With filly, Belmont's a true jewel

June 04, 1999|By John Eisenberg

ELMONT, N.Y. -- Whether the horse's best interests are being served is debatable, but there's no doubt racing's best interests are being served by Silverbulletday's presence in the Belmont Stakes.

Take her away, and the challenge to Charismatic's Triple Crown bid falls somewhere between commonplace and unimpressive.

With her running, the challenge is appropriately forbidding.

A Triple Crown should be won against daunting opposition that upholds the high standard of the feat, which has been accomplished only 11 times since 1919, most recently during Jimmy Carter's presidency.

The entry of Silverbulletday, a champion filly, ends the debate about Charismatic's path being too easy.

The other 10 horses entered tomorrow at Belmont Park have earned $3.6 million among them. Silverbulletday alone has earned $2.2 million.

She has won eight straight races, all graded stakes, and 11 of 12 overall. Not only is she the foremost threat to Charismatic, she's the best horse in the race, period -- yes, better than Charismatic, the former claimer with only five wins in 16 career starts.

There's no telling how she'll fare in her first race against males, of course. A filly hasn't won the Belmont since 1905.

Trainer Bob Baffert and owner Mike Pegram might be pushing her beyond limits; other horsemen, including Charismatic's trainer, D. Wayne Lukas, have been openly skeptical of her chances of running the grueling distance of 1 1/2 miles without giving out.

It's a whopping three-eighths of a mile longer than Silverbulletday has ever run.

No one doubts her class, or that a filly can beat males in a classic race -- Winning Colors did it in the Kentucky Derby 11 years ago -- but fillies aren't as developed as their male counterparts at this early point in their lives.

Scotty Schulhofer, veteran trainer of one of the other entrants, Lemon Drop Kid, was asked what he'd do if he were training Silverbulletday.

"I wouldn't even be tempted" to run her, he said. "She's a real nice filly, but I don't think a good filly can beat a good colt at a mile and a half."

Even Baffert has sounded skeptical at times, admitting "maybe [the distance] is too far," and that he was relieved the filly would have a first-class jockey, Jerry Bailey, who'd know to ease her up and "not beat her up" if she ran out of gas.

Just five weeks ago, Baffert said the Derby distance of 1 1/4 miles was too far for her to run. His decision to run her tomorrow in a race even longer than that is a brutal contradiction with a hint of desperation to it.

Still, she's the most accomplished horse in the race by far, and she has fresh legs courtesy of a string of easy wins -- a huge advantage over Charismatic, who has endured a brutal Derby and a grinding Preakness.

Then there's her talent, which is obvious to all.

"I've never had a horse like her," said Baffert, who trains Silver Charm. "She's got those extra gears. All of her times have been faster than the colts' times.

"We wanted to pick a race to run her against the boys, but we had to wait for the right time. This is it. I feel good about it. She's going to run a huge race."

Even if she doesn't and Charismatic gives her the same drubbing he's given all comers in the Derby and Preakness, his Triple Crown will take on a far more legitimate cast than it would have without her.

Take her away, and the biggest threat to the Crown is Menifee, a solid colt who ran second in the Derby and Preakness. Victory Gallop did the same before ruining Real Quiet's Triple Crown bid in the Belmont a year ago.

But if any of the others running tomorrow interviewed for the job of Triple Crown spoiler, they wouldn't get it.

Prime Directive has lost three straight. Best of Luck has never won a graded race. Pineaff has finished out of the money in three of five starts this year.

Adonis finished out of the money in the Derby and Preakness. So did Stephen Got Even. Lemon Drop Kid has won only one allowance race in 1999.

Patience Game was fifth in the Preakness. Vision and Verse had never won more than an allowance race before his Illinois Derby win in May.

And Teletable, poor thing, hasn't even competed since winning a maiden race four months ago.

That's it. That's all. That's nine horses who have combined to win 25 of 74 starts -- pretty lame for supposed protectors of Triple Crown legitimacy.

It's certainly a crowd without an Easy Goer or Bet Twice, prior Triple Crown spoilers of high regard.

No wonder Bob Lewis, who owns Charismatic with his wife, Beverly, took the high road when Silverbulletday was entered.

"Bring them on, fillies or colts, whatever, bring them all on," Lewis said.

An old-fashioned sportsman, Lewis, 75, understands that a Crown is a lasting piece of history and should be earned the hardest way possible.

To that end, Silverbulletday was missed in the Derby and badly missed in the Preakness, which was a perfect spot until she drew the far outside post in a 14-horse field and was scratched.

But she's here now, ready to run in the Belmont for better or worse.

And no matter how she runs, the Triple Crown is better for it.

Pub Date: 6/04/99

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