05/25/2010 12:00AM

'Victor' gives Maker first Belmont trip

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Photos by Z/Keeneland
Stately Victor entered the Triple Crown chase after he upset the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Mike Maker was a stablehand and assistant for D. Wayne Lukas during a six-year stretch when Lukas won four runnings of the Belmont Stakes.

"Never went to one," said Maker, who remained behind in Kentucky while Tabasco Cat (1994), Thunder Gulch (1995), Editor's Note (1996), and Commendable (2000) won the final leg of the Triple Crown for Lukas. "Wayne always had a barn up there, so I'd just watch on TV."

This year, however, Maker is going to New York when hoping to emulate the success his former boss experienced during their time together. Maker will saddle Stately Victor as one of the middling wagering choices in the June 5 Belmont, and after watching the colt breeze five furlongs Tuesday morning at the Trackside training center, he expressed optimism that a mild upset could occur.

"He's happy," Maker said after exercise rider Derrick Smith guided the grand-looking Ghostzapper colt through a move in 59.40 seconds. "That's the way he always works."

Stately Victor, owned by the father-son team of Tom and Jack Conway, suddenly emerged as a factor in the 3-year-old division when he captured the April 10 Blue Grass Stakes at 40-1, becoming the longest-priced winner in race history. The colt then finished eighth in the May 1 Kentucky Derby in an effort that Maker called "creditable."

"He got whacked around pretty good out there, but he came out of the race in good shape," Maker said.

Trackside, located just a few miles east of Churchill Downs, is where Maker, 40, chooses to base a sizable string of horses. It is a peaceful setting, with easy access to the six-furlong dirt track.

"The track surface is very good," said Maker, who went out on his own in 2003 and enjoyed the best year of his career in 2009, when his stable earned more than $4.4 million.

In the Tuesday work, which came early on a warm, clear morning and over a fast surface, Stately Victor broke off entering the backstretch and hit the half-mile pole in full stride. He worked past the wire to the next furlong pole on what would be the clubhouse turn, with his fractions being 11.60 seconds, 22.80, 34.20, and 46.80, with a six-furlong out time in 1:14.20.

Strategy-wise, Maker is hoping jockey Alan Garcia can position Stately Victor behind several speedier horses before making a bid. He recalls the way Commendable "stole the race" in a front-running victory, noting that "pace makes the race. I've got to think First Dude and maybe Spangled Star and Game on Dude will go out there, and hopefully we could sit just behind them, then grind it out."

Stately Victor will be on a Tex Sutton charter flight scheduled to depart Louisville for New York early Thursday afternoon. Stay Put, the only other remaining Belmont prospect based at Churchill, also will be on that flight, along with other Churchill horses running on the Belmont undercard. One other Churchill-based runner for the Belmont, First Dude, shipped last week for trainer Dale Romans.

Maker said he also will travel Thursday and remain in New York through race day.

A field of 10 remains firm for the 142nd Belmont, with Ice Box, the Derby runner-up, a solid favorite for trainer Nick Zito and jockey Jose Lezcano.