Updated on 09/15/2011 1:17PM

Is 'Ben' Belmont-worthy?


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Churchill Downs will host a Belmont trial of sorts Sunday when Buckle Down Ben runs in a one-mile allowance race in an attempt to earn his way into the June 9 Belmont Stakes.

Buckle Down Ben, purchased earlier this year by Michael Tabor, will be ridden by Pat Day in the eighth race Sunday, a $46,800, second-level allowance.

"We want to get a good tightener under his belt before the Belmont," trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Friday at Churchill. "This isn't a do-or-die situation, by any means."

With Day already committed to Dollar Bill for the Belmont, Corey Nakatani would ride Buckle Down Ben in the third leg of the Triple Crown, said Lukas.

Buckle Down Ben will break from post 7 in a field of eight 3-year-olds in the one-turn race. He has not raced since finishing sixth, beaten nearly 26 lengths, in the March 24 Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park, a poor effort that eliminated him from Kentucky Derby consideration.

Lukas, who this spring did not have a runner in either the Derby or Preakness for the first time since 1979, said he "hasn't skipped a beat" with Buckle Down Ben in recent weeks. "He came out of the Spiral with pharyngitis, but we cleared that up and haven't had any problems since," he said. "He's really trained well."

Buckle Down Ben came under Tabor's scrutiny early this year at Gulfstream, where the colt finished a hard-charging second to Radical Riley in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes. After a fifth-place finish in the Fountain of Youth Stakes in his last start for trainer Steve Klesaris, Buckle Down Ben was turned over to Lukas, who has saddled him just once, for the Spiral.

Lukas said he "picked out this spot" around Derby time. "I wanted the one turn for him," he said. As for the Belmont, which he won last year with 18-1 shot Commendable, Lukas added: "We're realistic about it. We know he'll have to do the best he can to win. But this colt has a lot of ability, and if he can put it all together on the right day, we could go in there and upset them."

Probably the top challengers to Buckle Down Ben are Fin Entertainment, trained by Bob Baffert, and X Country, a four-time runner-up in minor stakes races.

o Two-year-olds will take the spotlight Monday in the $150,000 Kentucky Breeders' Cup Stakes, a 5 1/2-furlong race for which a small- to medium-sized field is expected.

Churchill will be dark Wednesday, displaced by the Monday card.