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Boo-birds quickly change their tune
ELMONT, N.Y. - The jeers turned to cheers for Jose Santos on Sunday afternoon at Belmont Park.
Less than 24 hours after guiding Funny Cide to a 9 3/4-length victory in the Preakness, Santos walked into the paddock for Sunday's fourth race at Belmont and was greeted with a loud ovation from the Belmont faithful. Some shouted "Triple Crown,'' others "Bring it on home,'' and others still "One more time'' as Santos smiled and politely waved to the fans while astride longshot Monkey Junior.
On June 7, Santos will ride Funny Cide in the Belmont Stakes, where a victory would make the New York-bred gelding Thoroughbred racing's 12th Triple Crown winner and first since Affirmed in 1978.
The cheers for Santos were a far cry from a week ago Sunday, when Santos, still under a cloud of suspicion for possible wrongdoing in the Kentucky Derby spurred by a newspaper article, was hearing shouts of "Where's your machine?" or "You didn't win because you didn't have your machine."
On May 12, Santos was cleared by the Churchill stewards, who concluded he had only his whip in his right hand when he guided Funny Cide to victory in the May 3 Kentucky Derby. Last Saturday, after passing the finish line, Santos blew a kiss to the crowd, gave the victory sign with his index and middle fingers, and opened his hand to show there was nothing in it.
"Everything came naturally,'' Santos said of his post-race celebration. "It came from the heart.''
While confident Funny Cide would win the Preakness, Santos was taken aback by the manner in which he did it. Santos said he thought about peeking back before the finish line, but recalled an instance when he did that while riding in Chile as a teenager.
"I was winning a race by 10 lengths and I looked back,'' Santos said. "When I got off the horse my father gave me a kick in the butt and a slap on the top of my head. He said, 'The wire is in front of you not behind you.' ''
Santos, 42, said he will approach the Belmont Stakes like any other race and will try not to think about the Triple Crown being at stake.
"My confidence was 150 percent the other day in the Preakness,'' Santos said. "It's going to be 250 percent in the Belmont. We'll keep our fingers crossed that everything keeps going good.''
Riskaverse impressive in return
Riskaverse, who won the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth at Keeneland last October, made an impressive 4-year-old debut Sunday, taking a classified allowance race by a head over Love N' Kiss S., a mare who had previously been 5 for 5 at Belmont.
Riskaverse, owned by Fox Ridge Farm and trained by Pat Kelly, was making her first start since finishing seventh in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf last October. Riskaverse had been entered but was scratched from last Saturday's Gallorette at Pimlico.
In Sunday's race, Riskaverse stalked the pace under John Velazquez, then dueled from the five-sixteenths pole to the wire with Love N' Kiss S, before prevailing by a head. Riskaverse covered the mile in 1:33.21 over a firm turf course.
"I knew she would run well; I wish she hadn't run that fast,'' Kelly said. "Johnny's never ridden her so he was feeling her out and he did a nice job. She's a classy filly. I think she's come back nicer than last year. She looks good, had a nice vacation. If she matures as much from 3 to 4 as she did from 2 to 3 it will be an exciting year.''
Kelly plans on running Riskaverse back in the $200,000 Just a Game Breeders' Cup Handicap on the Belmont Stakes undercard.
Christine's Outlaw heads Peter Pan
The Peter Pan Stakes, run Saturday, usually produces at least one starter for the Belmont Stakes. But, this year's field is light on numbers, and only three of the six horses that are being pointed to the race are nominated to the Triple Crown.
Horses not nominated to the Triple Crown would have to be supplemented to the Belmont Stakes at a cost of $100,000. Add in $20,000 worth of entry fees and a supplemented horse would have to win or finish second in the Belmont to make money.
Christine's Outlaw, the third-place finisher in the Arkansas Derby, is Triple Crown-nominated and could earn a spot in the Belmont with a solid performance in the Peter Pan. A son of Wild Again trained by former Todd Pletcher assistant George Weaver, Christine's Outlaw worked five furlongs in 1:02.93 at Saratoga on Sunday. He breezed in company with an unstarted stablemate.
Weaver said he was tempted to run Christine's Outlaw in the Derby or Preakness, but felt in order to have a horse for the remainder of the season, it was best to skip those races. Weaver is now glad he did so.
"He's doing as well as I've ever seen him do,'' Weaver said. "We worked him a couple of times up here and we're very happy with the way he's doing. I think he will be ready for a big race in the Peter Pan.''
Weaver has named Eibar Coa to ride Christine's Outlaw, partly because Coa could stick with the horse if Weaver chose to run in the Belmont.
Others pointing to the Peter Pan are Alysweep, Nacheezmo, Spite the Devil, Go Rockin' Robin, and Supervisor. Nacheezmo worked five furlongs in 1:02.93 Sunday at Saratoga. Nacheezmo, Spite the Devil, and Go Rockin' Robin are not Triple Crown-nominated.
Supervisor, who worked four furlongs Monday at Belmont in 48.25 seconds, finished ahead of Funny Cide when the two were fourth and fifth in the Holy Bull stakes in January.
Velazquez off to hot start
Though he was a non-factor in the Triple Crown, Velazquez is off to a remarkable start at the Belmont spring-summer meet. In the first 10 days, Velazquez has compiled 18 winners from 49 mounts, a .367 winning percentage. His closest pursuers are Javier Castellano and Santos, each with nine wins.
Velazquez has had six multiple-win days at Belmont, including all four days in which he rode here last week. On Friday, Velazquez won the Black-Eyed Susan at Pimlico aboard Roar Emotion, and was narrowly beaten aboard Summer Colony in the Pimlico Distaff Breeders' Cup.
Volponi, Harlan's Holiday on target for Brooklyn
Santos left Baltimore late Saturday night so he could work his Breeders' Cup Classic winner, Volponi, on Sunday morning at Belmont. Volponi, gearing up for the $250,000 Brooklyn Handicap on June 14, went four furlongs in 48.62 seconds over Belmont's main track.
"I was very happy,'' trainer Phil Johnson said, adding that Volponi would have a more serious work on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Harlan's Holiday, who figures to be Volponi's major nemesis in the Brooklyn, worked five furlongs in 1:00.43 Sunday at Belmont. Harlan's Holiday has already won the Grade 1 Donn Handicap and finished second in the Dubai World Cup this year.
"He's doing really well,'' trainer Todd Pletcher said. "Giving him a week before we shipped back [from Dubai] was probably a good thing.''
Pletcher said he would also nominate Harlan's Holiday to the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs on the same day, "but most likely we're going to run here,'' he added.