At 10:30 this morning, owner Brian Hurst and trainer Butch Lenzini conferred for the final time, made their decision and changed the entire complexion of the Belmont Stakes.
They dropped the name of their brilliantly fast colt, Eternal Prince, into the entry box, surprising everybody involved in Saturday's race.
Eternal Prince had set one of the fastest paces in the history of the Preakness before he faded to finish third at Pimlico. He assuredly will be the front-runner in the Belmont, and his presence ends any chance that the favorite Chief's Crown will be able to control the pace and lead all the way.
After the Preakness, Lenzini said his colt was tired from his campaign and would be shipped to Saratoga, where he would be rested for the Travers Stakes.
"We had the van ordered for Saratoga and then canceled it," Lenzini said this morning. "I decided to keep him around for a couple more days and see what happened. We didn't want to see a lot of other speed horses going into the race. When our horse was doing well, and it looked as if he was going to be the only speed in the race, we decided to go at the 11th hour."
Lenzini and Hurst gave the riding assignment back to Richard Migliore, whom they fired after his 13th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. Co-owner George Steinbrenner would understand that move. "Just because a guy walks in the winning run, you don't give up on him," Hurst said, "Besides, Billy Martin was tied up."
One-dimensional speed horses like Eternal Prince rarely have had much success at the 1 1/2-mile Belmont, and horses entered on the spur of the moment don't figure to fare well, either.
But Lenzini hopes that Eternal Prince can control the pace Saturday and lead all the way. "If he can get away with a half-mile in 49 seconds," the trainer said, "he'll go three miles."