Updated on 09/15/2011 12:22PM

It's still Woody's race


ELMONT, N.Y. - "Woody, Woody, Woody . . ."

It was a chant of affection and admiration for an outstanding man who accomplished an outstanding feat and it went on for the better part of 10 minutes, with a large segment of the crowd joining in, after Woody Stephens saddled his fifth consecutive winner of the Belmont Stakes in 1986.

Can it be 15 years? The chant, and the respect it represented, seems so fresh in memory. It began two years earlier, after Stephens, the late Hall of Fame trainer, sent out Swale for his third straight victory in the Belmont. Only a few joined in that first time. There were a lot more when Creme Fraiche became Stephens's fourth winner in 1985, and by the time Danzig Connection won to make it five, the chant became part of the ceremony.

It could only have happened in connection with the Belmont, which New Yorkers adopted as their own a long time ago. It is questionable, also, if many other people could have inspired such feeling. Stephens was a native Kentuckian, but he trained horses in New York for 50 years, and like the Yankees had a record of conspicuous success.

The Belmont is really a remarkable race for its demanding requirements. You can't get a prep race at the distance and you can't find another race at the distance if you do win. And it comes at the end of the gruelling Triple Crown series as if designed to finish off the 3-year-old generation.

With little experience at mile-and-a-half racing, trainers and jockeys wing it as best they can, and it is understandable that results at times are unfathomable. But everybody understands winning, which is why Woody's five victories were so well received.

Saturday's 133rd Belmont is particularly attractive and competitive in prospect. It has two corking principals in Monarchos and Point Given. We suspect these two are very close in ability, and both appear to be coming to the Belmont in top form. But both have been through the wringers that are the Derby and the Preakness. We expect they will put on a great show and will cancel each other out.

Belmont is A P Valentine's track. He's always run well here, where there is plenty of room to stake out a position.

His race in the Preakness suggests he is back in form and we think he will progress from that point. We like him to win and expect Dr Greenfield to finish well if the pace is realistic. That isn't always the case in the Belmont.

The Belmont is only part of the show Saturday. Racing secretary Mike Lakow and his people produced an extraordinary card that includes the $400,000 Manhattan Handicap at 1 1/4 miles on the turf. The principals are King Cugat, last year's best 3-year-old on turf, and Perfect Sting, the champion grass filly of last year. The $175,000 Just a Game Breeders' Cup for fillies and mares at a mile on the turf has attracted License Fee, winner of more than $1 million, and Collect the Cash, heroine of last fall's Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth Challenge Cup.

Perhaps the most competitive event on the undercard is the $150,000 True North Handicap at six furlongs, starring Say Florida Sandy, winner of more than $1.4 million; Men's Exclusive, winner of more than $1.1 million; Wake at Noon, a top sprinter in Canada; and Explicit, second to champion Kona Gold at Santa Anita this spring

The one to beat in the True North is Chester and Mary Broman's rapid and talented Hook and Ladder, a 4-year-old colt by Dixieland Band who won the Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Championship. More recently he was third in Aqueduct's Carter Handicap at seven furlongs, but jockey Richard Migliore says that comes with an explanation.

"He was in front," Migliore said, "but I was concerned about the last furlong and I tried to save something. I may have taken him out of his natural gait. I'll let him run his own race this time, and I have confidence he can go right along early and still have enough left to win."