ELMONT, N.Y. — There is a reason trainers often lose sleep in the days before a big race, as many of the things that can derail a horse's chances are out of their control.
Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom narrowly avoided such an incident Thursday morning when he remained the picture of poise during a near-miss with a loose horse on one of the Belmont Park walking paths.
Moments after Animal Kingdom had come off the main track at Belmont following a 1-mile gallop with exercise rider David Nava up, a horse became fractious while exiting the track, prompting his rider to dismount.
Despite attempts to hold on to the skittish horse, the rider lost his balance, fell, and was dragged briefly before losing his grip on the reins.
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The loose horse then took off down the same dirt path that Animal Kingdom and several others were traveling. John Panagot, barn manager for trainer Graham Motion — who was not at Belmont Thursday — said the loose horse ended up being no issue as Nava and assistant David Rock, who was aboard the lead pony, came to a halt when they saw the horse coming and watched him run by without incident.
"They just stopped to let the horse go by," Panagot said. "They both saw it but they just stopped naturally because you're not supposed to keep going when there is a loose horse. That was it, thankfully. It helped that Animal Kingdom had a pony walking with him, that made it even safer. It wasn't like he had to stop his gallop or anything."
Speed vs. Big Sandy
If Brilliant Speed fails to deliver a strong effort in Saturday's Belmont Stakes, it isn't likely to be because the 11/2-mile distance proved too much.
The winner of Keeneland's Grade I Blue Grass Stakes has arguably the best pedigree in the field as far as stamina, being by Dynaformer out of the Gone West mare Speed Succeeds.
What is at issue for the dark bay colt is how he will handle the track known as Big Sandy. In three prior starts over a dirt surface, Brilliant Speed has finished off the board, including a seventh-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.
"There is always that question about surface, but I think we got over that in the Derby," trainer Tom Albertrani said. "He is one of the horses that came from furthest back and made up a lot of ground, so I'm confident he will handle the surface again.
"If he runs poorly, I definitely think it will be because of the surface so that might make me rethink about going on the grass with him. But I don't think stamina will be a question at all."
Ruler On Ice gets blinkers
In the only equipment change among Belmont Stakes participants, Ruler On Ice will wear blinkers for the first time in the "Test of the Champion."
The gelded chestnut son of Roman Ruler was second in the 11⁄16-mile Federico Tesio on May 7 and third in the Grade III Sunland Derby at 11⁄8 miles on March 27 in his previous two starts, beaten a total of 3½ lengths.
"I think he's just a little green. He hasn't figured it out entirely," said Lori Hall, who co-owns Ruler On Ice with her husband, George. "With each race, you can see he's taking that energy further and we're trying to get him to focus. He will have blinkers on Saturday, and we think that that's going to be the one factor that puts it together for him."
Thursday card canceled
Belmont Park canceled live racing for Thursday because of excessive, potentially record-breaking heat.
Temperatures pushed into the upper 90s and even triple digits for several cities of the Northeast with temperatures hovering near 90 degrees in Elmont during training hours.
Such oppressive conditions will not be an issue for the Belmont Stakes, as a high of 69 degrees is forecast for the area on Saturday.