ELMONT, N.Y. -- So far, this much has been established about the 1991 Triple Crown horses: Hansel's winning race in the Preakness was by far the most impressive for any 3-year-old this year.
And, because of that, the colt is the one to beat in today's 123rd Belmont Stakes -- Lasix or no Lasix.
Trainer Frank Brothers repeatedly has refused to discuss Lasix, which he and others consider a non-issue. Brothers has used a stock line -- "We are happy with our situation coming into the race" -- whenever the subject arises.
There is a basis for Brothers' belief that Hansel, who has been treated with the anti-bleeding medication in his past five starts, will not be affected by New York rules that prohibit the use of Lasix.
Within the past year, three Breeders' Cup races, the Jockey Club Gold Cup, the Woodward, the Whitney, the NYRA Mile and the Met Mile have been major New York events won by "Lasix-off" horses.
Also, Hansel won the Tremont Stakes in New York as a 2-year-old. He is not a bad bleeder; he reportedly was treated with a minimal amount of Lasix for the Preakness. And today in New York, humidity, can exacerbate bleeding problems, is expected to be low.
Nick Zito, trainer of Belmont morning-line favorite Strike the Gold, said, "I don't like to talk about anybody else's horse, but if Hansel doesn't run well today, I'd say it would probably be because of [the grind of] the Triple Crown, and not Lasix."
In effect, Brothers is asking that the Belmont contenders, including Hansel, be judged on factors such as ability, recent form and whether a horse can stay the 1 1/2 -mile distance.
"We've lived and died with racing up close early," said Brothers. "We're not going to change for today."
If Hansel can't stay the grueling tour of the Belmont Park oval, there are other possibilities for today's third leg of the Triple Crown.
The enigma horse is Smooth Performance, an Irish colt trying to duplicate the 1990 triumph of Go and Go. The Seattle Slew colt, 3-for-9 lifetime, is trained by Dermot Weld and will be ridden by Michael Kinane, the victorious combination last year.
"Last year, I was quietly confident," said Weld. "This year, I'm hopefully confident. I hope he's good enough to beat Hansel and Strike the Gold, but I have my reservations."
Go and Go and Smooth Performance made their final Belmont preps in the Derrinstown Stud Stakes in Leopardstown, Ireland. Go and Go finished fourth, Smooth Performance third.
Another entrant is Green Alligator, a late-running fourth in the Kentucky Derby. The Gate Dancer colt is owned by Anderson Fowler, who owns Master Speaker and Timely Warning, the last two winners of the Maryland Classic. According to trainer Murray Johnson -- who is married to Fowler's granddaughter Kim -- and other observers, the colt has been training exceptionally well for the race.
And then there is Mane Minister, who has a chance to win today's $1 million Triple Crown bonus. Since the bonus system was instituted in 1987, no horse has won it without winning one of the races. But Mane Minister, third in the Derby (at 86-1) and Preakness (18-1), could do so today if he finishes second and Strike the Gold and Hansel finish worse than fourth.
Mane Minister would be the most under-publicized and least recognizable bonus winner. He is the first Triple Crown horse for trainer Juan "Paco" Gonzalez.
"I don't know what he has to do for respect," said Gonzalez. "People didn't listen to me in Louisville when I said he was training the best of his life. He's done just as good this week, maybe better.
"Maybe it's just me people don't respect. If it were Charlie Whittingham or Wayne Lukas training this horse, I don't think he would have been 86-1 in the Derby. But I can't worry about that. If you like horses like I like horses, what has happened to me the last five weeks has been really beautiful."
NOTES: The Triple Crown bonus standings, using a 10-5-3-1 basis for first-through-fourth finishes: Hansel 10, Strike the Gold 10, Mane Minister 6, Corporate Report 5. A horse must run in all three events to win the bonus. . . . The $500,000 Nassau County Handicap will be televised live as part of the Belmont program on ABC. Post time is 4:42. . . . Post-position order for the small field in tomorrow's $200,000 Mother Goose Stakes: Nalees Pin, Meadow Star, Risen Colony, Lite Light. . . . Instead of accepting the Chrysler LeBaron he won in the Preakness with Hansel, jockey Jerry Bailey is donating the car's approximate worth ($19,000) to the Jockeys' Guild Disabled Fund. . . . If he does it again today, Mane Minister would be the first horse to finish third in all three Triple Crown races. . . . In the 122 Belmonts, 56 favorites have won (46 percent). . . . The Belmont is the only Triple Crown event for which there is no increase in admission prices.
Marty McGee's Belmont pick
In the Preakness, Hansel showed he was the best 3-year-old in the country. But that doesn't necessarily mean he'll win today's Belmont Stakes.
He's the one to beat, for sure. Forget the Lasix factor -- the weather isn't humid, he is not a bad bleeder, and the number of "Lasix off" horses to win major New York stakes in the last year is startling.
But, as usual, there are Belmont sleepers ready to upstage the "name" Triple Crown horses.
Scan is one of them. He had some terrific races as a 2-year-old, faltered at 3 when shipped to California, but has rebounded to be competitive in his past two races.
Belmont winners usually have a useful turn of early speed. Given a forward trip and a patient, ground-saving ride under Chris McCarron, Scan could pull an upset in today's final leg of the Triple Crown.
Make it Scan over Hansel, with Strike the Gold rallying late for third.