It won't be the deluge that soaked the crowd throughout the day at the Belmont Stakes last year, but rain and temperatures in the low 60s are expected at post time Saturday.
Only two horses in the field have won running over an off track -- Smarty Jones, who did it in slop at the Kentucky Derby and in the mud in the Arkansas Derby, and long shot Birdstone, who won his debut by 121/2 lengths in mud at Saratoga.
Trainer John Servis tried to play down the value of Smarty Jones's perfect record on wet surfaces.
"I don't think its an advantage," Servis said in his final news conference before the race. "Everybody thought the wet track helped him tremendously, but then he came back in the Preakness on a dry track and ran a lot better. It might be a disadvantage to some of the other horses that might not necessarily like an off track. They're talking about a record crowd, and it's a big day for racing. I just wish it would be a [sunny] day like today. It would have been a whole lot nicer."
Of all the Triple Crown runners this year, Birdstone, trained by Nick Zito, might be the most disappointing.
Last year, he was considered one of the best 2-year-old runners in the country after a 21/2 -length victory in the prestigious Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park. Zito, along with owner Marylou Whitney, decided to skip the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in October and put Birdstone away for the winter because no horse had won that race and gone on to win the Kentucky Derby.
Birdstone didn't win it, either. The colt received what Zito considered insulting morning-line odds of 50-1 at Churchill Downs and finished a non-threatening eighth.
"Not eighteenth," a tired-looking Zito has told anyone who would listen this week.
Since the Derby, Zito has had Birdstone working at the training track at Saratoga in upstate New York. After two promising workouts, he decided to enter the son of 1996 Derby winner Grindstone in the Belmont and has been trying to make a case for him all week.
"You'd like to see him do something," Zito said Friday morning outside his barn. "He has such a big heart. I'd be disappointed if he didn't do better. There's a hundred scenarios about 2-year-olds turning 3, but they don't make the jump like they're supposed to. They don't fill out or get stronger. But his pedigree and the way he's worked says he deserves a shot." . . .
Island Sand, based at tiny Ellis Park in Kentucky, came from off a solid pace to win the 74th running of the Grade I $250,000 Acorn Stakes this afternoon.
Formerly trained by Anthony Dutrow at Laurel Park and now in the barn of Larry Jones, Island Sand beat a field of top 3-year-old fillies, running the mile race in 1 minute 34.89 seconds.