Saturday, April 11, 2009

Out of Hibernation

In the south parking lot at Belmont Park this month is an assemblage of garish, brightly-lit, whirling structures bearing names such as Sky Flyer, Expo Wheel, Tilt-A-Whirl, Gravitron, Rock-O-Plane, Sea Ray, Yo-Yo, Scrambler, and, a personal favorite, Giant Mouse, all of which are guaranteed to induce nausea, or at the very least, queasiness.

The annual appearance of the Belmont Fair means two things: first, that it will rain every weekend in April, and second, that the opening of Belmont Park is not far off. After seven months at the Big A, it will be a welcome change of venue.

The main track opened for training on April 1, and as each day passes, more and more horses are making the trek there from the backside. Soon to be among them is Kentucky Derby hopeful Quality Road, the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby winner who is trained by Jimmy Jerkens.

There's something about a Kentucky Derby contender that automatically draws the eye, and such was the case the other morning when he had his first work since the Florida Derby.

Another intriguing element was added when, upon his return to the winner's circle following the Florida Derby, Jerkens noticed a trickle of blood coming from the colt's right hind foot. The source was determined to be a quarter crack (haven't we been down this road before?). A bar shoe was placed on the hoof, and on Wednesday (April 8) hoof specialist Ian McKinlay placed a patch on the crack, which is far less severe that the one sustained last year by Big Brown.

Friday, with DRF turf writer Dave Grening, award-winning photographer Barbara Livingston (see photo) and yours truly in attendance, Quality Road breezed an easy five-eighths in 1:02.19. (You can watch the final 3/16ths of the work on NYRA's YouTube channel; included in the clip are Quality Road walking back and forth from his barn, a brief interview with Jerkens, and the sound of Barbara's shutter clicking madly.)

Settling on a horse to follow along the Triple Crown trail is a tricky business, indeed. Were I a horseplayer, I would be feverishly perusing pedigrees and crunching numbers, but I am not a horseplayer, and my wallet thanks me for it. Rooting for the best story was my modus when I was a journalist, but nowadays, I find myself rooting for the best horse and the best people, which brings me down to two (actually three) choices: Larry Jones with Friesan Fire and Old Fashioned, or Jerkens and Quality Road.

Right now, it's neck and neck. In three weeks, there's a lot that can happen. And it surely will.