ELMONT, N.Y. - John Kimmel said before the Kentucky Derby that his colt Wheelaway was probably a race away from an optimum performance. Wheelaway, a long-shot member of the Derby mutuel field, finished fifth.
Five weeks later, on the eve of the Belmont Stakes, the trainer says Wheelaway is primed for battle. The gray son of Unbridled has trained sharply and impressed onlookers with his professionalism.
"He's hitting his peak stride and peak form," Kimmel said. "We're looking forward to the Belmont."
Wheelaway did not make his first start until Jan. 3. He has won twice in six tries. After capturing the Tampa Bay Derby in mid-March, he closed for third in the Blue Grass Stakes on a speed-favoring track at Keeneland. Then he finished fifth in the Kentucky Derby despite a collision in the stretch with Captain Steve.
Kimmel said that Wheelaway's jockey, Richard Migliore, urged the colt to accelerate too early in the Derby. Then, the trainer said, Migliore miscalculated and tried to steer Wheelaway to the inside, where he slammed into Captain Steve.
Otherwise, Kimmel said, Wheelaway might have finished third. Migliore has the mount again in the Belmont.
"The main thing you don't want to do is ask him too soon," Kimmel said of Wheelaway. "If you ask him, he'll give it to you. If Richie just sits chilly a little longer in the Belmont, this horse will have a big impact on the outcome of the race."
Wheelaway must overcome history to win the Belmont. No horse that raced in the Derby has won the Belmont without a race in between. Other Belmont starters facing that same hurdle are Aptitude (second in the Derby), Curule (seventh in the Derby) and Commendable (17th in the Derby).
Pompeyo not crowned
After winning the first two legs of the steeplechase Triple Crown, Pompeyo finished third yesterday in the Meadowbrook Stakes at Belmont Park.
A 6-year-old son of Nureyev Dancer, Pompeyo had won the first leg of the jumpers' Triple Crown at Churchill Downs and the second leg at Pimlico. Those races took place the Thursday before the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
In the third leg, the $100,000 Meadowbrook, a Grade I race of 2 1/2 miles, Pompeyo broke last, raced wide and surged late. He could not catch the first two finishers, Yellowroad and Indispensable.
Trained by F. Bruce Miller and ridden by Jonathan Kiser, Yellowroad paid $10.40 to win and headed a $136.50 exacta and $643 trifecta. His time was 4 minutes, 41.95 seconds.
Pompeyo was compromised by an accident on the far turn where the 6-year-old Jack Flash fell and his jockey Craig Thornton lay on the course.
Conscious and moving, Thornton was taken to a hospital for X-rays. Jockey Michael Traurig, thrown when his mount Shahrahere fell, was uninjured.
`Ability' shows her stuff
The $80,150 Fashion Stakes for 2-year-old fillies kicked off the Belmont-week stakes program.
A daughter of A.P. Indy trained by Mark Hennig and ridden by Jerry Bailey, With Ability won the five-furlong sprint by seven lengths. Trustees Gray, the 17-1 long shot trained by the Marylander Hamilton Smith, finished fourth in the field of five.
Today, the Grade I $200,000 Acorn Stakes for 3-year-old fillies showcases a field that includes the unbeaten Roxelana (4-for-4) and Dream Supreme (3-for-3).
What: 132nd Belmont Stakes
Where: Belmont Park, Elmont, N.Y.
When: Tomorrow, post time 5:27 p.m.
TV: Ch. 2, 4:30 p.m.
Distance: 1 1/2 miles