ELMONT, N.Y. -- The first three finishers of the Belmont Stakes are headed in different directions, but it is winner Tabasco Cat who has the most ambitious immediate future.
He could take on the speedy Metropolitan Mile winner Holy Bull in about seven weeks in the $500,000 Haskell Handicap at Monmouth Park.
The July 31 stakes could pit the two Kentucky Derby also-rans against each other. Both ran dismally in the May 7 race at Churchill Downs; Holy Bull, the favorite, finished 12th and Tabasco Cat was sixth.
However, both horses have rebounded from their Derby losses and are the current leaders of the 3-year-old crop.
Tabasco Cat won the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. Holy Bull skipped both of those races, but impressively beat a tough field of older horses May 30 in the Met Mile.
D. Wayne Lukas, trainer of Tabasco Cat, said he respects Holy Bull, "but he hasn't won a classic."
Jimmy Croll, owner-trainer of Holy Bull, said he respects Tabasco Cat, "but I'm not afraid of him. I hope he runs against me in the Haskell. It will be a good race and help Monmouth Park."
Lukas said yesterday that Tabasco Cat came out of the Belmont Stakes in good shape and will now be flown to his training center in California. After that the horse will return to the East Coast for the Haskell and the Travers Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 20.
"This is a sound horse," Lukas said. "When Dr. [Ted] Hill [the New York Racing Commission veterinarian] examined him before the Belmont, he said his legs were as clean as a 2-year-old's."
Lukas' assistant, Todd Pletcher, said yesterday that "considering [Tabasco Cat] won a 1 1/2 -mile race and went through the Triple Crown, he looks very, very good. He was a little tired right after the race, but 15 minutes later he was feeling good again and was dragging his hotwalker around the barn."
Croll said that although Saturday's speed-favoring track would have likely helped Holy Bull's chances in the Belmont, "I'm still happy I didn't go in it. It was an OK race, but then again, they didn't set any track records.
"If my horse had run, and won, it would have taken a lot out of him. And, as I've said before, I'm taking the long view with this horse. Would he have won the Belmont? Possibly. But that's something we'll never know."
Belmont Stakes runner-up Go For Gin, who compiled an excellent Triple Crown record, will now be rested and take a long break. He will skip the Travers but may race again by the Saratoga meet, although in lesser races than the Travers, said his trainer, Nick Zito.
If the Chrysler Corp. had still offered a $1 million bonus to the owners of the horse who had accumulated the most points in the Triple Crown series, the owners of Go For Gin would have split the bonus with the owners of Tabasco Cat. Each horse would have accumulated 20 points -- Go For Gin for winning the Derby and finishing second in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes; Tabasco Cat for winning each of the latter races.
"I'd love to win a race called the Travers with Go For Gin," Zito said. "But I just can't do it to the horse. It's not fair. The horse has been campaigning all year. I just can't run another marathon. I'm going to stick to my plan. We'll look at either the King's Bishop Stakes on Travers Day going seven furlongs or get a handicap race for him. I want to get him ready for the Woodward."
The Woodward, contested against older horses, is run during the fall Belmont Park Championship meet and is also an objective for Holy Bull.
In regard to the Belmont Stakes, Zito said that when jockey Chris McCarron went wide on the first turn, "he tried to get Pat Day [on Tabasco Cat] to go inside. But Day wouldn't go for it. Chris said he couldn't believe how fast Tabasco Cat was on him in the stretch. Lukas' horse has had one less race than us this year, and he's really getting good now. These 3-year-olds are all good. It's a good crop."
Third-place finisher Strodes Creek came out of the race in fine shape and, like Go For Gin, will get some time off.
Trainer Charlie Whittingham plans to fly the horse back to California tomorrow and then ready him for a stakes race at the Del Mar meet in Southern California in August.
DOUBLE CROWN WINNERS
Horses that have won the Preakness and Belmont stakes, but not the Kentucky Derby:
Year ... Horse ... ... Derby finish ... ... Derby winner
1877 ... Cloverbrook ... DNS ... ... .. ... Baden-Baden
1878 ... Duke of Magenta DNS ... ... .. .. .Day Star
1880 ... Grenada ... ... DNS ... ... ... .. Fonso
1881 ... Saunterer .. .. DNS ... ... ... .. Hindoo
1895 ... Belmar .. .. .. DNS ... ... ... .. Halma
1920 ... Man o'War .. .. DNS ... ... ... .. Paul Jones
1922 ... Pillory ... ... DNS ... ... ... .. Morvich
1940 ... Bimelech .. ... 2nd ... ... ... .. Gallahadion
1949 ... Capot ... .. .. 2nd ... ... ... .. Ponder
1953 ... Native Dancer ... 2nd .. .. ... .. Dark Star
1955 ... Nashua ... ... .. 2nd .. .. ... .. Swaps
1967 ... Damascus .. .. .. 3rd .. .. ... ...Proud Clarion
1974 ... Little Current .. 5th ... .. .. ...Cannonade
1988 ... Risen Star ... .. 3rd ... ... .. ..Winning Colors
1991 ... Hansel ... ... .. 10th .. ... .. ..Strike the Gold
1994 ... Tabasco Cat .. .. 6th ... ... .. ..Go For Gin
DNS -- Did not start in Kentucky Derby.