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Lessons learned from Belmont Stakes, Triple Crown

Another Triple Crown has ended, and what have we learned? The same old stuff, and by next year most of us probably will have forgotten it.

One lesson hammered home again is that experience means less than fresh legs in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes. Its 1-2 finishers never raced as 2-year-olds, and $25.80 winner Summer Bird didn't debut until March 1. It was only the fifth race for him and runner-up Dunkirk, and for the fourth consecutive year, the Belmont winner skipped the Preakness.

"[Summer Bird] had five weeks between the Derby and the Belmont, and that helped him a lot," trainer Tim Ice said. "He's still maturing."

Except for three-time also-ran Flying Private, Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird was the only horse in each leg of the five-week series. The little gelding was unusually wired Saturday, and as trainer Chip Woolley said Sunday, "It might have been having those three races back to back."

After the race, Woolley said: "I was a little concerned when he went to the holding barn. He was a hair more amped than he had been in previous races. Calvin [Borel] said he was kind of fresh going down the backside, and that's something he hadn't done."

Borel's four-wide, premature move was criticized almost as much as his rail-skimming Derby ride was saluted. It was his first Belmont and only his fifth mount on Belmont Park's main track, so a few test drives on the undercard might have helped. Scraping the paint is Bo-rail's M.O., and the inside was the place to be Saturday, but Borel didn't realize that. "I knew the fence wasn't good," he said. "It's kind of deep down there."

Ice gained an edge by riding Kent Desormeaux, a Belmont Park regular. "It's a very, very different lay of the land here at Belmont," Desormeaux said. "We don't call it the Big Sandy for nothing. The track is different. The sand is different. It's not fast like Churchill or Pimlico."

Finally, never boast before the Belmont. Like Rick Dutrow, who last year called victory for Big Brown "a foregone conclusion," Borel's guarantee backfired.

At 50-1, Mine That Bird scored; at 6-5, he ran third. When something is supposed to occur, it usually doesn't. File that away, because it happens every spring.


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