Briefly at Belmont

The second weekend of spring racing at Belmont is in the books, and I still haven’t made it out to Big Sandy.  Family and other events have conspired to keep me west of Elmont, and will continue to do so through this next weekend, so in the absence of opportunity to spend a day at the races, I sneaked out Saturday morning for a few hours before beginning a weekend of Mother’s Day celebrations.

It felt quiet at Belmont—perhaps the threat of bad weather kept horses out of training for the day?  Though skies were often dark, rain was only intermittent, and never hard enough to deter horse or human.

Uptowncharlybrown posted his first workout for new trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who declared himself “excited” by his new charge’s “impressive” work.  Uptowncharlybrown arrived in McLaughlin’s barn on Wednesday, following an aborted relationship between the horse’s owner and trainer Tim Ice.

Allen Jerkens, his staff, and his horses are settled into their new barn, a short walk away from their former quarters.  An opening day stakes win is an awfully nice “Welcome home,” and that’s what the barn got when longshot Le Grand Cru won the Grade III Westchester on April 30th.  Le Grand Cru had also won the opening stakes race at Aqueduct, the Bold Ruler, back in November; last week Dan Illman posted a nice tribute to the five-year-old son of Dynaformer.

Le Grand Cru appears to have inherited his sire’s notoriously cranky disposition.  “Don’t your back on him,” I am warned as I approach with peppermints.  “And watch your fingers.”  As predicted, Le Grand Cru tries to take my right-hand ring finger along with his treat.  He is imperious, bobbing his head furiously, snatching mouthfuls of hay as if to say, “Can’t you see that I’m hungry?  Have you nothing else for me?”

Physically, he’s a big horse, and he acts like he’s the Big Horse.  He holds court from the middle of the barn, and when a visitor looks down the shedrow, it’s he who’s got his head stretched out, he who is demanding attention.  The Chief is pointing him to the Met Mile later this month, and when I observe that Le Grand Cru is “awfully spirited,” Jerkens says with a smile, “Let’s see how spirited he is against Quality Road.”

He acknowledges that the Met is a tough spot, that maybe Le Grand Cru doesn’t quite belong.  Then again, he says, once again with that impish smile, “If I knew where my horses belonged, Secretariat would have retired with two more wins than he did,” alluding to Big Red’s losses in the Woodward to Prove Out and in the Whitney to Onion—both trained by the Chief.

A few hours at Belmont didn’t quite satisfy the urge to spend a day in its mammoth greenness, but even those damp and relatively quiet hours were worth the trip, and will hold me over for another 12 twelve days, when I finally, finally, finally get to make my 2010 Belmont début.

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