In Belmont, the ‘rabbit’ could affect the horse race

Exercise rider Abel Flores takes Kentucky Derby entrant Creator for a morning workout at Churchill Downs Friday, May 6, 2016, in Louisville, Ky. The 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby is scheduled for Saturday, May 7. (AP Photo/Garry Jones)
garry jones/AP
Creator is the kind of classic come-from-behind horse that could benefit from having a “rabbit.”

An old-time horse racing strategy that doesn’t apply often in present times could impact Saturday’s 148th Belmont Stakes. WinStar Farm, owner of Belmont contender Creator, entered a second horse that really has no chance to win.

Gettysburg, who is well-bred (sired by Pioneerof the Nile) but with an ordinary racing record, has a specific job in Saturday’s race, and that’s to set a fast enough early pace to help Creator win. Creator is a classic come-from-behind horse. He won the Arkansas Derby in electrifying style — passing 11 horses on the way to victory — but the hidden reason he was able to do it was the fast early pace.

It’s up to Gettysburg to try to create the same scenario Saturday. WinStar denies that Gettysburg is a rabbit, the racetrack term for a horse associated with this type of strategy. However, WinStar also changed the horse’s trainer to Steve Asmussen, who also trains Creator. Gettysburg had been trained by Todd Pletcher and just finished third in a non-stakes race May 26.


The strategy is pretty obvious. Gettysburg will have the early lead, and how fast he runs and how seriously other front-runners chase him could dictate the outcome.

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Overall, the Belmont lacks horses that like to run on the lead. There are only two others in the race that would be considered possible front-runners, Destin and Stradivari. WinStar is hoping that those two pursue Gettysburg with a purpose and run so fast they won’t be able to finish the 1½ miles. Then Creator will come galloping along to pick up the pieces.

A lot of serious handicappers liked Creator before he had his rabbit. They’ll like him more now.

There is one big problem, though. There are other late runners who could benefit from Gettysburg, and some of them could be superior to Creator, who was a nonthreatening 13th in the Kentucky Derby.

Take Exaggerator, for instance. The Preakness winner and Kentucky Derby runner-up will be a deserving favorite and should be finishing with maximum effort in the stretch. The two possible red flags with Exaggerator are a workout that received mixed reviews this week and a jockey (Kent Desormeaux) who just spent time in rehab. He has not been riding.


Then there are four other late runners who have better recent performances than Creator: Cherry Wine, who rallied to finish second in the Preakness; Suddenbreakingnews, who finished fifth in the Derby; Brody’s Cause, who was seventh in the Derby; and Lani, who was fifth in the Preakness.

The distance of the Belmont is always problematic. Horses need to negotiate it at a safe pace, and that’s usually what past winners have done, so the come-from-behind runners have rarely been successful. What Javier Castellano on Destin and John Velazquez on Stradivari need to do is ride as if Gettysburg isn’t even in the race: proceed at a normal, competitive pace, and have enough left to hold off the late runners.

Stradivari is talented but he was overbet in the Preakness. He ran a credible fourth and does have a right to improve, but he hasn’t really proven anything against top competition.

Destin has the better record, notably a victory in the Tampa Bay Derby. In Kentucky, he broke awkwardly from the gate, had some traffic problems, and still finished sixth. He should be able to avoid any problems on the wide Belmont track.

Gettysburg’s early pace might help the closers, but Destin has the best jockey in the country in Castellano, who should assure that things don’t get out of hand in the first half-mile. Then he should have enough to hold off all the late charges.


Selections: 1. Destin; 2. Suddenbreakingnews; 3. Exaggerator.

Joe Sullivan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeSullivan