Horses

Belmont Stakes: Requiring entrants to move to security barn raises ire among some horsemen

Jockey Mario Gutierrez, left, aboard, I'll Have Another, reacts after crossing the finish line in front of Bodemeister, right, ridden by Mike E. Smith, to win the 137th Preakness Stakes horse race at Pimlico Race Course, Saturday, May 19, 2012, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Jockey Mario Gutierrez, left, aboard, I'll Have Another, reacts after crossing the finish line in front of Bodemeister, right, ridden by Mike E. Smith, to win the 137th Preakness Stakes horse race at Pimlico Race Course, Saturday, May 19, 2012, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum) AP

ELMONT, N.Y. — Shortly after 11 a.m. Wednesday, the connections of I'll Have Another and the 11 horses aiming to ruin his Triple Crown bid learned post positions for Saturday's 144th Belmont Stakes.

About an hour after the draw for the 11/2-mile classic, the dozen horses had to migrate to a starting point that could play a far larger role — real or perceived — in their fate this weekend.

As expected, Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes hero I'll Have Another was deemed the 4-5 morning-line favorite to become the first horse in 34 years to complete the Triple Crown, having drawn post No. 11 for the Belmont Stakes.

Multiple Grade I winner Dullahan was made the second choice at 5-1 and will begin his run from post position No. 5 under Javier Castellano.

As predictable as it was that I'll Have Another was deemed the horse to beat, it was equally inevitable that some vocal opposition met the newly created, mandatory security barn on the backstretch for Belmont contenders.

Officials with the New York State Racing and Wagering Board threw what some viewed as a curveball last week when it announced that all Belmont Stakes entrants would have to shift into the security barn by noon Wednesday and be subject to heightened protocols leading up the race.

More than the testing and monitoring taking place, it is the logistics and perception that has drawn the ire of certain horsemen. Though the board said in its statement the security barn was created to help protect the integrity of the sport, it only applies to horses running in the Belmont Stakes and not any of the entrants competing on the undercard, which features four other graded stakes.

"It says it's for the safety of the horses. I want them to tell me how they can make my horse safer than I can," said Dale Romans, trainer of Belmont hopeful Dullahan. "It just shows there is a disconnect between our regulators and the reality of the backside and that they have no horsemanship about them.

"If we had true horsemen that were sitting on some of these regulatory boards that could tell people what the difference is between reality and urban legend, racing would be in a lot better shape."

Happy or not, the horsemen involved are taking a grin-and-bear-it approach with the security barn. At the head of that line is I'll Have Another's trainer Doug O'Neill, who has rolled with the punches even as some have suggested that the security barn was aimed at him in the wake of a 45-day ban handed to him on March 24. The California Horse Racing Board penalized him for having a horse in his care two years ago with elevated levels of total carbon dioxide.

"You can't waste energy on things like that," said O'Neill, who was given the ban despite a hearing officer finding no evidence of wrongdoing on O'Neill's part.

I'll Have Another was the last of the Belmont contenders to arrive at the barn, prancing down the path from Barn 9 where he had been since May 20.

"He's just sniffing around, rolling around," O'Neill said. "He's smelling everything. He's being good.".

I'll Have Another's fairly unflappable demeanor has contributed to O'Neill being unfazed by the move. Still, others are concerned that even a level-headed horse could be thrown off his game if his new neighbor doesn't take to the new surroundings.

"They're all right together so if the horse on either side of you is raising hell, it will keep your horse stirred up all day, too," said Hall of Famer trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who will saddle Optimizer in the Belmont. "You could have a perfect individual as far as handling that, but if the horse next to you is kicking the walls, you've got no control.

"I don't think the receiving barn will change the outcome of the race one iota. But as trainers we should probably let I'll Have Another win it because if he doesn't they'll say, 'See, that works.' "

Of all the variables that could beat I'll Have Another Saturday, his post position shouldn't be one of them.

Being in the No. 11 hole gives his jockey Mario Gutierrez the chance to check out horses to his inside to see if anyone wants to take the lead.

"If they're crawling, we'll hopefully be leading the crawl and if they're flying, we'll be sitting behind the horses flying," O'Neill said.

One thing for certain is that the winner of this year's Belmont will be coming out of Barn 2. Those involved just hope the race's conclusion doesn't spark more questions about the barn's impact.

"If I'll Have Another loses, is everybody going to say 'Well, he didn't get his stuff'? And if Dullahan beats him is that going to diminish our win in the public's eye?" Romans said. "It's more a logistical thing than a reality that will affect the outcome of the race. But they're causing poor perception by doing it."

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