Owner Bob Hutt knew he probably shouldn't make such a statement, but when the founder of Fantasy Lane Stable feels strongly about a topic, it's awfully hard for him to rein it in.
"If I say what I really think, it's going to look very arrogant," Hutt admitted. "But I think he's the horse to beat."
The horse which inspired that declaration is the same one who invokes a range of passions where Hutt and his partners are concerned.
And should Uptowncharlybrown live up to his owners' lofty expectations in the 142nd Belmont Stakes on Saturday, Hutt won't be the only one fighting a losing battle with his emotions.
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Fantasy Lane's stakes winner Uptowncharlybrown put in his final serious move in advance of his expected start in the final leg of the Triple Crown when he covered 5 furlongs in 1:01.34 at Belmont Park on Saturday.
While the chestnut colt's major preparations for the 11/2-mile classic are now complete, his presence in the race will mark the culmination of the plan that was originally carved out months ago and has endured the harshest of tragedies.
After winning his first two starts by a combined 15 lengths and finishing third in the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes in February, there was much buzz over the fact Uptowncharlybrown and the 59 everyday people — including Hutt — who own a share in the son of Limehouse could be Kentucky Derby bound.
Instead of catching Derby fever, Hutt along with his best friend and trainer Alan Seewald always had it in their minds that the Belmont Stakes would actually suit their long-striding colt best.
But just days before "Charly" finished third in the Grade II Coolmore Lexington Stakes at Keeneland on April 17, the personable Seewald died suddenly at the age of 62 at his Middletown, N.J. home.
"The plan for Belmont was formed before Alan died. It was never our intention to go to the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness," said Hutt, who founded Fantasy Lane Stable in 1998. "Charly is a very powerful, long striding horse and Alan felt due to the fact he only had his first race on Dec. 26 that (the Derby) would just be a case of too much too soon.
"Alan was my trainer but more importantly, he was like my brother, my friend," Hutt continued. "I get emotional thinking about Alan because ... this is something we both dreamed of all our lives and just what is happening now is beyond belief. Life is very unfair; he's supposed to be here with me. But I do think he's watching down on us."
The weeks after Seewald's death were tumultuous for myriad reasons, not the least being the search for a new trainer for Uptowncharlybrown.
Though initial plans were made to send the colt to Tim Ice, original trainer of 2009 Belmont Stakes winner Summer Bird, a communication breakdown between him and Fantasy Lane ended that relationship before it could begin.
Thus, in early May, Uptowncharlybrown was sent to the barn of Belmont Stakes-winning trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, a fitting move considering the native of Lexington had tried to buy the colt from Fantasy Lane after his 6-length win in the Pasco Stakes on January 16.
"After Alan passed away, Kiaran called me to ask if he could have the honor of taking over the training of Charly for the Belmont and the Haskell (Invitational) and I was very touched someone of his stature wanted Charly," Hutt said. "Initially, I told our partners to please keep away from Kiaran's barn because at Monmouth, our Barn 38 is known as the petting zoo. Well, Kiaran has his own form of the petting zoo, as I found out. He's an absolutely wonderful human being, and he thinks Charly has an excellent shot."
The one constant throughout all of the heartache and tribulations for Fantasy Lane this season has been Uptowncharlybrown's talent.
The only time the colt — a $57,000 purchase as a juvenile — has been off the board in five career starts came when he finished fifth after being checked repeatedly in the Grade III Tampa Bay Derby on March 13.
"He stopped and started about five times that day," Hutt said.
Though Charly's pedigree doesn't offer a ton of stamina, McLaughlin said if his new charge can be forwardly placed in the race and get a clean trip, the Fantasy Lane crew will have a whole new set of emotions to deal with once the field turns for home.
"The distance is a question mark, but it's a question mark for everybody," said McLaughlin, who added he will race Uptowncharlybrown on Saturday without the blinkers he's worn in his last two starts.
"This horse has a big stride and gallops out strong. He's had traffic trips so hopefully things go a little better at a mile and a half. He came in here a pretty straightforward horse — he does everything right — and he came from good hands so we're just training on."