NEW YORK (AP) â€” Although the Belmont Stakes will lack the excitement of a Triple Crown bid for the first time in four years, Aptitude could complete a unique three-horse sweep.
Should Aptitude, the probable post-time favorite, win the 1 1/2 -mile Belmont, it would mean the first three finishers in the Wood Memorial would have won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont in the order of their finish in the Wood.
Fusaichi Pegasus beat Red Bullet, with Aptitude third, in the Wood Memorial on April 15 at Aqueduct. Fusaichi Pegasus then beat Aptitude in the Derby, and Red Bullet beat Fusaichi Pegasus in the Preakness.
Also dimming the glamour of the Belmont is the fact that there will be no rubber match between Fusaichi Pegasus and Red Bullet. The Derby winner injured his right front foot when he was startled in his stall last Saturday.
The connections of Red Bullet, who skipped the Derby, decided it wasn't in the colt's best interest to race 1 1/2 miles at this time.
This will be the first time since 1970 that both the Kentucky Derby winner (Dust Commander) and the Preakness winner (Personality) did not start in the Belmont. The last time the Triple Crown was divided three ways was in 1996 when the winners were Grindstone (Derby), Louis Quatorze (Preakness) and Editor's Note (Belmont).
Of the 19 Derby starters, the only one who will have started in all three races will be Impeachment, third in both the Derby Preakness. He has lost seven straight races since winning his debut Dec. 26.
``If they (Fusaichi Pegasus and Red Bullet) were in there, they'd be the first and second choice, granted,'' said D. Wayne Lukas, trainer of Commendable, who goes into the race not having won in six starts dating to his winning debut Aug. 14.
``But the playing field has changed,'' Lukas added, noting the Derby and Preakness winners would be facing fresh horses at a distance seldom raced in the United States.
The 11 Belmont starters, however, have a total of only five wins in 33 starts in graded stakes. That includes no wins in 11 Grade I races.
``I think it is a solid field and time will bear this out,'' Lukas said Friday. ``I think there are some talented horses in this race, and we're just going to have to go further down the road to see it.''
Besides Aptitude, Belmont starters who ran in the Derby but not the Preakness are Wheelaway (fifth), Curule (seventh) and Commendable (17th). Hugh Hefner skipped the Derby and finished sixth in the Preakness.
The stretch-running Aptitude has won only a maiden race in six career starts. In his last three races he was second to Red Bullet in the Gotham, third in the Wood Memorial and second in the Derby.
One of Wheelaway's two wins was in the ungraded Tampa Bay Derby. Curule won one of four starts in Dubai before running in the Derby. Commendable finished fourth in each of four graded stakes before the Derby. Hugh Hefner is winless in three starts dating to a 13th-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Nov. 6.
Making their debuts in Triple Crown competition are Postponed, Unshaded, Globalize, Tahkodha Hills and Appearing Now. Since Unshaded, a gelding, was not nominated to the Triple Crown, owner James Tafel had to pay $100,000 to supplement him to the race.
The graded stakes winners are Postponed, Unshaded, Globalize and Takhodha Hills.
Postponed prepped for the Belmont by winning the Grade II Peter Pan by three-quarters of a length over Unshaded, with Globalize third, May 27 at Belmont Park. Unshaded won the Grade II Lexington at Keeneland, with Globalize second. Globalize won the Grade III California Juvenile last year at Bay Meadows and the Grade II Turfway Park Spiral.
Tahkodha Hills, winner of the ungraded Lone Star Derby, won the Grade III What A Pleasure at Calder as a 2-year-old. He is eligible for a $1 million bonus offered by Lone Star Park to a horse who wins the Lone Star Derby and any Triple Crown race.
Wheelaway, winner of the Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs, is the only other Belmont starter with a victory in an open stakes.
The attendance won't approach the crowds of the last three years when Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet and Charismatic made unsuccessful bids for the Triple Crown, which has not been won since Affirmed did it in 1978.
A turnout, however, of 50,000 certainly is within reach. The 30,000 reserve seats have been sold.
A New York-record crowd 85,818 watched Charismatic finish third last year when Lemon Drop Kid won. Victory Gallop's head win over Real Quiet was watched by 80,162 fans, while 70,682 saw Touch Gold edge Silver Charm.