Belmont Stakes - Sunriver sneaks in


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He wasn't allowed to race in the Kentucky Derby. Lucky for him - and for horseplayers.

Sunriver, a dark bay sired by Saint Ballado, was on the bubble for inclusion in the 20-horse field at the Kentucky Derby. However, his lack of graded stakes earnings would cost him an opportunity to compete in the first leg of the Triple Crown trail. Given the way Barbaro flattened the competition, perhaps it's just as well.

Trainer Todd Pletcher also decided to skip the Preakness, entering Sunriver in the May 20 Peter Pan stakes at Belmont. The result: victory by a neck over Lewis Michael and a cool $120,000 in earnings for owners Aaron and Marie Jones. Sunriver also paid bettors $4.50 to win. That Grade II prep race has the colt in excellent shape to do some damage at Saturday's $1-million Belmont Stakes.

Pletcher worked both Sunriver and Kentucky Derby runner-up Bluegrass Cat at Belmont on Monday, using the training track since the main track was a bit muddy after an overnight rain. Sunriver is considered the early Belmont favorite, with odds just a shade shorter than Bluegrass Cat. However, the expected return of jockey John Velazquez from a fractured shoulder blade should put Bluegrass Cat into the favorite spot. The decision by Darley Stable and Sheik Mohammed to keep Preakness winner Bernardini out of the Belmont Stakes is also significant, leaving the less-informed horse racing betting public looking for a familiar name.

Horseplayers may want to consider Pletcher's "other" horse when they log onto their sportsbooks and check out its weeklong preview of the third jewel in the Triple Crown. Sunriver has been in the top-three in four of five races this year, winning twice. Pletcher has definite designs on getting one of his two horses across the finish line in first place. Working them out together should be of particular benefit to Sunriver.

"Sunriver, I was a little afraid to work by himself for this big of a race because he's always worked in company," Pletcher told reporters after Monday's proceedings. "We got a little more solid work, which you would expect in a company situation. I thought his Peter Pan was the perfect prep for the Belmont."

In the end, both horses worked five furlongs, with Sunriver clocking 1:00.24 and Bluegrass Cat covering the distance in 1:01.72. The overnight showers prompted the other trainers to postpone their horses' workouts; Kiaran McLaughlin even decided to cancel Jazil's final Belmont workout. Bob and John had no problem with the weather Monday - he worked out at Santa Anita Park for trainer Bob Baffert. The Wood Memorial Stakes winner is scheduled to arrive at Belmont on Wednesday.

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