Tampa Bay Sports Day

Garcia Ready For the Belmont

NEW YORK – Charitable Man shares a similarity with every other entry running in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes in that the horse will not capture the Triple Crown title.

The gelding didn’t even enter the Kentucky Derby or Preakness. But both Charitable Man and jockey Alan Garcia established a comfort level in Elmont last year, which could stymie favorite Mine That Bird on Saturday at Belmont Park.

In his first Belmont Stakes appearance in June 2008, Garcia rode 38-1 shot Da’Tara to victory in the mile-and-a-half race. Born in Peru, Garcia now lives in Elmont and is looking to post another victory in front of his adopted hometown crowd.

Outlasting Derby winner Mine That Bird will require Charitable Man to record an upset in the “Test of Champions,” though Garcia said last year’s experience gives him confidence he can go two-for-two at Belmont.

“I won with a long-shot last year. I was so happy to run that horse,” Garcia said. “This year, I have a good shot. I know and love the racetrack. I have an excellent shot to win this race.”

Garcia isn’t the only part of the rider-horse tandem to take a liking to a park originally opened in 1905. With only four races to his credit, Charitable Man owns three victories, including both times he raced at Belmont. That includes a sizable win in the nine-furlong Grade II Peter Pan Stakes on May 9 as a win in a Grade II race as a two-year-old last September.

“It makes my job easier because he knows how to be professional,” Garcia said. “He knows the track.”

Bloodlines make Charitable Man an interesting choice. He is the son of 1999 Belmont Stakes winner Lemon Drop Kid. Charitable Man is also going for a piece of history, bidding to become the eighth horse to win the Peter Pan/Belmont Stakes double and the first to accomplish the feat since A.P. Indy in 1992.

“I don’t think it matters,” Garcia said about his horse’s championship lineage. “The horse has to be good enough to win the race.”

Only 11 horses have won the Triple Crown and No. 12 will not come this year thanks to filly Rachel Alexandra winning the Preakness. Mine That Bird did not race at Pimlico, though jockey Calvin Borel won the Derby with Mine That Bird and rode Rachel Alexandra to her victory.

Borel will ride his Derby winner at Belmont, where he almost guaranteed a victory that would make him the first jockey to win all three Triple Crown legs abroad different horses.  Mine That Bird Trainer Chip Wolley Jr. said he echoes Borel’s confidence but also is aware of a challenging field.

“You’ve got to respect Charitable Man, no doubt,” Woolley said. “That horse is a real monster, and he loves that racetrack.”

Kiaran McLaughlin, Charitable Man’s trainer, didn’t use as strong a language as Borel. McLaughlin did say he’s been impressed by the workouts in anticipation of the big day.

“Our horse couldn’t be doing any better,” McLaughlin said. “We’re very confident.”

Like Charitable Man, Garcia also comes from a racing history. His father and grandfather were jockeys. Wearing a light-colored suit inside Madison Square Garden’s Club Bar and Grill, Garcia said his success at Belmont last year was extra special.

“It was emotional. Everybody in my family wanted to be in America,” Garcia said. “My father always wanted to come here and win races, so I was really proud.”

“I love my work and love being with horses and animals,” he added. “My dad wants me to keep doing better and better and keep my focus on my job.”