06/07/2011 3:02PM

Belmont Stakes: Woody Stephens legacy lives on through Team Shackleford

Bob Coglianese
Danzig Connection's 1986 Belmont Stakes was the fifth consecutive time trainer Woody Stephens had sent out the race's winner.

ELMONT, N.Y. – When it pertains to the Belmont Stakes, it always comes back to Woody Stephens.

Though the Hall of Fame trainer, who won an unprecedented five consecutive Belmont Stakes from 1982-86, has been dead for almost 13 years, his memory certainly lives on in the race known as the “Test of the Champion.” That is especially true for this year’s 143rd running, to be held Saturday, which pits Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom against Preakness winner Shackleford.

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Scott Everett worked for Stephens during that amazing Belmont run and is now working as a New York assistant to Dale Romans, the trainer of Shackleford. Romans himself worked for Stephens one winter at Hialeah.

For good measure, Animal Kingdom, trained by Graham Motion, is stabled this week in the barn of David Donk, who also worked for Stephens for six years, including the final two years of his Belmont streak.

Everett, 48, was a groom and a foreman for Stephens in the early 1980s and was around for Stephens’ Belmont triumphs with Conquistador Cielo (1982), Caveat (1983), Swale (1984), Creme Fraiche (1985), and Danzig Connection (1986).

“Swale was probably the most talented horse that we had, but my favorite horse was probably Conquistador,” Everett said Tuesday morning on the apron at Belmont Park. “He had a lot of physical problems, he had bad shins as a 2-year-old.”

From May 8 to Aug. 8 of his 3-year-old season, Conquistador Cielo reeled off six consecutive victories, including the Metropolitan Handicap against older horses five days before the Belmont, which he won by 14 lengths. Conquistador Cielo then won the Dwyer and Jim Dandy before running third in the Travers, his final start.

“When he was right for those three months, nobody could beat him,” Everett said.

Everett, who was also part of a team that included trainer Bill Badgett, said Creme Fraiche was the underdog. He recalled a story when Creme Fraiche won his debut at Aqueduct on Oct. 27, 1984 at 20-1 under Jean Cruguet.

“We got Cruguet on the horse and Cruguet liked to gamble a little bit,” Everett said. “We didn’t tell him anything about the horse. The horse broke a step slow, was five in front by the quarter pole and won by [3 1/2]. He got off the horse and was all upset, ‘I ain’t taking the win picture, you guys should have told me.’ Billy said get back up on the horse or you’re never going to ride a horse for Woody again. He goes ‘I’m never going to ride a horse for Woody again anyway.’ ”

Everett has been friends with Romans since 1986 when Romans worked one winter for Stephens at Hialeah. The two remained friends ever since although, for the most part, they trained on different circuits. After leaving Stephens, Everett worked for Nick Zito, Jimmy Toner, and Badgett before going out on his own in 1996.

With a casino expected to open at Aqueduct in late summer, Romans wants to open up a year-round division in New York and, for now, has hired Everett to run it while allowing him to train a couple of his own horses.

“It’s perfect what I’m doing now with Dale,” Everett said. “I got a couple of my own and helping him out, it’s good for the both of us.”

Romans said Everett is a talented horseman with a good work ethic.

“He’s been around a lot of good horses and he never stops working,” Romans said. “He pays attention to detail, which is good for me. I’m more big picture.”

With any luck, Everett and Romans could be getting their picture taken together following the Belmont Stakes.

Bold Warrior to enter Woody Stephens

A race named in honor of Woody Stephens has been run on the undercard since 2006. A onetime contemporary of Stephens, the Hall of Famer Allen Jerkens will be represented in the seven-furlong race for 3-year-olds by Bold Warrior, a well-bred colt who comes off a solid maiden win just three weeks ago.

Bold Warrior is a son of Bernardini out of the champion mare Hollywood Wildcat, who has already produced the Grade 1 winner War Chant. After finishing second in his debut, Bold Warrior came back to win a maiden race by three lengths, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 91. He is owned by Irv Cowan.

“He’s a big figure man, he wants to put him in and take a look,” Jerkens said. “I know it’s going to be tough before you put them in.”

On Tuesday, Bold Warrior was credited with a five-furlong work in 1:00.19 over the Belmont training track.

Solis can pick ‘em

Alex Solis Jr. used to hang around the track all the time as a kid, seemingly intent on following in the jockey boots of his successful father. But little Alex grew too big to ride. But not, like AIG, too big to fail.

The younger Solis, 26, has carved out a deserved reputation as one of the sharpest young minds in the game. His acumen for picking out horses and managing them has brought him a current portfolio of 35 horses, including Turbulent Descent, who will be a heavy favorite on Saturday in the Grade 1, $300,000 Acorn Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.

Turbulent Descent has won five times in six starts, including the Santa Anita Oaks, but her narrow victory in that 1 1/16-mile race convinced her connections to keep her around one turn and not bid for the Kentucky Oaks. Since then, Turbulent Descent won the Beaumont Stakes at Keeneland by five lengths. After the one-mile Acorn, her next major objective will be this summer’s Test Stakes at seven furlongs at Saratoga, followed by the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, also at seven furlongs, at Churchill Downs.

“She’s doing wonderful,” Solis said Tuesday morning at Belmont Park. “It’s nice when the plan works out.”

Solis got in Monday night, and is spending the week here with his father, 47, who is now based on the East Coast after being a mainstay in Southern California for more than two decades.

“Thank goodness he’s doing well,” the elder Solis said. “Now he’s out of my pockets.”

– additional reporting by Jay Privman