This Belmont field - undistinguished, unimposing, unloved, chopped liver leaving from 12 post positions - does have the obligatory heart-warming story. Might even be worth a few George Washingtons.
The horse's name, nothing close to heart-warming, is Uptowncharlybrown. He spent most of his running life in the high minors at Tampa Bay Downs, hasn't seen a winner's circle since the second week in January, has never been asked to run longer than a mile and 1/16th and may need a transfer to finish the Belmont's mile and a half.
He did finish less than two lengths behind Super Saver, but on that day the Derby winner came in third, and Uptowncharlybrown was shuttled back to fifth.
So you can call him Uptown. You can call him Charly. You can call him Brown. But don't call him lucky.
The comment on his last race, the Grade II Lexington: "Off slow, bumped."
A month earlier, the Tampa Bay Derby: "Checked, lack room."
Charly's original trainer, Alan Seewald, was the man who urged his owners to spend $57,000 at an Ocala auction. Well, not all his owners. He made the recommendation to Bob Hutt, his best friend, the managing partner of Fantasy Lane Stables. Hutt was acting for 59 others in his syndicate.
The first time Seewald watched Charly work he told Hutt he loved the horse. Think Belmont, he said. After Charly won his first two starts, Fantasy Lane was offered a sweet piece of change for him by trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. ("A nice 3-year-old. He might be a Kentucky Derby horse," McLaughlin said. "You never know.") No sale; this was their Belmont horse.
April 12, five days before the Lexington, Seewald, 62, died unexpectedly. His assistant, Linda White, took over. Charly - "off slow, bumped" - rallied late to finish third.
McLaughlin was told by a mutual friend to give Hutt a call. That's how Charly ended up at Belmont. White has all the other Fantasy Lane horses at Monmouth.
McLaughlin thinks his early attempt to purchase Charly was a factor in bringing the horse into his barn. It couldn't have hurt that he won the Belmont in 2006 with Jazil, the last time the race didn't include the Derby and Preakness winner.
"Alan (Seewald) and I were friends when I was training regularly at Monmouth," McLaughlin says. "(Charly) was probably the best horse he ever bought or raced. I probably feel a little more pressure. There is a lot. It would be quite emotional if we end up in the winner's circle. It would be unbelievable, actually."
The trainer has become a pinch-hitter, but he writes the lineup card as well. Gives the orders. He says the horse has noticed. The blinkers he wore in his last two starts are off. "He's got a different blacksmith," the trainer says. "Different people looking after him. He's on a different feed program." He likes the way Charly handles the deep, sandy Belmont track in the morning. "But you see things in a race you don't see in the morning. Does he want out to lug out? Lug in?"
The jockey, Rajiv Maragh, is riding him for the first time. Well, not exactly, McLaughlin says. "It's the second time, but this time he's actually on his back."
Maragh was riding Odysseus, the eventual winner in the Tampa Bay Derby. "And rode him very aggressively," the trainer said. (Very aggressively translates to "Watch it, punk, this spot belongs to me.") Maragh pushed Charly behind horses, "stuffed him inside," McLaughlin recalled. And Charly - "checked, lacked room" - couldn't get back in the race.
No excuses this time, not until the starter lets them go. "We've had him long enough. He's a good horse. He's ready to run," the trainer said Friday morning. "I wish it wasn't my first start with him. But we're ready to go."
We find out today about the horse Alan Seewald began pointing for the Belmont a year ago. McLaughlin: "We hope the horse can get the distance. We hope Alan's right."
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