Updated on 09/15/2011 12:21PM

No signs of weakness here


ELMONT, N.Y. - The Triple Crown grind is supposed to take its toll on the 3-year-olds who are asked to race three times in three states at three different distances in five weeks. But the main contenders for Saturday's 133rd Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park are working as though they are saving their best for the last leg of the Triple Crown.

Point Given, the Preakness Stakes winner, completed his serious training on Monday morning at Churchill Downs by zipping five furlongs in 59.60 seconds, the fastest work of 13 at the distance. His work followed by one day the strong drill turned in by Monarchos here at Belmont Park, where the Kentucky Derby winner skipped over a sloppy surface in 1:00.45.

Balto Star and Invisible Ink, trainer Todd Pletcher's pair of starters, also worked well Sunday at Belmont. Balto Star looked especially sharp, as did Dollar Bill in his drill at Churchill on Sunday. Thunder Blitz has been training strongly at Belmont, as has A P Valentine, who was scheduled to have his final workout here Tuesday morning.

As a result, though the Belmont is expected to only number nine runners - the smallest field since seven raced in 1997 - the quality of this field, especially in terms of depth, could be as good as any in recent years.

"I think it's a pretty deep field," said John Ward Jr., the trainer of Monarchos. "I'm totally amazed at how my horse has maintained his attitude, condition, and weight through all this. A lot of horses don't have the personality to do this. And you've got a lot of New York-based horses," Ward added, referring to Balto Star, Invisible Ink, and Thunder Blitz, who skipped the Preakness, "waiting to pluck you."

The Belmont Stakes, at 1 1/2 miles, is the longest of the Triple Crown races. Entries for this year's race will be taken Wednesday morning. The draw will be a traditional one, in which posts are determined randomly, rather than the two-step draw utilized at the Derby and Preakness. The race will be shown live by NBC-Sports in a 90-minute telecast beginning at 5 p.m. Eastern time. The listed post time is 6:04 p.m., though both the Derby and Preakness off times were a bit later.

The weather forecast for Belmont week is unsettled. After a weekend of rain, it was gorgeous in New York on Monday, with a high of 70 degrees, clear skies, and a brisk breeze from the west. Rain is forecast for the area, however, beginning Wednesday, and the National Weather Service predicts isolated thunderstorms for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

Rain hit the Louisville area Monday morning, so Point Given was forced to work on a sloppy track. "I heard thunder. The rain woke me up," said Point Given's trainer, Bob Baffert. "I thought maybe it was Point Given loose in the hallway."

Point Given was ridden by his regular workout rider, Dana Barnes. Point Given broke off behind stablemate Self Esteem, reached him on the turn, and drew clear in the stretch.

"He looked really good. He's ready," Baffert said.

Baffert said he thought briefly about postponing Point Given's work by one day, but decided to brave the elements.

"I was afraid the track might be really heavy and sticky tomorrow," Baffert said.

Point Given continued his antics Monday morning. "He took a chunk out of his cheek when he came back," Baffert said. Late last week, Point Given suffered a laceration over his left eye that required stitches.

Earlier Monday at Churchill, Buckle Down Ben, who is expected to be the longest shot in the Belmont, worked a half-mile in 50 seconds with exercise rider Stacy Maker. Buckle Down Ben worked before the rainstorm hit, when the track was still fast. His trainer, D. Wayne Lukas, is seeking his fifth Belmont victory.

Point Given and Buckle Down Ben are scheduled to fly from Kentucky to New York on Wednesday morning along with Dollar Bill, who worked five furlongs at Churchill on Sunday in 59.60 seconds for trainer Dallas Stewart.

Monarchos, Balto Star, and Invisible Ink all worked five furlongs Sunday at Belmont Park over a sloppy surface, which had orange cones, called dogs, protecting the inside portion of the track. The horses came onto the track right after the mid-morning renovation break.

Monarchos worked with his regular exercise rider, Bryan Beccia, who niggled at the reins on the turn and let Monarchos roll through the stretch.

"I like the fact that he looked totally confident over it," Ward said. "No matter where he watched to put his foot down, he was solid the whole way. He changed leads fluidly. I think we're in good shape."

Exercise rider Judy Elias worked both Pletcher horses. Invisible Ink was the first horse on the track after the break. The long-winded colt was timed in 1:02.27 while going along nice and easy. Balto Star, who was timed in 1:01.43, was under snug restraint throughout and seemed to relish the off going; he won the Arkansas Derby on a sloppy track.

"They both can work very fast. I didn't want to go too fast and deplete the tank," Pletcher said. "Balto Star's potentially an exceptional work horse. The last thing I wanted was for him to work in 58 and come back tired."

Pletcher thought about postponing both works until Monday, but was afraid the track would not be in better condition. And even though the track was fast Monday, Pletcher did not second-guess himself, believing having an extra day between the final workout and the race will benefit both of his horses.

Dr Greenfield was scheduled to fly from Great Britain to New York on Tuesday and clear quarantine by Wednesday afternoon. His most recent victory came in the listed Dee Stakes at Chester. The second-place finisher in that race, Grandera, came back on Sunday to finish third, beaten less than one length, in the French Derby.

"That makes us look very good," said Barry Irwin, president of the Team Valor syndicate that owns Dr Greenfield.