ELMONT, N.Y. - The Maryland-based van carrying Magic Weisner from Laurel pulled into the Belmont Park barn area a tick before 1 p.m. yesterday and both the horse and trainer Nancy Alberts seemed happy with the trip.
"Four hours and 12 minutes," said Alberts, whose sentimental long shot finished a fast-closing second to War Emblem in the Preakness three weeks ago. "It was nice and easy."
It was the first look at the spacious stable complex for both Magic Weisner, who has never competed outside Maryland, and Alberts, who remembers "being at Belmont in the clubhouse once for the races" but has never run a horse here.
Magic Weisner settled nicely into a corner stall in Barn 6 beside the hyperactive Perfect Drift, who constantly bobs his head and battles with a rubber ball with War Emblem's name on it.
Catty-corner from the Maryland hopeful are the powerful stables of Bob Baffert and D. Wayne Lukas, so Alberts is sitting alongside some elite company.
After attending to chores relevant to the horse's comfort -finding hay was the major problem, albeit a temporary one - Alberts sought help in getting her New York license and hoped to get some time with jockey Richard Migliore, who gave Magic Weisner a skillful ride at Pimlico.
Before the arrival, Migliore continued to be effusive in his admiration for Alberts.
"Here is a woman who bred this horse from a mare she loved and she tracked down and bought for a dollar," said one of the New York circuit's most popular riders. "All the work that she put into it at this point and to almost pull off this colossal upset, she's a tremendous story.
"She's a salt-of-the-earth horse person. Everybody in Maryland that day was saying, `Oh, you're riding Nancy's horse.' Everybody was rooting for her and had a good thing to say about her. She has worked her whole life, dedicated her whole life, to be with her horses. It's tremendous."
Said Alberts: "I'm so glad we waited and shipped in the cool air. Yesterday [Thursday], it must have been 105 degrees."
Alberts galloped Magic Weisner at Laurel yesterday morning before she and her son, Will, followed the van to the site of the gelding's toughest assignment yet.
"I don't think he'll finish as fast as he did at Pimlico," she mused. "Only because the race is longer [1 1/2 miles]. What War Emblem did there was impressive and if he [Magic Weisner] runs second to an effort like that again, I'll be tickled pink."
Four graded stakes, topped by the Grade I, $400,000 Manhattan on the turf, are sprinkled on the Belmont undercard today.
With Anticipation, trained by Jonathan Sheppard, has been assigned the 120-pound high weight for the Manhattan off a strong second in Churchill Downs' Grade I Woodford Reserve.
He won more than $900,000 at age 6 and, a year later, has rallied nicely in both starts. Beat Hollow won the Woodford Reserve and returns along with Hap from that race to challenge With Anticipation.
Defending Manhattan champ Forbidden Apple is also in the eight-horse lineup.
Talented California sprinter Explicit is expected to be the favorite in the Grade II, $250,000 True North Breeders' Cup Handicap, which includes Dale Capuano trainee Smile My Lord.
The Grade II, $200,000 Riva Ridge has True Direction shooting for his fourth straight win after taking the Hirsch Jacobs on Preakness Day, and Voodoo Dancer is high-weighted with Jerry Bailey aboard in the Grade III, $200,000 Just A Game Breeders' Cup Handicap.
Xtra Heat faces six
Xtra Heat will try to extend her victory streak against female opposition to seven tomorrow when she faces six others in the $150,000-added Vagrancy.
She will carry 127 pounds, conceding at least nine pounds to all the rest.
`Willa' second to You
You was much the best in the $250,000 Acorn Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, but Maryland runner Willa On the Move gave a good account of herself while finishing second.
Trained by Bobby Frankel, You prevailed by 7 1/4 lengths and set a stakes record of 1:34 for a mile in her first outing since a fourth in the Kentucky Oaks. Favored Bella Bellucci never challenged and finished third.
The fractions were blistering, with early leader Dust Me Off going :22 1/5 and You taking over to run :44 3/5 for four furlongs and 1:08 1/5 for six.
`The [H. Allen] Jerkens filly [Dust Me Off] left there like her hair was on fire," said winning jockey Bailey. "We were going to yank You back about a half-length off the pace, then we decided that wasn't a smart thing to do. We were going to let her run her race."
Willa On the Move, owned by Peter Angelos, stayed with You until they turned for home, then easily held off a struggling Bella Bellucci, who "felt like she was running in quicksand with lead boots," according to jockey Gary Stevens.
"I love this filly," said Willa On the Move's trainer, Rodney Jenkins. "It was only the fourth race of her life and I guess I was a little bit of an underdog."
Triple Crown winners
Year Horse Jockey
1919 Sir Barton Johnny Loftus
1930 Gallant Fox Earle Sande
1935 Omaha Willie Saunders
1937 War Admiral Charles Kurtsinger
1941 Whirlaway Eddie Arcaro
1943 Count Fleet Johnny Longden
1946 Assault Warren Mehrtens
1948 Citation Eddie Arcaro
1973 Secretariat Ron Turcotte
1977 Seattle Slew Jean Cruguet
1978 Affirmed Steve Cauthen