Social exclusion? Inclusion's connections might not enter Belmont

Exercise rider Domingo Navarro takes Social Inclusion over Exercise rider Domingo Navarro takes Social Inclusion over the track in preparation for the 139th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on May 14, 2014 in Baltimore, Md. Photo Credit: Getty

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Speed is a thoroughbred's greatest asset, with soundness a close second. Next is temperament, which is where one of the fastest horses in this 3-year-old class falls short. Chances are good that his social anxiety will exclude Social Inclusion from Saturday's Belmont Stakes.

Two days after he rocketed 3 furlongs in 33.48 seconds, a workout time horses rarely approach, Social Inclusion had some issues while being schooled in the gate Monday morning at Belmont Park.

"He was acting up a little bit," owner Ron Sanchez said. "He started getting a bit nervous and sweaty."

Sanchez said he was "disappointed" and that his brilliant colt was "70/30" to skip the $1.5-million Belmont and run instead on the undercard in the 7-furlong, $500,000 Woody Stephens Stakes.

"We have to do it again [Wednesday] and then we'll see, Sanchez said. "If the entries were taken [Monday], we wouldn't run in the Belmont. It wouldn't make any sense."

The gate for the 1 1/2-mile Belmont is directly in front of the stands, where a crowd expected to exceed 100,000 surely would disturb the high-strung colt. The Woody Stephens begins on the backstretch, far from any fans. Sanchez said he wouldn't make his final decision until tomorrow morning, when entries will be drawn for the Belmont. He also said Irad Ortiz Jr., New York's leading jockey, will replace Luis Contreras regardless of which race Sanchez chooses.

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If Social Inclusion misbehaves in the gate Wednesday, he also could try Thursday or Friday. If he does not settle down, however, the Belmont stewards would have the right to rule he couldn't run Saturday.

Even if he stays in the barn this weekend, Sanchez has options, including the $1-million Haskell on July 27 at Monmouth Park. "We have time," he said. "We are going to do what's best for the horse. There are a lot of good races coming up."

Social Inclusion's behavior Monday disturbed Sanchez and his fellow Venezuelan, 85-year-old trainer Manny Azpurua, but they'd seen it before. During the Preakness post parade, Social Inclusion was so agitated and lathered up, it appeared as if he'd been sprayed with shaving cream. He boiled over after being loaded into the gate, nearly flipping underneath Contreras.

Despite breaking slowly and not making the early lead for the first time in four career starts, Social Inclusion ran remarkably well. Leaving the backstretch, he ranged up four wide and put pressure on California Chrome, forcing Victor Espinoza to move an eighth of a mile sooner than he would have preferred. The 1-2 favorite left Social Inclusion behind at the top of the stretch, but he showed grit to hang on for third, 6 1/2 lengths behind.

"I'm proud of my horse," Sanchez said afterward, "and for now, we're going to the Belmont." He also said, "We definitely have to work with him at the gate." They still do.

Like Verrazano last year, Social Inclusion was the front-running buzz horse this winter at speed-favoring Gulfstream Park. The Florida phenom stormed to 7 1/2-length and 10-length runaways in his first two starts Feb. 22 and March 12 and went off the 8-5 favorite April 5 in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. For 90 seconds, he looked like he would be the undefeated favorite for the Kentucky Derby, but he tired in midstretch and backed up to third, 3 1/2 lengths behind Wicked Strong.

Samraat's late surge took second by a nose, depriving Social Inclusion of earning enough points to qualify for the Derby. Later that afternoon, California Chrome dominated the Santa Anita Derby, making him the Alpha male of the 3-year-olds, and Saturday, he'll be heavily favored to become the 12th Triple Crown champion.

On Derby Day, a foot bruise forced Social Inclusion to be scratched from a minor stakes at Calder in Florida. Before the Preakness, Sanchez spoke of rejecting megabucks bids after his first two races. "Sometimes you have a dream," he said, "and dreams are priceless. I don't have any regrets about rejecting those kinds of offers."

At Pimlico, where Oxbow led all the way in the 2013 Preakness, Social Inclusion was considered the main danger to California Chrome, but it didn't happen. Now he probably will run in the sprint named for the late, great Stephens, not in the marathon the Hall of Fame trainer won an unprecedented five consecutive times (1982-86). As wily Woody liked to say, "Luck does take some funny turns."

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