change, I’m probably going 22-and-change.”

Stevens said he reached out to trainer Todd Pletcher to see if there were any horses he might be able to work or exercise beginning Wednesday. He also has his former agent, the New York-based Ron Anderson, assisting his current agent, Craig O’Bryan, in seeking possible mounts on midweek cards. Stevens, who was not named on any horses on Wednesday’s program, will ride a few horses on the Belmont Stakes undercard.

[BELMONT STAKES: Probable field and latest updates]

“I want to reacquaint myself,” said Stevens, who actually won aboard his last mount at Belmont, Joint Aspiration in the Gaviola Stakes on turf on Oct. 30, 2005. “It’s been seven years.

“Belmont, it may look simple, it’s not simple,” Stevens added. “It’s my favorite racetrack in the world. The best horse normally wins there, other than jockey error.”

Stevens won the Belmont in 1995 on Thunder Gulch, 1998 on Victory Gallop, and in 2001 on Point Given. Stevens said he has seen Belmont Stakes lost by riders who didn’t respect the unique configuration of Belmont Park. While he didn’t address the 1998 Belmont specifically, Stevens and Victory Gallop nailed Kent Desormeaux and Real Quiet – who were seeking the Triple Crown – on the wire. Many believe that Desormeaux made a premature move in the Belmont.

“It’s a tricky place. You got to respect Belmont Park,” Stevens said.

Just a Game has five Grade 1 winners

A stellar field with five Grade 1 winners and a pair of Grade 2 winners is shaping up for the Grade 1, $500,000 Just a Game Stakes on the Belmont Stakes undercard.

Centre Court, who has won three consecutive graded races including the Jenny Wiley at Keeneland, is expected to start in the one mile race for fillies and mares on the turf.

Other Grade 1 winners expected include Better Lucky, Dayatthespa, Mizdirection, and Stephanie’s Kitten. Hungry Island, a multiple Grade 2 winner and the Britain-bred filly Laugh Out Loud are also expected.

Mizdirection has won four consecutive stakes, including the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint last year and the Grade 3 Cienegas at Santa Anita in April.

In other Belmont Stakes undercard races:

◗ Point of Entry, Twilight Eclipse, and Slim Shadey head the list of probables for the Grade 1, $500,000 Manhattan for males at 1 1/4 miles on turf. Others pointing to the race include Bombaguia, Hyper, and Optimizer. Possibles include Shkspeare Shaliyah and Sky Blazer.

◗ Caixa Eletronica and Justin Phillip, the first two finishers in last year’s Grade 2, $400,000 True North are expected to meet again in this year’s renewal. The field also includes Laurie’s Rocket, Off the Jak, Pass You Bye Bye, Sage Valley, Reload and possibly Travelin Man.

◗ Forty Tales and Capo Bastone, separated by a neck in the Derby Trial at Churchill Downs, are expected to head the field for the Grade 2, $400,000 Woody Stephens for 3-year-olds. Others expected include Clearly Now, Honorable Dillon, Tenango, Trinni Heart, and Whiskey Romeo. Declan’s Warrior, Let Em Shine, No Distinction, and Sr. Quisqueyano are possible.