When Chad Brown worked for late Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, the young assistant learned the importance of knowing your horse and its strengths. On Saturday, Brown will attempt to emulate his mentor -- who in 2003 ended Funny Cide's Triple Crown bid by sending out Empire Maker to a victory in the Belmont Stakes -- when he saddles Magnolia Racing Stable and Hidden Brook Farm's Street Life for the "Test of the Champion."
Developing Street Life required Brown to use the same understanding Frankel employed when he spotted his horses. Following Street Life's eighth-place debut in a six-furlong sprint at Gulfstream Park in January, Brown realized the colt would be better off spending the winter with his string in New York, which offered the son of Street Sense ample opportunities to compete around two turns on Aqueduct's inner track.
"Some horses love Gulfstream's track, others don't," Brown said. "We got a sprint race into him and he didn't make an impact. (Jockey) Jose Lezcano came back, and despite the horse not being a factor in the race he was very happy with the horse. He said, 'This horse really never got to run to the wire. I had a tough time pulling him up. I think you need to get this horse going long, two turns, somewhere.' So I took his advice, and I brought the horse to New York. He really did well here in the winter."
Under the care of assistant trainer Cherie DeVaux, Street Life won his next two starts, a maiden special weight race in February and the Broad Brush overnight stakes in March, both around two turns at the Big A. After a disappointing sixth in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial in April, the colt rebounded to finish a fast-closing third in Belmont Park's Grade 2 Peter Pan on May 12, his most recent start.
Many of Brown's biggest wins to date have come on turf with fillies and mares, having captured the 2008 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf with Maram, the 2011 Grade 1 Diana with Zagora, and the 2011 Grade 1 Beverly D. and Grade 1 Flower Bowl Invitational with champion Stacelita. He earned another Grade 1 win, this time on dirt, in the 2011 Gazelle with Awesome Feather.
Brown, however, is eager to prove that he, like Frankel, can succeed with any type of horse, not just turf runners or females.
"Did Bobby have a special way with fillies? Sure he did," Brown said. "Did he have a special way with turf horses? Sure he did. Did Bobby have a special way with European horses? Sure he did. He passed those things on to me, and, like Bobby, you start to get not labeled, but maybe people start to think of you as favoring training those types of horses."
Although Frankel trained turf champions Intercontinental, Leroidesanimaux, Possibly Perfect, Ryafan, and Wandesta, Brown was quick to point out some of the top dirt runners Frankel developed.
"When I worked for him, Medaglia d'Oro was a killer on the dirt going long, and so were Ghostzapper and Ginger Punch," Brown said. "So were Empire Maker and Peace Rules. Squirtle Squirt won going three-quarters."
Street Life, who in the Belmont could give Brown his first Grade 1 victory with a male horse, galloped 1 1/2 miles on Thursday and schooled in the paddock before the 3RD race.
"I thought he (galloped) perfectly," Brown said. "I couldn't be any happier."
Trainer Dominick Schettino will celebrate his 46th birthday on Saturday by running five horses on the card, including Five Sixteen in the 144th Belmont Stakes.
The only other time Schettino ran a horse in a Triple Crown race came in the 2005 Preakness Stakes when his Galloping Grocer moved to the leaders into the far turn before giving way in the stretch and finishing 13th. Schettino said he later discovered the horse had a lung infection.
At 50-1, MeB Racing Stables LLC's Five Sixteen is among the three longest shots on the morning line, but Schettino is going about his business as he always does.
As the son of Invasor acted up in the gate in his most recent start, an entry-level allowance April 18 at Aqueduct, Schettino schooled the gelding in the starting gate Thursday morning and then galloped him 1 1/2 miles.
"He schooled and he was fine," the trainer said.
Schettino said he will have 12 family members at the track for his birthday and busy race schedule.
"I better go to sleep early Friday," he quipped. "Win, lose or draw in the Belmont, I've got four others running, and I treat them all the same. I'm focused on all five of them, not just one."
As has been his custom this week, Guyana Star Dweej went to the main track Thursday morning with other Belmont Stakes contenders at 8:30 (EDT), accompanied by Grade 3 winner Shkspeare Shaliyah.
The three-year-old stablemates galloped once around the 1 1/2-mile oval before heading back to the Belmont stakes barn.
"The exercise rider went a little slower than I wanted him to go, but I'm pleased with the way he went," owner-trainer Doodnauth Shivmangal said. "He is more competitive with company, but tomorrow I'm going to relax him by himself. He won't do much."
This will be the second straight appearance in the Belmont for Shivmangal, who ran last of 12 with Isn't He Perfect in 2011.
"This is a different caliber horse from Isn't He Perfect," Shivmangal said. "This horse was bred to go long. He has the stamina, and all I need from (jockey) Kent (Desormeaux) is to rate this horse, just get him to relax a little bit on the backside."
Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another is poised to become racing's first Triple Crown champion in 34 years with a victory in the Belmont, but Shivmangal said he wouldn't have any problem being a spoiler to the historic quest.
"I will be very, very happy and proud to do that, and I think I have a shot of doing it," Shivmangal said. "I did not go in because I just want to go in the Belmont. Winning a race of this magnitude would be great for me. It would be huge, and something that I'm looking forward to. Of course, it would make anybody very happy and excited."
At 83, trainer Manny Azpurua has been around the racing game all his life, winning more than 3,500 races in his native Venezuela before relocating permanently to the United States in 1979.
Asked why he brought Ravelo's Boy, a 50-1 long shot in Saturday's Belmont Stakes, all the way from Florida for the race, the soft-spoken but affable Azpurua always has the same answer.
"You have to try, my friend," he said.
Ravelo's Boy jogged once and galloped once around the 1 1/2-mile main track Thursday morning under exercise rider Enrique Barcenas. The Belmont will be the Lawyer Ron colt's first start outside of Florida.
"He's doing very, very good," Azpurua said. "I'm pleased with the way he handles the track. My boy said he has the perfect stride and is doing everything right. He came back like nothing happened. I told my owner (Korina Stable), he's coming into the race in top shape. We'll see what happens."
Azpurua has never saddled a starter in the Belmont, though his brother, Leo, ran seventh with Sir Sir in 1977, when Seattle Slew became the only undefeated Triple Crown champion. I'll Have Another is seeking to become the 12th horse to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont, and first since Affirmed in 1978.
"I don't like to take a chance if I don't have some kind of good feeling," Azpurua said. "I'm feeling that way. I bring horses that sometimes they say, 'That trainer is crazy.' But every time I come to the big races, I'll be there."
Azpurua ran third in the 2006 Breeders' Cup Sprint with multiple stakes winner Nightmare Affair, and fourth in the 1998 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies with Extended Applause.
Alex Solis will ride Ravelo's Boy for the first time in the Belmont.