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Voice of Belmont takes role seriously
ELMONT, N.Y - When Birdstone caught and passed Smarty Jones in deep stretch of the Belmont Stakes four years ago, there was an unmistakable tone of despair and disappointment to race caller Tom Durkin's voice.
"Birdstone wins the Belmont Stakes," said Durkin, without exclamation.
It was the sixth time since Durkin made his first Belmont Stakes call in 1991 that a horse attempting to complete the Triple Crown had been denied. As unbeaten Big Brown takes aim at racing's greatest prize Saturday, Durkin once again is preparing himself for a momentous occasion.
Durkin said Wednesday in the announcer's booth at Belmont Park that every time a Triple Crown bid is foiled, "it makes it that much more tantalizing, the achievement that much more important."
Among previous failures, Durkin thought Real Quiet in 1998 was going to win "for sure," and that the year before, Silver Charm "looked like a winner until about 50 yards to go." Durkin also called Belmont losses for Charismatic (1999), War Emblem (2002), and Funny Cide (2003).
For this Belmont, Durkin has meticulously crafted what he calls "a framework," beginning with a four-page, typed outline of how he needs to proceed through his call for ontrack patrons and a worldwide television audience. Atop the outline, he has written that his goal is to "describe, chart, historically report, and convey the feelings of Big Brown's attempt to win the Triple Crown." He said he will "employ a tone to convey anxiety, anticipation, or joy, if that's what's required. It should be a tone to befit the historical importance of this race - no colloquialisms or idioms."
He said he will avoid repeating key words or phrases he used in previous Belmonts or when Big Brown won the Kentucky Derby or Preakness. "I won't use 'bounding' Saturday," he said. "I used it in the Derby."
Durkin said he will be prepared for virtually any scenario because, "after all, I'll call the race if Big Brown wins the Triple Crown - and I'll call it if he doesn't."
Guadalcanal late Belmont addition
The field for the Belmont Stakes swelled to 10 when owner/trainer Fred Seitz decided to enter the maiden Guadalcanal.
Though Guadalcanal is winless in five starts, Seitz said he believes his horse may benefit from the 1 1/2-mile distance of the race whereas others may falter. In his last start, Guadalcanal, a son of Graeme Hall, was beaten a nose in a 1 1/2-mile turf race at Churchill Downs.
"It's the age-old question, who's going to stay?" Seitz said Wednesday from Kentucky. "I don't know that anybody knows who's going to get the trip. We think we will."
Seitz purchased Guadalcanal privately after he made his first start for trainer Joe Catanese at Calder last September. The horse finished second, beaten one length in that six-furlong race.
Seitz bought Guadalcanal on the advice of Dr. David Lambert, who helped pioneer the use of ultrasound heart scans for the purpose of purchasing horses. Lambert assists Seitz in selecting horses to buy.
"He has a very good heart; he probably could go 13 or 14 furlongs," Seitz said of Guadalcanal's distance ability. "He trains like one, he's bred like one, and he acts like one."
Guadalcanal has not run well in his last two starts on dirt, beaten nearly 43 lengths combined in those races. Seitz said he felt a seven-furlong maiden race was too short for the horse, while he had no excuse for Guadalcanal's 26 3/4-length loss in a nine-furlong race at Gulfstream, a race in which he broke from post 11.
Seitz, who has a farm in Versailles, Ky., has primarily bred horses for the last 30 years. He said he has been training horses for about the last three years.
In 2004, the maiden Nolan's Cat finished third in the Belmont behind Afleet Alex.
Prado will stick to familiar reins
Edgar Prado will be riding Casino Drive for the first time in the Belmont Stakes, and on Wednesday morning he watched the colt train, and spent time with Casino Drive's Japanese trainer, Kazuo Fujisawa.
How much Japanese does Prado know? "Just one word - arigato. That's it," he said.
Prado is prepared to say "thank you" if he can stop Big Brown's Triple Crown bid on Saturday. In preparation for the mount on Casino Drive, Prado made sure the equipment he will use in the race is to his liking.
"I've ridden in Japan," Prado said. "The Japanese ask you what kind of bridle and reins you want. In the United States, they just show up with equipment. Japanese reins are made with nylon. You can't make a knot. I prefer American reins, so that's what he will have."
Those leather reins will be Prado's steering wheel. He likened getting on Casino Drive for the first time to driving a new car.
"You put the headlights on, grab the steering wheel, and hopefully there's something there when you step on the gas," Prado said.
Prado was scheduled to ride Big Brown before his first race last September, but was injured two days before that race and was replaced by Jeremy Rose. Prado thought he would be back on Big Brown this year, too, but Kent Desormeaux inherited the mount.
Prado still rides regularly, however, for Rick Dutrow, the trainer of Big Brown.
"If he wins the Triple Crown, I will be the first one to congratulate him," Prado said.
Anak Nakal tries to duplicate sire's feat
Only one Belmont starter, Anak Nakal, has a chance to put himself and his sire on an elite list. Anak Nakal is by Victory Gallop, the 1998 Belmont winner, meaning an upset would allow them to join 19 other winning father-son combinations.
Man o' War, the 1920 Belmont winner, is the only horse to have sired three winners: American Flag (1925), Crusader (1926), and Triple Crown champion War Admiral (1937).
The last Belmont winner sired by a Belmont winner was Point Given (2001), by Thunder Gulch (1995). Other notable combinations include Seattle Slew (1977), who sired A.P. Indy (1992), who sired Rags to Riches (2007).
Brooklyn-Belmont double offered
Belmont once again is offering a two-day daily double wager by combining the Brooklyn Handicap on Friday and the Belmont Stakes on Saturday. According to the New York Racing Association media guide, the track previously offered a two-day double in four previous years (2001-04) by combining the Acorn Stakes and Belmont. The Acorn since has moved to the Saturday program.
* Two $1 million pool guarantees are being offered on multi-race wagers here Saturday, and both end with the Belmont, which is carded as the 11th of 13 races. Those guarantees apply to the pick six (races 6-11), which includes all six graded stakes on the card starting with the True North and Just a Game, and the pick four (races 8-11), which includes the Acorn, Woody Stephens BC, and Manhattan.
* Because of totalisator issues related to a $1 minimum on all wagers on the Belmont Stakes, there will be no 10-cent superfectas offered on any races on Belmont Day or on Friday, when advance wagers on the Belmont are accepted.
- additional reporting by David Grening and Jay Privman