06/01/2009 11:00PM

Garcia's task will be tougher

Barbara D. Livingston
Charitable Man should be a strong pace factor in Saturday's Belmont.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Though he is riding a better horse, it may not be as easy for jockey Alan Garcia to steal this year's Belmont Stakes as it was last year.

In 2008, Garcia guided longshot Da' Tara to a gate-to-wire victory in the Belmont. At 38-1, few handicappers let alone horsemen gave Da' Tara much chance to win, which may have played a role in the colt's ability to sneak away.

"Nobody was paying attention to my horse,'' Garcia said.

Saturday, Garcia will ride probable second-choice Charitable Man in the 141st Belmont Stakes. In a race without much speed, Garcia could find himself in a similar early position as last year. But with horsemen from D. Wayne Lukas to Todd Pletcher to Nick Zito all labeling Charitable Man the horse to beat, his opponents may take shots at him early and often.

If they can.

None of this matters much to Garcia, who has been aboard Charitable Man for all four of his races, including victories in the Grade 2 Futurity here last September and the Grade 2 Peter Pan here last month. Garcia said that in all four races - including a seventh-place finish in the Blue Grass at Keeneland - the horse "was doing whatever I wanted him to do.'' Garcia said the loss in the Blue Grass was a result of Charitable Man disliking the Polytrack.

Garcia said he has seen changes in Charitable Man both physically and mentally from last year.

"He's grown up a lot, he's nice, beautiful, and mentally he's very professional now,'' Garcia said. "I don't think I'll have to worry about the distance. I think he's going to get the mile and a half easily, and hopefully he can get the money.''

Garcia, 23, will seek to become the eighth jockey to win back-to-back Belmont Stakes, but the first since Ron Turcotte won with Riva Ridge and Secretariat in 1972-73. Bill Shoemaker is the last jockey to win with his first two Belmont mounts - Gallant Man (1957) and Sword Dancer (1959).

Molina enjoying sweet 'Candy' ride

When the spring started, the Triple Crown was the furthest thing from Lindsey Molina's mind. The 20-year-old daughter of Southern California trainer Mark Molina, Lindsey was struggling with a fledgling riding career in the afternoon while working as an exercise ride for Carla Gaines in the morning.

Molina would also get on horses for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. In mid-April, Hollendorfer tabbed her to travel to Kentucky with Chocolate Candy, and Molina has not been home since. After spending about three weeks in Louisville, Molina has spent the last month in New York, helping prepare Chocolate Candy for the Belmont.

"The day before we shipped out to Kentucky, he asked me to get on one for him, and I did,'' Molina recalled. "The next thing he said was 'Can you go to Kentucky for me?' I said, 'What do you mean?' He said 'Chocolate Candy is going to run in the Derby.' I said, 'I'm in.' That's an experience I'll never forget.''

While her first morning in Louisville was a bit hectic - she set her alarm clock to wake up at 5 a.m. West Coast time and was late to the barn - everything since then has been smooth. Molina thought Chocolate Candy would run a big race in the Kentucky Derby and the horse finished a respectable fifth over the sloppy Churchill strip.

After being advised to get to Belmont early, Hollendorfer had Molina come to New York on May 6 with Chocolate Candy, Rendezvous, and Pretty Catherine. The latter two are running here Friday in stakes.

Molina worked Chocolate Candy three times at Belmont and truly believes the horse couldn't be doing any better heading into Saturday's race.

"I hope he runs the way he's trained,'' she said.

Hollendorfer said Molina will be welcomed as a permanent exercise rider for his stable when she gets back to Southern California. For Molina, that works just fine as she doesn't plan to pursue her riding career, which consisted of just six mounts.

"The racing part of it I liked,'' Molina said about being a jockey. "But it was everything else, from the jocks' room to paddock to the post parade to loading in the gate, I wanted to shoot myself. My nerves were so bad.''

Benny the Bull returns in True North

Benny the Bull, last year's champion sprinter, is expected to make his return to the races in Saturday's Grade 2, $250,00 True North Handicap, trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. said Wednesday. He won this race last year as part of a 4-for-4 campaign that earned him the Eclipse Award, even though he missed the second half of the year.

Benny the Bull has not run since taking the Grade 2 Smile Sprint Handicap at Calder last July 12. In training toward the Forego last August, Benny the Bull sustained a chip in an ankle that required surgery and he was retired. But when doctors told his connections that the prognosis for racing was good, Michael Iavarone, co-president of the IEAH Stables, which owns majority interest in the horse, opted to put him bring him back.

Benny the Bull has worked eight times since mid-April, including a half-mile in 48.20 seconds on Tuesday. Dutrow was hoping to find a softer spot for Benny's return, but with a goal of getting back to the Smile at Calder on July 11, Dutrow feels he must get Benny started now.

"I don't have any big problems running him off the bench in the True North,'' Dutrow said. "He's doing good. Every day he's been back has been a good day for Benny. He's come back the right way. I'm not crazy running against [Fabulous Strike] off a year layoff, but we're trying to make the Florida race and this is very good timing.''

Benny the Bull is the 123-pound highweight in this field. He is spotting one pound to Fabulous Strike. Others expected to run include Two Step Salsa, Desert Key, Per Incanto, Disco's Son, Silver Edition, and Sixthirteen.

Cocoa Beach, Music Note work

Cocoa Beach and Music Note, the second- and third-place finishers from the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic last fall, both worked Tuesday morning over the main track. Music Note, who is nominated to the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps, worked six furlongs in 1:14.20, while Cocoa Beach worked four furlongs in 47 seconds.

For Cocoa Beach, it was her first work at Belmont after arriving from Keeneland about a week ago. Cocoa Beach, who hasn't run since winning the Grade 1 Matriarch at Hollywood Park on turf last Nov. 30, wintered at Keeneland and worked there three times before shipping here.

"She worked really well,'' Mettee said.

As a multi-surface runner, Cocoa Beach has several options for her seasonal debut. Mettee said a first target could be the Diana at 1 1/8 miles on turf on Aug. 1 or the Go for Wand at 1 1/8 miles on dirt. Both Grade 1 races are at Saratoga.

"It depends on what Music Note and Seventh Street are doing at the time,'' Mettee said.

Cocoa Beach won the Grade 1 Beldame here last fall.

Music Note put in what Mettee called a "subpar'' workout Tuesday morning that could put her status for the Phipps in doubt. Usually a strong work horse, Music Note went in fractions of 25.80, 38, and 50 before finishing her move 1:14.80. She galloped out seven furlongs in 1:28.80.

"Usually she gallops out a lot better,'' Mettee said. "That's unlike her, she's usually pretty consistent. She'd have to come back and work better than that next week to justify running in the Phipps.''

Borel appears on Letterman

You might not find a more diverse pair of guests than the two David Letterman has for his show airing Friday night - Calvin Borel, the homespun jockey famous for winning this year's Kentucky Derby with Mine That Bird, and Paris Hilton, the heiress famous for being famous.

Borel has been a popular talk show guest the past month. After winning the Derby, he was on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." His appearance on Letterman's show is part of whirlwind week Borel is spending in New York, including a tour of Manhattan in the company of an ESPN crew on Monday for a feature story airing Saturday afternoon.

Letterman's Friday show is taped on Mondays. When Borel and his fiance, Lisa Funk, pulled up to the Ed Sullivan Theater on Monday night for the taping, the paparazzi were out in full force, and flashbulbs began popping as soon as Funk got out of the limousine.

"Paris. Paris," they yelled, before realizing it, uh, wasn't Paris.

"I guess they saw my blond hair getting out of the limo," Funk said Tuesday.

But when Borel followed, Funk was pleasantly surprised that the paparazzi knew who it was and started yelling, "Calvin. Calvin."

Because of the early hours they keep, Funk said she and Borel rarely watch Leno or Letterman. "We never get a chance to stay up late, but if there's a guest on that I like, I'll Tivo it," Funk said.

Borel said he enjoyed doing the show.

"I had a good time with Dave," he said.

Borel is spending the week in Manhattan. He will not ride at Belmont Park until Saturday.

"Friday he's going to take the day off," Funk said. "The closest he'll get to a horse is he and I riding around Central Park in a carriage."

- additional reporting by Jay Privman