LOUISVILLE — One of the many lessons graduates of the D. Wayne Lukas school of training are told: Heed the obvious and act accordingly.
"The whole secret to training horses is to read what you got in front of you," the Hall of Fame conditioner and winner of 14 Triple Crown races recounted last week.
Dallas Stewart spent about a dozen years soaking in such knowledge as a Lukas assistant before embarking on his own 16 years ago. In preparing Kentucky Derby runner-up Golden Soul for the 11/2-mile test in Saturday's Belmont Stakes, the above mantra was among the teachings most called upon.
Four days from now, Stewart will find out if such practices are as effective for him as they have been recently for the man who hammered them home. After Golden Soul's over-the-top effort in the Kentucky Derby, which defied his 34-1 position on the odds board, Stewart quickly assessed that bypassing the Preakness Stakes and waiting for the final leg of the Triple Crown was what the chestnut colt needed.
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As Stewart watched and waited, the indefatigable Lukas trainee Oxbow — who was more than 7 lengths behind Golden Soul on Derby Day — ended any premature Triple Crown dreams when he upset Kentucky Derby winner Orb in the Preakness.
"What if" scenarios didn't exactly go running through Stewart's head that day, however. Not when he saw how Golden Soul's Derby run was hitting the colt and then how noticeably refreshed Charles Fipke's homebred looked while breezing 5 furlongs in 1:00.40 at Churchill on May 30.
"He was really good after the Derby. He was pumped and I knew he would be for 2-3 days," Stewart said. "Then we started back training and ... after about the second week into the third week, he was just real quiet. His eating was just OK.
"I never really thought (the Belmont) was a question. Maybe that was being hopeful but I thought he would come back in a positive manner and he did. That fourth week, he started getting with it, his gallops were like we wanted to see and his appetite was great; he was grazing for an hour a day. And I said, you know what, we're going to be able to get a really good work in and he showed up."
Taking a moment to regroup as Stewart did with Golden Soul has a proven track record when it comes to recent runnings of the Belmont. Since the Lukas-trained Commendable pulled it in 2000, five other Belmont winners since — including last year's victor Union Rags — competed in the Kentucky Derby but sat out the 13⁄16-mile second leg of the American classics.
Stewart himself has also had much more time to plot a definitive course for the Belmont than the Derby. Having earned just 14 points on the new Derby qualifying system, it took several defections the week of the race for Golden Soul to even make the field for the first Saturday in May.
That the son of Perfect Soul showed up almost everyone that day validated what Stewart saw during the colt's fourth-place run in the Louisiana Derby when he rallied from last in the 14-horse field.
"I don't want to knock (jockey) Calvin (Borel) but ... I don't know why he was so far back and then when he hit the accelerator he just hit it all at one time, ended up nine wide and then he just hung," Stewart said. "I thought he deserved a chance (in the Derby) looking at his past performance and I felt like he would really like the mile and a quarter."
Golden Soul's lone win in six career starts came in the form of a 71/4-length win going 11⁄16 miles at Fair Grounds last December.
Stewart's enthusiasm and belief that there is still more to the colt came through as Stewart fawned and rubbed on Golden Soul like a Golden Retriever puppy after his pre-Belmont move.
"Hey boy! Just look at him," Stewart chirped of his charge as he cooled out. "There are three races we think about all year long. The first one is the Derby, then the Preakness, then the Belmont. Those are the races you dream that you want to be in and hopefully you have a horse who can participate and be good enough.
"It's for real for him now, it's serious training, serious business."
Belmont field shapes up
Late Monday afternoon, trainer Todd Pletcher announced that the filly Unlimited Budget and the lightly raced Midnight Taboo — both owned by Mike Repole — would join his contingent of Palace Malice, Revolutionary and Repole's Overanalyze in the race.
Unlimited Budget will have Rosie Napravnik aboard while Garrett Gomez will ride Midnight Taboo. Already confirmed were Javier Castellano aboard Revolutionary, Hall of Famer John Velazquez on Overanalyze, and Hall of Famer Mike Smith aboard Palace Malice, whose blinkers will come off for the Belmont.
"I think this is one year where I think the fillies are as good as the boys," Repole said of his decision to run Unlimited Budget in the Belmont.
The Belmont field is now expected to feature 14 runners. Always in a Tiz will not run in Saturday's test and instead will compete in the $150,000 Easy Goer Stakes on the undercard.
When: 6:35 p.m.
Where: Elmont, N.Y.
Distance: 11/2 miles
Purse: $1 million (Grade I)